As anger over the housing crisis intensifies, students from all over the country descended on the Garden of Remembrance this morning to march for better housing, ahead of the national Raise the Roof rally.
An estimated 3,000 students marched to Leinster House to meet the national rally taking place this afternoon. Protestors are demanding action be taken to tackle the housing and homelessness crisis and are appealing for support for across-party motion coming to the Dáil today.
The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) organised the march today, replacing its annual march for education. Students arrived on buses provided by USI from all over the country to fight for better housing and large delegations from Dublin universities gathered to attend the march.
Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) drew a crowd of 400 in Front Square this morning to assemble before heading to the Garden of Remembrance to join the national student march for housing. “Raise the Roof, not the rent”, the crowds chanted, as they marched up O’Connell St.
Speaking to The University Times, TCDSU President Shane de Rís said: “We’ve had a really good turnout and there’s gonna be more students joining us en route. It’s very evident that students in Trinity care, and students in Trinity are angry and students in Trinity demand change.”
Speaking to The University Times, the President of the Union of Students’ in Ireland (USI), Síona Cahill, said that “the reality is that there are students who couldn’t be here today because they couldn’t afford the bus to come in, or they couldn’t afford the train, or they couldn’t be in education”.
Graduate Students’ Union (GSU) President Oisín Vince Coulter said: “We’re in the middle of a national housing emergency and it’s an emergency that affects everyone. Students, in particular, are facing really serious issues around rights to tenancy, private rental accommodation, purpose-built student accommodation and the government are doing absolutely nothing – nothing of note.”
“If the government won’t do it then the protests will continue and they’ll have to escalate”, he added.
Outside Leinster House, Síona Cahill gave a rousing address to the thousands of people present: “On the night of the census in 2016 there were 429 homeless students in Ireland. That is a disgrace.”
“We saw this coming and we called it out then and since. The government has failed, in fact, refused to plan accordingly,” she continued.
Cahill said: “We are being already being locked out of education. This is about access, opportunity and equality and we have a responsibility to ensure our people have the right to access education.”
Calling the housing crisis “the social justice issue of our generation”, Cahill urged students to “demand better and not settle for less”.
“The government must declare a national emergency for accommodation and our politicians must act because we refuse to be locked out any longer”, she said, receiving a rapturous response from crowds.
Members of Take Back Trinity were also present at the student-organised march. The group has been calling on the government to take steps against the escalating housing crisis for months, staging occupations in vacant buildings and organising a national day of action.
Speaking to The University Times, Conchúir Ó Ráidaigh, one of the leaders of Take Back Trinity, said: “We’re marching today after two months of exciting, dynamic and youthfully led housing action. Today is going to be the proof in the pudding. It’s gonna be when there are mass numbers on the streets to put serious pressure on the government to deal with a housing crisis that has frankly done nothing for so far.”
Sean Egan, another member of the group, called the current housing situation “the crisis of our time”, stating that the government are “ideologically committed to the profiteers of society, at the expense of working class people and at the expense of students”.
Last night, members of Take Back Trinity approached Fianna Fáil leader Mícheál Martin to ask him to support the cross-party motion coming to the Dáil today but Martin didn’t engage.
“The minute we asked him in quite a polite way, he fobbed us off. He was pretty rude actually. He wouldn’t engage with students with really legitimate questions”, Ó Raidaigh said.
Several other speakers were present at Leinster House today to address the growing crowds.
Orla O’Connor, the Director of the National Women’s Council of Ireland called the homelessness crisis “a women’s issue”. “Official figures do not represent the full extent of the problem. The impact of homelessness is devastating for women and children.”
Keith Troy of the Homeless and Housing Coalition called Jack O’Connor, the General President of the Services Industrial Professional and Technical Union (SIPTU), a “disgrace to the people” and demanded his resignation.
The Secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU), Sheila Noonan, told crowds present: “We need to get together and unify and stop attacking each other”.