A week is a long time in College politics at the best of times – and for Trinity’s decision-makers, this one must have felt like an eternity.
Last week, this Editorial Board praised the College for its response to the coronavirus pandemic. Trinity, we wrote, had acted with precision and decisiveness in uncharted waters.
Seven days on, that argument seems absurd, after College sought to turf students out of its accommodation with less than 48 hours’ notice.
It was a decision that many felt amounted to a mass eviction, and it was met with justifiable criticism. High-profile TDs like Eoin Ó Broin and Thomas Byrne, as well as Lorna Fitzpatrick, the president of the Union of Students in Ireland, felt compelled to weigh in, turning the full glare of the media spotlight onto Trinity.
That the College wasn’t ready became apparent the following day, when it quickly backtracked in the face of ferocious criticism from students.
Suddenly new criteria opened up allowing more students to remain, and those living in Binary Hub and Kavanagh Court were told they no longer had to leave – evidence of an obvious overstep from a College with no authority to evict students in privately owned apartments.
The whole debacle smacked of Trinity at its most unimpressive: hamfisted at best, cold at worst – and forced into an embarrassing climbdown that exposed the folly of the original decision.
Earlier this week, students staying in University College Dublin’s accommodation were reassured that their leases could be extended as a result of the pandemic – a decision that cast into sharp relief just how badly Trinity had treated its student tenants.
The fact that the government is bringing in legislation next week to prevent evictions for the duration of this pandemic is sure to be another kick in the teeth for the students forced to leave by Trinity.
While College can now breathe a sigh of relief that a mostly empty campus will be far less likely to facilitate the spread of the coronavirus, its indecisiveness and lack of clarity meant that many students had already left before the criteria changed.
These concessions will be of little help – for many students, it will have come as too little, too late.