Mixed Bag Budget for Students
The cost of living has increased so much in the last year in Dublin especially, it doesn’t exactly counterbalance for the rise in the minimum wage.
-UCDSU President Marcus O’Halloran
Budget 2016 brought with it some measures to assist students, but failed to address the accommodation crisis, according to Marcus O’Halloran, President of UCD Students’ Union (UCDSU).
O’Halloran welcomed the increase in the minimum wage and the decrease in the Universal Social Charge (USC), as he identified them as the measures which would be of most benefit to the students of UCD. From January 2016, the minimum wage will rise to €9.15 per hour, a 50c increase from €8.65. Meanwhile, there was a rise in the threshold of eligibility for the USC. It will now be increased to €13,000, from €12,012 per annum. Anyone who earns more than that becomes eligible to pay the tax. Commenting on these two measures, he noted that “the 50 cent rise in the minimum wage was a bonus and the USC decrease was also a bonus.”
O’Halloran highlighted the failure to deal with the accommodation crisis for students as the biggest disappointment in the Budget. When asked what provisions he would have liked to have seen himself, O’Halloran replied that “we would have liked to have seen either rent caps or a massive influx of funding for student accommodation.”
He confirmed that he would be presenting to the Cabinet in the next three weeks on the “shortfall of student accommodation” alongside Kevin Donoghue, President of Union of Students in Ireland (USI). As the Budget has not yet been signed off on, O’Halloran is “hopeful something will be done on it.” For students, the problem is that O’Halloran and Donoghue will be presenting their case to a Cabinet which has very split views on the issue.
College students find themselves stuck in the middle of a national housing crisis, which has divided the two coalition parties on how best to handle the situation. At present, UCDSU’s position is more aligned with Labour and their calls for a rent cap. Meanwhile, Fine Gael are reluctant to interfere in the private market.
The dispute is currently being fought at Cabinet level, and there have been reports of a recent flashpoint on the issue between Labour’s Alan Kelly, Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, and Fine Gael’s Michael Noonan, Minister for Finance. Both strongly support their own party’s stance on the issue.
Noonan’s views on the matter are shared by Enda Kenny. The Taoiseach recently said that “it is very clear that interference in the market to its detriment is not something we should do,” and that “while people are calling for what they call clarity in respect of certainty for rent, if you interfere in the wrong way you make matters worse.”
Regarding the situation on campus, O’Halloran confirmed he would be meeting with Andrew Deeks, President of UCD, and Gerry O’Brien, UCD’s Bursar, in the next two weeks to discuss the topic. UCDSU has been calling for a sustainable model of campus accommodation to be implemented over the coming years.
O’Halloran said that their proposal was receiving political attention. Fianna Fail’s Charlie McConalogue, Spokesperson on Education & Skills, had voiced his support for their solution, while they also received a recent letter of support from Joan Burton, Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection. He noted that “getting a letter from the Tánaiste was quite positive”, and confirmed that UCDSU is awaiting a response from Fine Gael as to whether or not they will support the union’s calls to deal with the situation.
However, his overall view on the situation is that it will take a long time. “It’s continuously a waiting game with student accommodation, since our meeting with Alan Kelly, nothing has come of it. All the promises that he made haven’t arisen really. And it’s kind of disappointing, but we remain hopeful enough.”
When asked about the possibility of UCD re-joining USI, given how he is co-operating with them on accommodation, O’Halloran noted that UCDSU is mandated to run a referendum on re-joining it every few years. He said that “nobodies approached us about running a referendum to re-join USI.” He also stated that “there’s no desire, really, among students” to re-affiliate with the organisation.
As part of UCDSU’s response to the Budget, O’Halloran has been getting involved in on-campus discussions. Last week, he attended a panel analysis on the budget, host by UCD Economics Society (UCD EconSoc), on the 15th October. Paul Dockery, Vice-Auditor of UCD EconSoc, tweeted that O’Halloran stated that there was “nothing for students in Budget 2016.” Both the EconSoc and UCDSU Twitter accounts retweeted this. O’Halloran sought to justify this quotation, by stating that “the Budget didn’t entirely overlook students.”
While the Budget has yet to be approved by the government, one of its provisions has already come into effect, as smokers were hit with another 50c increase in the price of a 20 pack of cigarettes. However, it is unlikely that the effects of this measure will be seen on campus, as last year, UCDSU banned the sale of cigarettes within its shops on campus as part of its policy of supporting the UCD Health Promotion Committee’s smoke free campus initiative.
- Author: Cian Carton, News Editor