Recently, the USI held a Town Hall event with students and representatives of Sinn Fein, People Before Profit, Labour and Fianna Fail. The Greens and Fianna Gail did not show. The #EducationForAll campaign demands an end to tuition fees, publicly-funded student accommodation coupled with a tenant’s bill of rights and better working conditions for academic staff.
At this Town Hall, many students and student representatives spoke about the myriad of ways the Government has failed us. This included personal stories about how the government’s lacking Covid-19 response affected students’ lives, international students paying exorbitant fees and being told they need to be on campus for this year (then not getting any refunds), students not being able to access SUSI – and even if they do, the payments barely covering the high cost of living and fees, etc.. The USI will have a recording of the event up.
As for me, I questioned Fianna Fail’s Malcolm Bryne on his support of the bill. Copied below is my speech which roughly matches what I said at the meeting.
“I am here to speak in favor of the The Residential Tenancies (Student Rents and Other Protections) (Covid-19) Act 2021 bill. I want to thank the USI, Sinn Fein, PBP and Labour for their work in bringing this forward. My contribution is targeted to Fianna Fail, as the representative present didn’t really say anything in relation to the bill.
My experience with student accommodation is as follows. As someone involved in the Trinity College Dublin Student Union (TCDSU) as a class representative, if there is one issue that is facing all students this year it is accommodation. Everyone has been complaining about accommodation. We are being exploited by Big Money multinational companies such as Hines and GSA – the latter, for example, being registered in the Cayman Islands. This has further worsened the housing crisis, and not to mention the financial backing of foreign vulture funds. The accommodation I am at, for example, has successfully lobbied the Irish government against fire safety regulations! Coming from an international background as a first-year student, I pay up to 5000 euros per semester for student accommodation which I am practically forced into, due to not knowing how to navigate the local rental market. On my very first day in Dublin, I met a homeless student… the very people that my 5000 euros per semester should go towards in support, if these big multinationals actually paid taxes. Instead, they use offshore companies in tax-haven Luxembourg and the likes to funnel money and avoid taxes. The situation is entirely unacceptable.
I believe that this bill represents a step forward.
However, seeing that Fianna Fáil was accused of “absolute hypocrisy” after eight councillors in party leader Micheál Martin’s constituency voted against social housing in January 2020 – this was the Lyonshall development – makes me worried that FF represent the interests of landlords and not of the students and people.
So, Will Fianna Fail come out in support of the bill? I urge government parties to support this much needed bill. Thank you.”
Many more students spoke of being ‘cash cows’ too.
In his short reply at the end, I perceived smokescreening, deflection and avoidance of answering the question. This was aptly picked up on by Deputy President of the TU Dublin Students’ Union Luke Daly, who Tweeted about how Malcolm Byrne “proceeded to scold people for ‘Anti-FF’ comments in his closing speech.”
“Malcolm, please don’t gaslight students. Fianna Fail along with FG have been one of the biggest offenders of anti-student rhetoric. It’s downright disrespectful to dismiss students’ well-deserved rage and scold them for dismissing your party.
FF need to adapt their programmes, policies and lead by example. Listen to these contributions. Students are living in a nightmare and your party has direct power to end that right now,” he commented in the Zoom chat.
See how you can help the #EducationForAll campaign at the USI’s website!