UCDSU take on DCC CEO in Student Housing Row

Image Credit: Simon Dobey

UCDSU have called on Dublin City Council CEO Owen Keegan to resign, following “sarcastic” remarks in relation to the conversion of student accommodation into tourist accommodation, as well as what UCDSU President Ruairí Power describes as an “underlying attitude that he’s not concerned with the level of interference from the private market and artificially inflating rents in the city”.

The calls for Keegan’s resignation were first made by Power to The University Observer on Monday 11th October, in response to a query relating to a letter sent by Keegan to Power. The call has since been endorsed by several opposition parties and politicians, as well as other Students’ Unions, and echoed at a protest outside the City Council offices held on Wednesday the 13th.

Mr Keegan has since told city councillors that he is happy to apologise for the sarcasm, however he has stated that he has no intention of stepping down. Power has stated that he appreciates the apology, but that UCDSU is maintaining their call for Keegan’s resignation.

A full timeline of events is as follows:

5th Of August: The Business Post publishes a report by Eva Short on 571 Purpose Built Student Accommodation (PBSA) facilities, at ardcairn house in Dublin 7, being granted permission to operate as short term tourist accommodation on a temporary basis during the 2021/2022 academic year. The accommodation belongs to Uninest, a company specialising in PBSA with 7 residences currently operating in Dublin.

20th Of September: Power is interviewed by RTÉ news in regards to the difficulties UCD students are facing in finding suitable accommodation. Power also expresses a lack of confidence in on campus accommodation, saying that “it is discriminatory” and that “it is deliberately locking out students from low or middle income backgrounds”. UCD maintains that the price of the residences reflects cost and that they relieve pressure on “the private rental market”.

22nd Of September: Power writes the initial letter to DCC chief to express dissatisfaction at the decision to convert 571 uninest PBSA facilities into temporary tourist accommodation. In the letter, Power describes the decision as “a shameful act”, adding “May we suggest that if in future a PBSA provider expresses concern at their ability to fill room...City Council simply suggests a reduction in rent”.

23rd Of September: UCDSU receives its first reply from Keegan. The brief message acknowledges receipt of the letter. Keegan also states; “I was not aware of the planning application/decision until I received your letter.” 

5th Of October: Keegan provides a more detailed response. In the response Keegan acknowledges a “significant shortfall in the key objective in reaching 21,000 PBSA spaces nationwide.”. Keegan also notes that no objections were made to an bord pleanala in regards to the change of use application.

7th Of October: Power writes a second letter to Keegan and expresses “disappointment with the content of (the) response.” Power takes significant issue with Keegan's justification of the change of use due to the lack of objections made to an bord pleanala noting that Keegan himself was not aware of the conversion before being informed by Power. Power also stated that “DCC seems intent on hiding behind 2016 Dept. circulars to justify illogical planning decisions”.

11th Of October: Keegan sends his final incendiary reply to Power in which Keegan states that it “is not the council's fault that you seem to be unaware of how the planning process works.” Finally, Keegan states; “if you genuinely believe that excess profits are being made in the PBSA market I am surprised the Students Union has not entered the market itself and provided lower cost student accommodation for its members”.

Power shares a screenshot of the end of Keegans letter to his Twitter page. When approached by The University Observer for comment, Power calls on Keegan to resign from his position, stating “We’ve no confidence that Owen Keegan is acting in the best interests of people living in Dublin and the surrounding areas, and as such we think he should resign”.

In the evening, the Social Democrats councillors in DCC announced that they were calling for a special meeting to discuss the student accommodation crisis and the issue of the lack of democratic oversight in how the council operates.

13th Of October: UCDSU staged a protest outside DCC offices calling for Keegan to resign. TCDSU, IADTSU, DCUSU, and NCADSU all attended the protest, as did People Before Profit, Labour, Social Democrats, and Sinn Féin.

Earlier that day, Sinn Féin Spokesperson for Higher Education Rose Conway-Walsh TD called for Keegan’s resignation in the Dáil.

That evening, Keegan acknowledged an “element of sarcasm” in his correspondence with Power in a letter, stating “I now accept that the use of sarcasm was inappropriate on this occasion and I am happy to apologise for the offence I caused” in his letters to councillors.

His letter to councillors also stated “On a positive note this episode has highlighted the on-going crisis in student accommodation in Dublin, which needs to be addressed”.

Where we are now

At the time of writing, Sinn Féin, People Before Profit and The Social Democrats have said that they are still seeking a resignation from Keegan. Under the statutes laid out by the Local Government and Reform Act Of 2014, section 147 part 5 (a); at least three quarters of the total number of councillors must vote in favour of a resolution to remove the chief executive of a city or county council. Currently, Sinn Féin have 8 seats, the Social Democrats 5 and People Before Profit 2. With the whole council being made up of 63 seats, more support will be needed if Keegan is to be removed.