I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I am sharing time.
Students should not be hit with rent increases of 20% to 30%. No student should be paying €1,000 per month for student-specific accommodation. No student should have to pay three times his or her Student Universal Support Ireland, SUSI, maintenance grant in rent. Allowing these rents is not just unfair, it is also a barrier to accessing third level education. From conversations I have had today not just with students but also with senior figures in university management, if it is allowed to continue, it will act as a barrier, forcing young people either out of third level education or into four-hour daily commutes which will impact on their education and student life. The Bill before us is very simple. It is about bringing this to an end. When the Shanowen shakedown protest started in Dublin City University in March, the Government should have acted immediately. The Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, who I note is not present, should have requested the Attorney General to clarify whether student licences were covered under the Residential Tenancies Acts and the rent pressure zone legislation. Interdepartmental meetings between the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government and the Department of Education and Skills were not necessary. What was required was action. Instead, as in so many areas, the Government did nothing. What happened? The student rent shakedown spread to Galway. If the Government continues to refuse to act, it will spread to Cork, Limerick, Sligo, Waterford and elsewhere.
The solution is very simple. The Residential Tenancies Act 2004 and the Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Act 2016 should be amended to ensure student licences are included in the definition of a tenancy; students should be given access to the measures in the rent pressure zone legislation and both landlords and tenants should be given access to the Residential Tenancies Board for dispute resolution.
I acknowledge the important work of Deputy Darragh O’Brien and his party colleagues on this issue. From the outset, he has supported the students in DCU and elsewhere and has very similar legislation on the Order Paper which he introduced only recently. Following conversations today, I welcome his support for this legislation. I also welcome the public support of other Opposition Deputies and Government backbenchers for the student protests. We have a great opportunity to speak with one voice and say we stand for fair play for students, that we are going to put an end to the student rent shakedown and that we are going to provide students and their parents with the protection they need.
I understand the Government will not oppose the Bill, but that it has some concerns about the proposed wording. That is okay. The eminently more qualified officials in the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government would do a much better job of writing this legislation than my support staff and I would. If the Minister and his departmental staff do not believe they can support this wording, we have a very simple solution. All they need do is take the sentiments which I hope will be approved by the Dáil and work them in their own words into the residential tenancies (amendment) Bill which they are finalising and which all of us in the House will then enthusiastically support. If the Minister does that, we could have the matter resolved by the end of July; students would have the protections they need and this Private Members’ Bill would no longer be necessary.
We all know that lack of supply is a key part of the student accommodation crisis. I welcome increased investment in student-specific accommodation, particularly by the European Investment Bank and the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund. The Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government and the Department of Education and Skills need to work together to lift the borrowing caps on universities to allow them to provide better quality affordable student-specific accommodation. While private investment is not to be opposed, accommodation must be delivered at a genuinely affordable rate. Let us not forget that many of the investment funds in the student market are benefiting from very generous tax breaks. They are global funds that have developed a reputation for aggressively driving down their tax liabilities, while driving student rents ever higher. That is not the way to resolve the student housing crisis.
I thank the students involved in the Shanowen and Cúirt shakedown protests for forcing this important issue onto the political agenda. I urge those students to continue with the protests. I acknowledge the important work being done by the Union of Students in Ireland, USI, and the students' unions in DCU, UCD, Trinity College Dublin, NUI Galway, the IADT and other colleges. I urge all Deputies in the House to stand by these students and support the Bill. I desperately urge the Minister to insert amendments into his own legislation to tackle this issue and end the student rents shakedown.