Divisions emerge over private €14m staff club at UCD

Controversial staff and guest clubhouse expected to open by next April

New University Club will offer “fine dining”, and will be a “high quality” social facility for “small- and large-scale university and corporate member events,” according to documents submitted as part of the successful planning application.

New University Club will offer “fine dining”, and will be a “high quality” social facility for “small- and large-scale university and corporate member events,” according to documents submitted as part of the successful planning application.

 

There are divisions between college management and academics in University College Dublin over a new private club for staff on the south Dublin campus.

The construction of the University Club, which will not be open to students, was approved at the university’s governing authority board meeting last December. The development will serve as a clubhouse and restaurant for staff, alumni, and visiting guests or dignitaries.

The two-storey clubhouse is expected to cost about €14 million to construct, according to sources on the board. The building is expected to be open by next April, and looks out onto the main lake on the south Dublin campus.

However, there were divisions over the project at the university’s governing board, according to minutes of meetings released under the Freedom of Information Act. Several academic board members and students’ union representatives objected to the project.

In a rare occurrence, the board took a vote on the issue, which approved the development by 21 votes to 10.

The club will offer “fine dining”, and will be a “high quality” social facility for “small- and large-scale university and corporate member events”, according to documents submitted as part of the successful planning application.

Briefings from a meeting of the university finance committee last November, stated the “facility will generate revenue through a combination of membership sales, food and beverage sales, with potential for increased income from conferencing and room rental.” The briefing said income from the clubhouse is expected to pay for the cost of its construction within 22 years.

In April, €480,000 had been spent on the project, according to minutes of finance committee meetings. The club will be connected to the existing O’Reilly Hall, which is used for graduation ceremonies.

The project is understood to be a priority for university president Andrew Deeks. In a recent email to all staff, Prof Deeks said “most world-class universities have a venue of this nature” and the club would address a “significant gap.”

Student opposition

Students’ union president Barry Murphy said he was “firmly against” the construction of the club. “The new building was given priority over more critically needed services and facilities for UCD students,” such as refurbishing the ageing James Joyce library, or investment in under-pressure mental health services, he said.

The vast majority of students would “under no circumstances” support the private staff club, Mr Murphy said.

The new club will see an existing staff common room in the university’s arts and humanities building re-purposed, which has been opposed by academics.

Associate professor of musicology Wolfgang Marx, chair of the committee which runs the common room, said the lounge “has existed since 1975 and is a significant part of UCD’s heritage.”

Prof Marx said the new club would be a more formal facility, “to impress political and other high-ranking guests.”

In recent weeks a petition has been circulated among academics, to pledge to refuse to join the new staff club, if the common room is closed.

The common room committee has also encouraged academics to raise objections to the plan to shut the existing lounge with senior university officials.

UCD did not respond to requests for comment on the opposition to the University Club.