Amid a national outcry over children being forced to sleep in police stations due to a lack of accommodation, housing activists have occupied a vacant home in Dublin.
A mother and her six children slept in Tallaght Garda Station on Wednesday night. Homeless activists said 16 children in total spent the night in Garda stations.
“The difference between this case and others is that photos were taken of the children sleeping on plastic chairs and the photos went viral,” said Fr Peter McVerry, who runs a charity for homeless. “That’s what caused the outrage. This has been going on for months.”
On Tuesday night a coalition of housing campaign groups entered a property on Summerhill Parade in Ballybough on Dublin’s north side. The activists held a protest outside the house on Thursday, attended by more than 100 people. The crowd wore face masks of the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, and heard from several speakers.
A banner with the words “Homes for All” was hung from the second floor window of the house. It is one of six in the street which have been left empty since May in a dispute over fire regulations. The remaining five have since had their doors reinforced.
Speaking outside of the occupation, Conor Reddy, a member of Take Back Trinity, said the coalition of groups had occupied the building to “demand public housing.”
“Homes should be for need and not for greed. The action is about taking back power over these properties, this property has been vacant now for a number of months,” he said.
“We believe the city council and the State should take over these properties, renovate them, use compulsory purchase orders, and put them to social [housing] use immediately,” he said.
Peter Dowley from Dublin’s Renters Union said the action was necessary as there was a “massive housing crisis” in Ireland.
“There’s so many people being evicted from their homes, and so many vacant homes. It’s about time we take over a vacant property and demand the council purchase it.”
“Renters don’t have any security of tenure. We need long term security of tenure,” he said.
Seamus Farrell, a member of Dublin Central Housing Action, gave a speech outside the property.
“In the middle of a housing crisis, there is empty houses across the country while children are sleeping in Garda stations, rents are going up, families are being evicted,” he said.
“Every bit of land, every house that is empty, it doesn’t matter, it needs to be used for people’s need.”
Sinn Fein’s Mary Lou McDonald has called on Fianna Fail to “pull the plug” on the current minority government and call a general election.
Ms McDonald said the photo is “the most tragic reflection of where we’re at in the housing crisis”.
“If that doesn’t sum up where we are at I don’t know what does. They say a picture paints a thousands words. In many ways, there is no need to say anymore, just to simply look at that image, and the misery, the desperation and the stress in that picture, and the failure - the huge failure - by the State that is reflected in that picture.”
Ms McDonald said Fianna Fail need to take action and pull the government down, stating that Fine Gael are incapable of solving the housing crisis in Ireland.
“Fianna Fail should pull the plug. We should have an election. We should have a government that can deliver for the people.”
“Fianna Fail are complicit in this, they are not disinterested observers,” she said, adding that her party had been forced to withdraw a plan to put a motion of no confidence in the housing minister, because of Fianna Fail’s likely opposition.
Dublin South West TD Paul Murphy said the case highlighted how the government’s failed plan to rely on private landlords and builders.
“Scenes like this are being played out across the country every night of the week whether it’s families in Garda stations or tents on beaches,” he said.
The flow of people from the private rental sector into homelessness was like trying to empty out the bathwater while the tap was still running, claimed Fr McVerry.
He warned of a further “avalanche” of homelessness as banks ratchet up efforts to evict homeowners for a quick profit, even against those who have kept up with repayments.
“The reality is the government has no solution. They don’t know what to do about it and the situation is getting worse.”