UCC rent row: Small acts of kindness keep protesting Cork students going 

UCC rent row: Small acts of kindness keep protesting Cork students going 
Tents at the quad at UCC during a student protest in relation to a proposed rent increase. Picture Denis Minihane.

What began as a relatively humble gathering has now swelled significantly and students are continuing to join the protest as the days go on.

"We’ve been overwhelmed by both the local and national support we’ve gotten so far," Catherine Dawson, UCC Students’ Union education officer, told The Echo

Due to the volume of people looking to join the protest, the Students' Union delved into their budget and decided to purchase additional tents. 

"A lot of students were saying they wanted to join in but didn’t have a tent. 

"We decided to take the financial bullet and buy a few additional tents, which we will donate to the homeless when the protest is over," Catherine explained. 

UCC has been the subject of criticism in recent weeks after it elected to hike the prices of on-campus accommodation by 3%, which would be a cumulative increase of 19% over the course of three years.

In an email sent to staff members today, President Patrick O'Shea stated that an offer for independent external mediation had been declined.

"Last week, in an effort to reach a mutually agreeable solution for all parties, we offered independent external mediation to the Students’ Union in this matter. 

"Regrettably this was declined, however, this offer remains open," he said. 

UCC students Catherine Dawson and Tommy Mallen protesting against rising accomadation costs, and who are sleeping in tents in the UCC quad. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
UCC students Catherine Dawson and Tommy Mallen protesting against rising accomadation costs, and who are sleeping in tents in the UCC quad. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Mr O'Shea added that he respects the decision made by the Board of Campus Accommodation to increase rents for the forthcoming academic year and that the 3% increase will not affect certain students.

"The University Management Team notes in particular, that the Board has already committed to waive the increase in rates for students who are in receipt of hardship funds," he said.

Addressing this, Ciara Kealy, UCC SU deputy president and campaigns officer said the students would rather speak directly to the President regarding the issue. 

"We're of the opinion that it wasn’t necessary, that we’d like to keep things face to face and we’d like to talk it through and sort it out ourselves because we thought that bringing in an external mediator could make the divide more between us. 

"We’d rather remain one and talk peer to peer. 

"We said we don’t want the mediator but we are still open to talking to him," she said. 

Seven nights in, Ciara admitted that conditions are tough, but morale remains high.

"Last night was the coldest so far. 

"We woke up and there was a glean of frost.

"It was bitter, but we’re all still managing. 

"A new week is bringing a bit of a revival, we’re trying to keep morale high, but it is difficult. 

"What we’re all trying to keep in mind is that it’s difficult for us being here now but this could be even more difficult for hundreds of students next year if the rent increases happen," she said. 

Those braving the sub-zero temperatures at night have come up with creative ways to keep themselves busy, and thankfully, due to the generosity of local businesses, delicious food is in plentiful supply. 

"Usually, we light a small campfire in the middle of the Quad. 

"Sometimes we have a bit of a sing-song, play a few games, just anything to keep us distracted until we have to go to bed. 

"We’ve toasted marshmallows one night as well so - it’s just about trying to bring some sweetness and joy to a very harrowing situation.

"Businesses in town, like Four Star, Dominos, O’Briens and Sober Lane have all brought us up food. 

"Equally, students and staff have been dropping up food, firewood, loads of bits like that, which is unbelievably kind," she said.

"It's those gestures that keep us going."

The Board of Campus Accommodation is expected to reconvene later this week to discuss the concerns raised by the students. 

As Board members, two Students’ Union representatives are due to attend this meeting also.

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