By Blathnaid O’Dea
An NUI Galway housing activist group has said its members will continue to camp out until the University’s accommodation board, Atalia Ltd, agree to reverse planned rent increases.
Niall Campbell, a member of the group Cut the Rent NUIG, said: “We’ve been [camping] here since last Thursday. We’ve shown we’re prepared to be disruptive and to get in their faces. Hopefully this is the start of the University taking students seriously.”
Mr Campbell was speaking at a protest organised by Cut the Rent NUIG and the Students’ Union.
The protest was organised to coincide with a meeting between the Students’ Union and Atalia Ltd. The two parties were discussing the proposal made by Atalia Ltd to increase rents of campus accommodation by 4%.
In a statement released prior to the protest, Cut the Rent NUIG warned students to keep pressure on Atalia. The group highlighted the President’s support as well as the support of Údarás, the college’s governing body.
Mr Campbell said: “Hopefully with this meeting now it [the rent increases] will be reversed, and I think if we are successful it shows what direct action can do… When we’re in their front garden they can’t ignore us anymore.”
Pádraic Toomey, current clubs captain and incoming Students’ Union President said: “The Students’ Union did great; they got Údarás in support of us. If Atalia – a company that’s owned by the University – goes against the governing body of the University I think that’s scandalous.
I will continue to protest and sleep here until the situation changes.”
Mr Toomey added: “I think they [Atalia] are treating it more like a business than a university. Education should be first. Education is a right… I’ve been camping out here last week and this week because I feel like it’s crazy that the cheapest room in Goldcrest is €750 euros a month… it’s just not fair; it’s not viable for anyone.”
Members of SIPTU were also present at the protest. Maggie Ronayne, the Co- chair of SIPTU’s academic section committee on campus criticised Atalia, saying: “As SIPTU members who are members of the academic staff, we are here to offer support and solidarity to students… corporate NUIG is building student housing for maximum profit and that’s just not acceptable,” she said.
Ms Ronayne added: “As staff members we see our students becoming ill with overwork in low paid and precarious jobs just in order to afford accommodation. They’re too tired to study and make it to class.”
Brandon Walsh, Vice President and Students’ Union Officer for Welfare and Equality praised supportive NUIG staff members. Mr Walsh said: “Security have left the bathrooms open during the night so we have somewhere to go, and staff have come out with teas, coffees… one staff member came out with a load of Supermacs for everyone, so staff have been definitely behind us which is really, really great… and you have SIPTU representatives as well staff representatives, so it’s great to have their support too.”