Ireland’s national students’ union will back students working to set up tenants’ unions calling for a ban on evictions in the wake of the coronavirus, in a show of support for a radical approach to student rent amid the pandemic.
At its national congress today, the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) voted to work with tenants’ unions that are calling for an 18-month rent freeze for students.
They’ll also bolster the ranks of student groups demanding the right to an early contract termination as a result of the pandemic.
Speaking for the motion, Ciaran O’Brien of Queen’s University Belfast Students Union (QUBSU) said that “tenants’ unions and renters’ unions are the only vehicle that will flip the relationship of dominance to favour tenants”.
In addition to supporting the establishment of tenants’ unions, USI also endorsed calls for clarity from colleges over their plans for accommodation next year.
Grian Ní Dhaimhín, also a member of QUBSU’s delegation, urged USI “to support students by organising and coming together” to achieve the demands laid out by tenants’ unions.
Both O’Brien and Ní Dhaimhín cited their own personal experiences with tenants unions in Belfast and urged “congress to vote for this to support us in the SRG [Student Renters Group] and support the establishment of tenants unions in your own cities”.
Robert Murtagh, the president of the National Union of Students-Union of Students in Ireland (NUS-USI), told delegates that the motion would not mean the union would “take over student organising” but would “help students who are organising themselves and fighting for their rights”.
Earlier in the day, USI voted to support campaigns involving student rent strikes in campus accommodation. Craig McHugh, USI’s vice-president for the Dublin region, said that “student accommodation is out of control” and argued that it is time for students to “fight back and fight back directly”.
Noting the work done by student activists in Ireland and the UK, McHugh said that USI is “not encouraging or telling people to” engage in rent strikes, only that USI would “support student activists” and “rent strikes when they take place on campus”.
“Students are being priced out of their human right to an education. It’s unacceptable that student renters are being asked to shoulder the burden of increased government cuts to education”, Aodhán Donnelly, a member of Trinity College Dublin Students Union (TCDSU), said.
Last year, TCDSU initially voted against accepting a stance supporting rent strikes organised by student activist group Cut the Rent due to controversy surrounding the wording of the motion.
Following an amendment to the wording of the motion, Cut the Rent received TCDSU’s backing.
Yet even with this backing, Cut the Rent decided against launching a rent strike in January, amid fears of insufficient support among campus residents.