During lunch break today I sat at my desk browsing the internet (my brow furrowed while doing so, in case anyone passing thought I was slacking). I read a heart-breaking story about a mother and her six children seeking refuge in Tallaght Garda Station for the night, because there were no available emergency beds through homeless services. As there are currently 10,000 people in Ireland officially homeless (including 4000 children), the housing crisis has escalated to emergency levels.
As it so happens a group of houses close to my own humble abode had been occupied by anti-homelessness activists on Tuesday. Facebook informed me that there was a protest at the location that evening. I decided, that even if it was only a small gesture I would attend said protest.
The address – 35 Summerhill Parade – is a property owned by slumlords Pat and PJ O’Donnell (owners of POD, sponsors of the Clare GAA hurling team and pictured below). This house is part of a cluster of properties on Summerhill Parade owned by the O’Donnell family. A total of 120 tenants lived between the five properties, each paying €350 per month for a bunk-bed in a room of 6-8 people. In May, a mass eviction occurred resulting in these 120 tenants being evicted over the duration of a week.
The O’Donnell’s also purchased Aldborough House, a derelict Georgian mansion in the neighbourhood, in 2016. They have recently received approval to develop this site into office space. The forcibly vacated properties were ideal for redevelopment. To hell with the slum dwellers they were exploiting. There’s even more money to be made by turfing these people out onto the street during a national housing crisis.
I felt slightly conspicuous in my office attire as I approached the building. I bit my lip and ignored my discomfort. Homelessness is thankfully not an issue that has touched me personally, but should my landlord suddenly decide to raise my rent by 50% (which he is legally not allowed to do but such is the crisis, this is happening on a regular basis across Dublin) or if I was to lose my job, then my situation would immediately become precarious – tenancy rights in Ireland are designed to ensure that tenants have little security of tenure.
Aside from my personal situation, I just think that it is gravely immoral to allow the homeless figures to soar to the sky, while the government parrots yarns about the economic recovery, and leaving the housing supply to the whim of the market, when it is in the vulture funds’ interest to keep the supply low as it makes their yield high.
Maybe I am old fashioned but for me, making sure that everyone in this country has a roof over their head is a requirement of a civilised society. Ireland has failed at this.
Banners and slogans hung from the roofs. ‘Take back our city’; ‘Need not greed’. The assembled crowd was a mix of residents of the neighbourhood (who are vulnerable because of gentrification); anti-homeless activists, students, and me.
The protest was called ‘Leo’s Early Risers’ – a joke made at the expense of Ireland’s repellent Taoiseach / Prime Minister, Leo Varadkar.
Shortly after his appointment Varadkar made the claim that he would be Taoiseach for ‘early risers’ – people who rose early in the morning who contributed to the economy. These might sound like reasonable words but in Varadkar’s Tory mind this means that your worth is based on how much you earn. No consideration will be given to someone’s circumstance. In his neo-liberal head, he is running an economy, not a society. We are not citizens, rather we are customers of the state. The health service is being allowed to fail so that it can be privatised for profit(that Varadkar himself is a doctor makes this policy particularly vile).
But because he is gay, is the son of an immigrant, has an active social media presence, and wears funky socks, we are meant to ignore the deliberate cruelty and monstrousness of Leo and his party.
We all received a cardboard cut-out of Leo’s face, which we donned with pride. Slogans were shouted (‘Leo, Leo, Leo. Out, out, out.’). Photos were taken, speeches were made. Petitions were signed.
The house is being occupied by shifts of volunteers. They vow that they will not be moved from the premises until the properties have been acquired by Dublin City Council through compulsory purchase order from the O’Donnell slumlords.
After the protest I made my way home. It may only have been a small action, but I felt as if I had done something, regardless of how small.