Some weeks ago, I wrote about my attendance at a protest in Summerhill Parade (read about it HERE ). Slum landlords – the O’Donnell Family from county Clare – had evicted 120 tenants without warning, where they had been living six to a room in five terraced houses. Anti-homelessness campaign group ‘Take back the city’ occupied the houses in retaliation to protest government inaction in addressing the housing crisis. The activists were evicted and, immediately occupied another city centre building – 34 North Frederick Street. This property is a Georgian building owned by the McGreal Family. This family are not slum landlords – they are property hoarders. The building has been lying empty for over three years. They are waiting to sell it for development at the maximum price – presumably.
Meanwhile homelessness figures have increased 25% in the past twelve months. The government has failed miserably to solve the crisis. You might even imagine that many government politicians were landlords themselves and benefit personally from the housing disaster. You would not be wrong.
On August 28th the McGreal hoarders obtained and injunction requiring that the protesters vacate within 24 hours. They ignored the injunction and three weeks later they were still ensconced.
Until last night when a dozen men wearing balaclavas arrived in a van with a Northern Irish registration but without tax or insurance. They were accompanied by six masked policemen whose identity was hidden. The occupiers were violently removed. Six were arrested. Four required hospital treatment. The police assisted by using pepper spray on the occupiers and by assaulting passers-by.
Protesters gathered and marched to Store Street Garda Station near my house and engaged in a sit in at the entrance to the station. The occupiers were eventually released.
Now you might argue (and you would be right) that it is illegal to occupy someone’s private property. You could also argue that unidentified, violent thugs forcibly removing protesters with the assistance of masked police is strange and disturbing. Since when has the function of the police been to protect property speculators at the expense of the public?
A protest demonstration was called for 5.30 pm this evening at the site of the now boarded up 34 Frederick Street.
Well I don’t mind if I do, I thought to myself. In my smart casual office attire, I hauled my bones to the protest. This one was much bigger than the one I’d attended at Summerhill Parade. Fiery speeches condemning government uselessness were given. Posters showing the pictures of the masked police were handed out, and the crowd roared ‘Shame, shame, shame on you’ at the unfortunate Gardai policing the event. I couldn’t bring myself to join in here, as I have nothing against ordinary cops. I could understand the outrage though. The actions of the Gardai the night before was reprehensible and deeply troubling.
After an amusing song which condemned the Housing Minister, Eoghan Murphy (no relation I hope) we made our way the short distance to the junction of O’Connell Street and Parnell Street. This is one of the busiest junctions in the city centre.
In the middle of the road we all sat down. Traffic ground to a halt. For the next hour we sat – this was rush hour remember – and chanted. And condemned the police. And sang songs.
I spotted an RTE camera crew and sidled over to them. They were asking a young gentleman if he’s be willing to give an interview. He was reluctant.
‘Well hello Mr. Cameraman, is that a camera in your hand, or are you just pleased to see me’ I mumbled hoarsely and seductively at him. Those were not the exact words I used but I did give a brief interview about my reasons for attending. It is unlikely to be used as they filmed many.
At one pot I got a worrying sense of mild danger as a scuffle broke out between the protesters and some drunk bystanders.
The new police commissioner Drew Harris – formerly of the RUC and rumoured friend of the UVF – allegedly dropped by to watch the scene. When the crowd got wind of this, the boos were deafening.
After about an hour we were on the move again. This time to 41 Belvedere Place near Mountjoy Square. Another vacant property is being occupied by Take Back the City at that address.
The rally continued. By this time, it was 7.30pm I’d been protesting for two hours and I was cold. I made my way home.
I won’t be remotely surprised if I read tomorrow that another vacant property has been occupied. There are so many empty buildings to choose from. Amid the worst housing crisis in the country since the foundation of the state.