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Student accommodation crisis

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SITUATION IS DISTRESSING FOR STUDENTS  Vice President of ATU Mayo Campus Students Union Caoimhe Ward.

Oisín McGovern

ATLANTIC Technological University’s (ATU) Castlebar campus is facing a major shortage of accommodation when the college year begins next month.
Speaking exclusively to The Mayo News, Acting President of ATU Student’s Union Caoimhe Ward has appealed for people to make spare accommodation available for students this September.
Ms Ward described the lack of student accommodation in the Castlebar area as ‘scary at the moment’.
The fourth-year outdoor education student said the shortage of rental properties, a scarcity of ‘digs’ accommodation, and a lack of dedicated student accommodation were the main factors behind the student accommodation shortage.
Ms Ward said she has been inundated with correspondence from students looking for accommodation since taking up her position at the beginning of June.
“Unfortunately, I wish I had answers for them, but I don’t,” she said.
Formerly known as GMIT-Castlebar, ATU’s Castlebar campus has an enrolment of approximately 900 students in disciplines ranging from outdoor education to nursing.
Since attaining university status earlier this year as part of a merger with Sligo IT and Letterkenny IT, the college has also been offering post-graduate courses.
Ms Ward said that students may be unable to take up their courses or will be forced to commute long distances to attend ATU-Castlebar. She added that there are only five beds currently available on the college’s dedicated student accommodation portal.
Yesterday (Monday) there were nine rental properties available in the Castlebar area listed on Daft.ie, ranging from €775 to €1,750 per month.

Very distressing
Ms Ward described the current situation as ‘very distressing’ for students.
“We have had 900 students coming in supporting the local community and economy and we cannot support them, we can’t even take them in,” she said.
An apartment complex in Castlebar with over 100 beds will also be unavailable to students for this academic year.
“I know of a student village in Castlebar for the last four years that would always have had students. I have been in contact with them this year and they have no students currently and they don’t plan to take on any students. That is going to be a huge loss to our campus,” Ms Ward said.
ATU-Castlebar chaplain Daniel Caldwell said that availability of accommodation was becoming an even bigger issue than affordability.
College management at ATU-Castlebar are currently exploring the prospect of acquiring dedicated student accommodation to service the campus.
“I know management are looking at how they might be able to resolve some of these accommodation issues in the medium to longer terms,” he said, “but in the short-term I have no doubt that there will be students who will be offered a place on the campus to study on the campus in September, who, if they can’t access accommodation, will not be able to realise that opportunity.”
Ms Ward and Mr Caldwell said there has been drop off in the number of households offering spare rooms to students due to concerns about Covid-19. Mr Caldwell added that students have had to commute as far away as Oranmore due to a lack of accommodation around Castlebar last year.
The number of beds being used to accommodate Ukrainian refugees has also exacerbated the accommodation supply.
Central Statistics Office figures from July 10 showed that there were 545 Ukrainian refugees living in the Castlebar electoral area, which the highest of any electoral area in the county.
“We would have arrangements with local hotels and holiday villages to take students in the interim to kind of bridge the gap. But now those facilities are used to house Ukrainians, and rightly so,” Mr Caldwell said.
“We want to do our part for people who are in need, and who are fleeing war and conflict, but the reality is you cannot displace Ukrainians in September to accommodate students.”

Catastrophic
MAYO Sinn Féin TD Rose-Conway Walsh warned that the country was facing into ‘a catastrophic situation’ with student accommodation in the coming weeks.
Deputy Conway Walsh said the government had been ‘too slow’ to act on the issue and called for immediate intervention.
“I have warned the Minister [for Higher Education Simon Harris] of this, that we are heading into a catastrophic situation in regards to student accommodation come September,” she told The Mayo News
“He has made proclamations of what he may do, but nothing has been done so far.”
Deputy Conway Walsh said the shortage of student accommodation was a national issue which disproportionately affected students from rural Ireland.
“They key to talking about any student accommodation is that it’s affordable. It’s not for the very high-paying international student,” she said.
“They know that they can demand a whole lot more from those international students for the high-end accommodation, and to hell with the students from Mayo, or whatever other county in rural Ireland.”