Gangsters

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Over a thousand people marched in Dublin on Wednesday after the new Garda Commissioner colluded with hired thugs in an attempt to suppress opposition to the government’s housing policy.

On behalf of an absentee landlord, a Garda ‘Public Order Unit’ was sent out on Tuesday on North Frederick Street in Dublin city centre to support a masked gang of some 15 to 20 men wearing balaclavas.

Operating out of a second-hand British police van, the gang, who are believed to based in the North, forced their way into an abandoned premises after it had been occupied by housing activists.

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They illegally gained entry to the building using an angle grinder and a sledgehammer and then proceeded with a forced eviction.

Outside, masked Gardai used batons, pepper-spray and direct assault to break up campaigners, before posing for media photographs.

There were several injuries requiring hospital treatment, according to ‘Take Back the City’, the network of 18 grassroots activist groups who are taking direct action against Ireland’s housing crisis.

One young man suffered a head injury and concussion after he was dragged to the ground by masked men. Another was kicked in the head.

Trinity student Conor Reddy, who suffered an injured neck and concussion, said he was attempting a peaceful sit-down protest on the road outside the property, when he was attacked.

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The operation has exposed the reactionary agenda of the Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan, and his new appointee, Drew Harris, a notorious British collusion figure who Flanagan made head of the 26 County police earlier this month.

While in the RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary), Harris directed a ‘dirty war’ of oppression against Irish nationalists. Following his inauguration on September 3, he described Irish republicans as “the biggest threat on the island”. Within eight days, he sent out a masked police gang to engage in a violent show of strength which bears the hallmarks of fascism.

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The images sent shock waves through Irish social media. They evoked memories of the brutality of British establishment landlords who were supported by the RIC, the predecessor of the RUC.

The following day, with little notice, a thousand people, young and old, male and female, marched through the streets in a rally of empowerment and defiance. The ‘Take Back The City’ campaign had called on people to join them and march through Dublin to show that they will not be intimidated, but even they were surprised by the numbers who turned out.

Public transport and traffic came to a standstill in the city centre as protesters sat down on the intersection of O’Connell Street and Parnell Street. Pictures of the gang wearing balaclavas were being held aloft by protesters as they shouted chants of “shame, shame, shame”. People travelled from all over Dublin and beyond to take part in the protest, chanting “we will not be moved”.

A woman in her 60s drove up from Kilkenny for the protest. “I think it’s just disgraceful and I agree with what these people are doing. Ireland is screwed and we need action now.”

They marched towards a second vacant premises on Belvedere Place, where activists are again facing eviction by a ‘heavy gang’.

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The British-registered van used on Tuesday was previously owned by Greater Manchester Police. It is thought the same untaxed British vehicle, with no front number plate and no record of vehicle testing -- but using blue lights to convey a police function -- was involved in a previous eviction on behalf of KBC bank in Balbriggan last February. On that occasion, anti-eviction activists said they believed loyalist paramilitaries and former British Army soldiers had been involved.

The ‘Take Back the City’ campaign said it will continue to take over vacant buildings to highlight property hoarding and other tactics used by slum landlords and vulture funds. The umbrella group includes activists from Dublin Central Housing Action, Dublin West Housing Action, student group Take Back Trinity, and Dublin Renters’ Union.

In a statement following the eviction, a spokesperson for the group said their campaign had received huge support and was stronger than ever.

They denounced the actions of the supposed ‘security firm’ who carried out the forceful eviction on a building they said had been left idle for more than three years. Ordinary tenants are being illegally and unjustly ousted from their homes, they said, thanks to the physical support of the state for evictions.

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They also “utterly condemned” the actions of Gardai who they said had “facilitated these illegal activities, arrested activists fighting against the ongoing and unprecedented homelessness crisis in Ireland, and used physical force in the process.”

Amnesty International Ireland called for an investigation into the use of excessive force by gardai, while the Irish Council for Civil Liberties called for a report from Commissioner Drew Harris.

Labour justice spokesman Sean Sherlock said Harris must explain the “level of co-operation” between Gardai and the gang carrying out the eviction.

Sinn Fein justice spokesman Donnchadh O Laoghaire said the scenes were “very concerning” and called for an investigation by the Garda Ombudsman.

“It is important that it is clarified whether the security firm who the gardai were facilitating had the appropriate documentation of identification, and under what legal basis they were there,” he said.

“Families up and down the country will look on at this with concern, particularly those who are potentially facing eviction in the short term, if this is the heavy handed approach that is to be taken to facilitate private security in enforcing the will of landlords.

“The approach taken to the victims of the Housing crisis, and those who are campaigning for change, is markedly different to that taken against slum landlords.”

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