The death of Kilkenny native Jonathan Corrie, a 43-year-old who had suffered mental ill-health and addiction problems, on a freezing night within feet of the seat of power, has shocked the public may have killed off the Dublin government’s chances of re-election.
Amid public anger over the plight of Ireland’s poor, the annual lighting of a Christmas tree in the grounds of the parliament at Leinster House had to be postponed. A candle lit vigil was held instead.
The father of two was “ice cold” when a woman came across his body at around 8am. She said she ran across the road to get the gardai who provide security at the Dail, but they refused to get involved. Buswells Hotel later provided a white sheet to cover him from passers-by and for his dignity.
Dessie Ellis, Sinn Fein’s housing spokesman, said: “That this man took his last breath just outside the parliament that rubber-stamped the policies that failed him is highly symbolic.”
Flowers and messages have since been placed outside the place where his body was found.
One read: “I feel ashamed that in a country full of spare houses and rooms, that we did not put a roof over your head. Now is the time for Government, NAMA, developers, Councils, the public, to take action as a national emergency.”
Another said: “A little too late. It is about the billionaires we know you look after best and forget about the rest”.
Several homeless sleep rough around the doorways of Molesworth Street, just across from the doors of Leinster House. Some are known to Taoiseach Enda Kenny and other TDs as they pass on their way to the Dail.
Gavin Hanlon, a homeless man who sleeps outside the former Anglo Irish Bank on St Stephen’s Green, now a Starbucks, knew Jonathan Corrie. He described him as a “gentleman.”
“It’s going to get worse and worse. People have nowhere to go. You ring the free phone and they have the thing taken off the hook because they just don’t want to deal with it because they are overloaded.”
Amy Malone, who organised the vigil, queried why the Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin had suddenly managed to find an extra 10 million euro to deal with the homelessness crisis following the news.
“We shouldn’t have to wait for a man to die for them to do something about it,” she said.
Founder of Focus Ireland Sr. Stanislaus Kennedy said Mr Corrie’s death is a sign of the ‘failure of the state’.
“I’m going to say what an awful tragedy this is that somebody should die in such circumstances and so publicly and to offer my sincere condolences to the man’s family and friends,” Sr. Stan told RTE’s News at One programme.
“As well as people living rough we have more and more families moving into homelessness every day,” Sr. Stan continued.
“Last month there were 45 more families made homeless. We need to stop this flow of people moving out into the street.”
Official figures released just over a week ago show the number of people sleeping rough in Dublin has soared over the past year, while homelessness and soaring rents have become a national crisis.
Mayor of Dublin Christy Burke said accommodation that could be used by homeless people was available. “There’s some hypocrisy around when you decide to open homeless shelters and some politicians are out of the traps saying, ‘Not in my backyard’. That needs to stop.”
Medical teams needed to be included to deal with mental health and addiction problems, he added. “It was heartbreaking to listen to Jonathan Corrie’s daughter and son ... saying he’d tried to get help from addiction services for years,” he said.
While the housing situation has boosted economic statistics by forcing many unemployed to emigrate, others have joined the list of the homeless.
Accompanying Mr Burke and security staff in a nigh-time tour of Dublin city centre on Thursday night, Mr Kenny was described as being alarmed at what he had seen.
Burke said the Taoiseach was “taken aback” and “saddened” by the sight of so many homeless, and shocked that many of them were there solely due to rent hikes and job losses.
Reports have also multiplied of people who have taken to living in illegal, overcrowded, slums or in vehicles. A recent ban on the provision of bedsits -- small studio apartments with shared facilities -- has also proven disastrous.
Sinn Fein Councillor Chris Andrews has called for an immediate and urgent response from government to the rapidly escalating housing crisis.
“We are in the midst of the worst housing crisis Dublin has ever seen,” Andrews said. “The outrage and anger at the recent death of Jonathan Corrie at the gates of Leinster House has justifiably focused minds on the extent of the problem but it is absolutely shocking and deeply upsetting that it has gotten to the stage that a man must die outside our parliament for any attention to be directed to what is at this stage an emergency situation.”
He said NAMA, the state ‘asset management company’, is sitting on thousands of vacant housing units because they don’t know what to do with them.
“Fast tracking the delivery of NAMA housing units should be an overriding priority of this government, yet NAMA has so far delivered just over 750 vacant units for use as social housing. This is absolutely and utterly unacceptable”.
Socialist TD Ruth Coppinger said the housing crisis was an epidemic. She described some of the people who had visited her constituency office.
“A man in his 60s who is a former plasterer, is now homeless. He has diabetes and arthritis and goes out to the airport to sleep at night,” she said.
Colleague Paul Murphy said the recent anti-water charge protests held in recent weeks have shown people power. Thousands have been attending demonstrations every weekend across the country.
A poll this weekend showed Kenny’s party at a historic low of just 19% support, a slide of 5%, while his Labour coalition partners fell by 3 points, from 9% to 6%. Meanwhile, there has been a strong rise of 9% in support for independents and others, to 32%.
Sinn Fein remain the most popular party in the state at 22%, with Fianna Fail close behind on 21%.
Murphy urged as many as possible to turn out on Wednesday, when another mass protest is to be held in Dublin city centre.
“We’re not going to be satisfied until we bring this government down,” he said. Enda Kenny, we’re coming for you and your government and we’re going to bring you down.”
Ms Coppinger said she shared the Dublin West constituency with Labour leader Joan Burton but that they “share different worlds.”
She said the anti-water charge protests are not simply about water. The planned protest in Dublin on December 10th will be a day of massive mobilisation “that could sink the Government.”
“It isn’t just about water. This is about who paid for the last six years and who paid the gambling debts of an anonymous elite [bank investors] whose names have never been revealed,” she said. She dismissed claims some protests have been aggressive.
“Joan Burton wonders why she drove into Jobstown, one of the most deprived communities in this country and a red carpet wasn’t flung under her feet? Because you’re the Minister for homelessness, Joan,” she said.
* See right2water.ie for further details of Wednesday’s and other protests.