The 26 County Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has backed vulture funds who have bought distressed mortgages and are pursuing evictions despite protests against the violent eviction of a Roscommon County family last month.
Political lines look to have been drawn on the issue, which is set to become a major factor in local elections next May.
Thousands gathered on the eve of Christmas in Strokestown to support the McGann family, who have returned to their home following an illegal eviction last month.
A security firm with links to loyalist paramilitaries carried out the brutal eviction of the family with the support of Gardai. They occupied the house for several days before themselves being ousted in a dramatic early-hours battle with a large group of anti-eviction activists.
Member of the McGann family said they have been repeatedly smeared by false reports about their finances, and are now considering legal action against KBC, the vulture fund behind their eviction, and the security firm involved.
A demonstration in Strokestown, originally organised by Republican Sinn Fein, saw members of Sinn Fein and RSF take part alongside other groups as part of a community demonstration of solidarity with the family.
The new President of RSF, Seosamh O Mhaoileoin spoke on the day, as did Sinn Fein’s Matt Carthy, but there was little love lost between the rival groups. However, both SF and RSF have strongly backed the McGanns, with Mr Carthy describing the family as former neighbours of his, and RSF claiming one of the family as a member.
RSF’s Dan Hoban told the protest in Strokestown he had not “lost faith” in the Irish people. “I am proud of you all here today in support of the McGann family,” he said.
“When a crowd came in to this town a short time ago and moved in to the McGann home and forcibly removed them on to the road, it was no crime scene then, but a fortnight after when people went in to reinstate the McGann family it was deemed a crime scene. The power of the people is going to win in the end.”
Sinn Fein is currently organised anti-eviction groups across the country. Mr Carthy said the family wanted only peaceful protest and did not want their plight ‘hijacked’.
“In particular they wish to distance themselves from any reference to imitations of the ‘yellow-vest’ or alt-right movements,” he said. “The Irish people have a proud history of resisting forced evictions, a history that has been marked by community-led and people-centred protests.
“The McGann’s feel strongly that it is in line with this tradition that government policy and the oppressive actions of banks and vulture funds will be addressed”.”
However, the family is only of tens of thousands potentially facing eviction over debts being pursued since the 2008 financial crisis.
Taoiseach Varadkar has said he supports the actions of the vulture funds. He criticised Irish retail banks for their failure to resolve unpaid mortgages, and said he disagreed with the depiction of those who have purchased them.
“I’m always reluctant to use the term vulture funds because it is a political term. What we’re talking about here is investment banks, investment funds, finance houses, there are lots of different things and lots of different financial entities there and the term is used, vulture funds.
“But you’ll know from the numbers that they’re often better at write-downs of loans than our own banks. Our own banks tend to ‘extend and pretend’ rather than coming to settlements with people.”