Chief Executive of Dublin City Council, Owen Keegan has come under fire for comments made to a Clarecastle man who is serving as President of the UCD Student Union, the Taoiseach was among those calling for the remarks to be withdrawn.
Ruairí Power is in his first year as President of the Student Union at UCD, this week he was on the national airwaves following a spat between the Student Union and Dublin City Council’s Chief Executive.
At the end of September, Power wrote to the Chief Executive following an article in The Business Post and he highlighted that thousands of students were without accommodation in the capital with “very long” commute times experienced by students as a result. “DCC are looking at a guaranteed revenue stream instead of student’s interests,” he said.
In a subsequent letter, Ruairí also flagged the number of purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA) developments being used for tourism until May next year while demand for the upper-end apartments is low.
Keegan in response accused the Clarecastle man of “misrepresenting” why a change of use was allowed when it came to PBSA. “It is unfortunate that UCDSU did not participate in the planning process in respect of these particular applications”. He added, “However, it is not the City Council’s fault that you appear to have been unaware of how the planning system works”.
“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,” Keegan concluded.
An Taoiseach, Micheál Martin (FF) called on the Chief Executive to withdraw his comments which he labelled as “facile”, “dismissive” and “unhelpful”. The Cork native added, “It was very dismissive. I think he should withdraw the statement and articulate some regret for it. I just couldn’t understand it, I couldn’t believe it”.
Minister for Higher and Further Education, Simon Harris (FG) felt Keegan’s response was “sarcastic” with Minister for Housing, Darragh O’Brien (FF) voicing his surprise and disappointment with the letter.
Speaking to The Clare Echo on Wednesday morning ahead of organising a protest outside the offices of Dublin City Council, Ruairí said it was his first time engaging with Mr Keegan. “We were quite surprised with the comments to some extent but he has made derogatory comments on homelessness in the past”. He felt it was time for the official to resign, a call that was echoed by Sinn Féin.
Comments from the Council Chief were “intended to belittle” the Students Union, Power outlined. “It is not the type of leadership we expect from someone in his role or on his salary”. Improvement is also needed from how UCD approach student accommodation, he felt, “we’ve had far more positive discussions with members of Government than senior officials on campus, they are focusing on luxury accommodation, they don’t have a willingness to work with us”.
While he welcomed the political support, the Social Democrats member flagged that the current strategy on student accommodation was drafted by Fine Gael.