In Collaboration with Sáoirse Goes, Alex Payne and Clara Roche.
The Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) and the Postgraduate Workers’ Organisation (PWO) have blocked access to the Long Room and the Book of Kells.
The protest follows College’s decision to raise the price of student accommodation by 2%, which is the maximum legal increase permitted under Rent Pressure Zone legislation.
This move was condemned by the TCDSU in light of the ongoing housing crisis in Dublin. A recent Students4Change survey reported that 93% of Trinity students found on-campus housing to be unaffordable.
All TCDSU sabbatical officers are present at the protest, as well as Jeffrey Seathrún Sardina, the recently elected Chair of Trinity PWO. Union of Students’ Ireland (USI) Vice President for Campaigns, Zaid Al-Barghouthi, is also present.
People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett TD offered support to the protesters on Twitter, criticising College’s “appalling” attempt to “maximise their profit over the wellbeing of students”.
On site, Dean of Students Dr. Richard Porter condemned the protest, suggesting that the loss in revenue would negatively impact students. He promised to broker a 2% rent freeze with “the powers that be”, saying: “Going forward I’ll negotiate on behalf of you, strongly, but I need access to the place.”
Speaking to the crowd, TCDSU President László Molnárfi said: “The only way we will end our blockade is if the Provost comes down herself and gives a commitment to the press that there will be a two year rent freeze on all Trinity accommodations.”
In a statement, College said: “This 2% increase was part of a three-year plan that will expire this year and will be subject to review.” Acknowledging that students “have every right to protest peacefully”, the statement continued: “Blocking the entrance to the Old Library of Trinity College Dublin, which holds the Book of Kells, is counter-productive. Income from the Book of Kells exhibition is vital for running the university and for providing services to students. Actions like today’s blockade only worsen the situation for everyone.”
TCDSU defended their decision to take direct action, saying: “If they take money from students, then the students will take money from College, by blockading one of Trinity’s most profitable attractions.”
According to Molnárfi, the Book of Kells brings in an estimated €30,000 to €50,000 each day, with tickets priced at €18. College made a net profit of €10.9 million in 2018 from accommodation.
The Labour Party spokesperson for further and higher education, Annie Hoey, denounced the College’s position, calling the choice to raise rents “truly outstanding” in the context of the housing crisis. Trinity students are “standing up against being seen as cash cows”, she continued, adding that “the cost of accessing accomodation should not be a barrier for anyone accessing education, and Trinity’s decision to disadvantage its students is simply unbelievable”.
Protesters allowed staff to enter the building, with Molnárfi extending solidarity on behalf of the Union to all security staff, lecturers and postgraduate researchers. “We are fighting the same battle”, he said.
Molnárfi added: “We would invite all other senior management to also come down and talk to us.”
Education Officer Catherine Arnold led the crowd in a chant: “What do we want? Fair rent. When do we want it? Now.”
Throughout the protest, Molnárfi repeatedly condemned the “hypocrisy” of the College, accusing officials of treating students as “cash cows”. “College is complicit”, he stated. “Trinity prices people out of education.”
Several members of the public confronted Molnárfi and Arnold, with one private tour guide telling the protesters to “get a life and go away”.
Protesters plan to remain in place until the end of the working day. Security are present on site, but so far have not intervened.