Government is engaging in smoke and mirrors in relation to student accommodation by announcing and reannouncing the same ‘news’ and ‘policies’ without any concrete plans or information, according to the Union of Students in Ireland.

Last Friday, Minister Simon Harris, Minister Darragh O’Brien and Minister Pascal Donohoe held a publicity event in DCU and sent out press releases stating that they would “unveil plans for 500 student accommodation beds” and publish “a new long-term policy to deliver student accommodation”.

However, neither the student accommodation beds, nor the policy, were new announcements.

The DCU student beds reannounced by Minister Harris on Friday had already been announced in March 2023 (statement here) but no building work has yet taken place.

Government has also yet to publish a new Student Accommodation strategy, which has been expected since last summer.

Instead, on Friday Minister Harris stated: “This vision and policy will inform a new Student Accommodation Strategy, which will be published later this year,” and the Government statement said that the new policy was that “Government will fund the delivery of purpose built student accommodation.” (statement here)

But this policy was already announced in November 2022, when Minister Harris said: “This landmark policy response will, for the first time, see the state providing financial support in the construction of on-site student accommodation, and underpins the policy commitments set out in Housing for All. I am pleased today to confirm Government has approved my proposal to directly intervene in the delivery of student accommodation.” (statement here)

USI President, Chris Clifford said: “When we heard through the media last week that Minister Harris was bring a new policy to the cabinet meeting and that the new strategy would be published on Friday, we were relieved that there finally seemed to be some action around the student accommodation crisis. But we have been left angry and frustrated after seeing that there was little new in what was announced and no plan to deal with this crisis that has been worsening year on year.

“We were hoping for some clarity around this issue on Friday, but it was just a PR exercise aimed at making it look like there is action on student accommodation. It seems to just have been an election year stunt, hoping that no one will look beyond the headlines.”

USI was originally told that the new Student Accommodation Strategy would be published last summer – the current plan runs from 2017 to 2024, but its promises have not been implemented.

That plan promised regular progress updates, but the last of those was published in Q3 of 2019.

Members of the USI Coiste Gnó met with Minister Harris last Thursday, before Friday’s announcement, but were not given any concrete information on when this strategy would be published or any details on what will be delivered.

USI Vice President for Campaigns, Zaid Al-Barghouthi said: “There is nothing that we can measure. There are no targets. All we got on Friday was an update on the development of short-term activation plans that we have known since July 2023 and before.”