Irish Republican News · January 6, 2017
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
IRISH REPUBLICAN NEWS: Campaigners call for leap forward in housing crisis
Campaigners call for leap forward in housing crisis

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Housing activists in the 26 Counties have handed an open letter to Finance Minister Michael Noonan, calling on him to order the use of vacant, state-controlled properties to house the homeless.

Residents of Apollo House - an empty office block in Dublin city centre occupied and refitted as a shelter by the Home Sweet Home campaign before Christmas - led the petition.

The building was once used by the civil service and is now controlled by receivers after property loans were taken over by the state’s bad-bank NAMA.

Irish Housing Network activist Tommy Gavin said: “The Minister for Finance is failing in his duty to the people of Ireland by not exercising his powers under the Nama act to direct Nama to make proper and adequate housing stock immediately available to local authorities around Ireland.

“The housing crisis is bigger than Apollo House.”

The Home Sweet Home secured more than 4,000 signatures of support for the petition.

There were more than 1,200 families homeless in the last week of November, according to official figures, including 6,985 people staying in emergency accommodation last month with 2,549 of them children. Some 140,000 are on housing lists awaiting accommodation.

While there are 50,000 homes currently in mortgage arrears of more than two years and facing repossession, only 22 of the hundreds of promised prefab-style modular houses for homeless families have been completed.

The open letter to Mr Noonan calls on the Dublin government to identify properties, loans, land and other assets which are controlled by Nama and could be used to house homeless people.

The campaigners are facing eviction next week after the High Court gave them until January 11 to leave the building, which has been empty since 2015.

Brendan Ogle of the Unite trade union, who is one of the organisers of the Home Sweet Home campaign, said a delegation would meet Minister for Housing Simon Coveney this [Friday] afternoon, having been invited by the Minister.

Asked what might happen that would cause the campaigners to vacate the previously empty office block, he said the government could “with the stroke of a pen” instruct Nama to provide housing to suitable homeless people staying in Apollo House and other emergency accommodation.

Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, Mr Ogle said the political leaders of Germany, Britain and France did not have the advantage the State had when it came to solving homelessness as “they don’t have Nama”.

He said that when considering the deadline set by the courts the organisers of the campaign would be taking into account the talks with the Minister, legal considerations and the use of public pressure to support the Home Sweet Home campaign.

Section 14 of the act that established Nama allows for the Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan, to instruct the agency to provide property under its control for the housing of homeless people, Mr Ogle said.

“We want the Minister to use Nama to address the homelessness emergency,” he told a press conference at the Unite offices in Dublin at which the group released a four-page emergency housing plan it wants implemented.

Mr Ogle said the Apollo House occupation was “totemic” rather than a solution to the problem.

An attempted takeover of a Nama-controlled apartment building in Finglas (pictured) ended within 24 hours when gardai escorted activists from the scene.

A group calling themselves the “Premier Love Project” entered the 60-unit building at about 2am in the morning before stating on Facebook that apartments in the building would be offered to people unable to secure social housing.

Security guards on the premises confronted the activists and gardai were alerted. The group left peacefully several hours later.

Later in the day, a small group of homeless people were turned away after they gathered at the front door after hearing about the occupation on Facebook. They were unaware the occupation was over and the building was now occupied by Dublin City Council security guards with Garda support. Despite NAMA promises that the building would be used for social housing, it remains vacant.

Colin McGettrick, a member of the Premier Love Project, had posted a video of the takeover on Facebook late on Wednesday night in which he called on other groups around the country to take over Nama-controlled buildings.

“I’ve been on the housing list for 17 years and still haven’t been housed,” Mr McGettrick said.

“There’s people out there living in tents, cars, vans, that’s who we want to ideally house.

“There’s people dying on our streets and there’s people being treated like dogs. There’s people in desperate circumstances out there. Austerity has ripped people apart. There’s people in their graves over this Government’s policies and that’s what is driving us.

“We want to change the housing policy in this country whatever way we can,” Mr McGettrick continued. “We’re going to keep on occupying Nama buildings.”

© 2017 Irish Republican News