DCC chief should apologise for ‘flippant’ remarks made to UCDSU, says Collins

Comment about student accommodation not a resigning matter, says Minister of State

The UCDSU and DCC chief executive Owen Keegan exchanged letters about the union’s concerns in relation to the conversion of 571 private student flats in Dublin city into tourist accommodation for the coming academic year. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

The UCDSU and DCC chief executive Owen Keegan exchanged letters about the union’s concerns in relation to the conversion of 571 private student flats in Dublin city into tourist accommodation for the coming academic year. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

Dublin City Council chief executive Owen Keegan should apologise for “flippant and dismissive” comments he made to UCD’s Student Union (UCDSU) regarding purpose-built student accommodation, the Minister of State for Skills and Further Education has said.

Fianna Fáil’s Niall Collins said the tone used by Mr Keegan in a letter to UCD students was “disrespectful” and urged the chief executive to meet with students in person and apologise.

However, Mr Collins told Newstalk Breakfast he did not think the letter was a “resigning matter”.

The UCDSU has called for Mr Keegan to step down from his role following his “sarcastic” response to students’ concerns regarding the use of purpose-built student accommodation being used by tourists.

In a tweet on Monday, UCDSU president Ruairí Power posted an excerpt from the letter signed by Mr Keegan.

In the letter, Mr Keegan said he was surprised the SU had not entered the property market itself in order to provide lower cost student accommodation to its members given its concerns over the “excess profits being made in the PBSA (purpose-built student accommodation) market”.

Purpose-built accommodation for students became a controversial subject last month when it emerged planning applications had been seeking changes of use so that some such accommodation could be marketed to tourists for short-term use.

The UCDSU and Mr Keegan exchanged two letters each about the union’s concerns in relation to the conversion of 571 private student flats in Dublin city into tourist accommodation for the coming academic year.

Mr Power said on Monday that the UCDSU had no confidence Mr Keegan was “acting in the best interests of people living in Dublin and the surrounding areas and as such we think he should resign”.

He told the University Observer that Mr Keegan’s “sarcastic” response to the students’ concerns over accommodation were “below the level of dignity that we’d expect from someone in that position” and that “obviously he doesn’t have any sort of sympathy for people in precarious living circumstances”.

A Change.org petition, which had been signed be more than 2,750 people by 11.30am on Tuesday, called for Dublin City councillors to put forward a vote of no confidence in Mr Keegan. The petition also called for Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien to remove Mr Keegan from his post.

Mr Power had originally contacted Mr Keegan to say the union was deeply frustrated at a decision to grant planning for PBSA that would “undoubtedly perpetuate the supply crisis and artificially inflate rents across the city”.

Mr Keegan responded that the council had granted permission for a significant number of PBSA schemes and had also received applications for temporary change of use to tourist accommodation. He also noted that no objections were received to the planning application.

Labour Senator and party spokeswoman on housing Rebecca Moynihan described the excerpt of Mr Keegan’s response posted on social media as “snide” and “dismissive”. It was “not worthy” of someone who “heads up the planning authority”, she posted on Twitter, adding: “Dubliners want a vibrant, diverse Dublin, not just a property developer version of what that should be, allowed to change the rules when it suits them re PBSA.”

Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris also rowed in behind the students on Twitter, saying he fully agreed that student accommodation must be for them.

Mr Keegan has not yet responded to a request for comment made by The Irish Times on Tuesday morning. He declined to comment on the exchange when contacted on Monday.