An eviction gang reportedly involving loyalists from the north of Ireland were backed up by Garda police after they descended on a building in Dublin on Wednesday to evict a community group.
The brutal eviction recalled the 19th century demolitions carried out by British landlords with the support of Irish police. It has destroyed liveable space in a city that has more than a thousand people homeless and has sharply increased tensions over the housing crisis in the 26 Counties.
For over a month, a social space known as ‘That Social Centre’ operated in the otherwise vacant building at 23 Prussia Street in northwest Dublin, a building which had been left derelict for almost ten years. But at 7am on Wednesday morning, the organisers said a gang entered the building and began assaulting residents and destroying possessions.
The 26 County state has the 10th highest rate of vacant homes in the world, with more than 180,000 buildings vacant or derelict, almost 10% of the total. It is at the same time experiencing a severe homelessness crisis, particularly in the capital.
Jess Bernard works for the Community Action Tenants Union (CATU) and helps coordinate events for That Social Centre. She arrived at the building, known locally as Sunnyvale, around an hour after the eviction began.
“A group of armed men, and even some teenagers, arrived at the social centre and broke in to violently evict people that were just sleeping in their beds,” she said.
“There was absolutely no warning whatsoever. They broke in using brute force. I was notified along with a number of other community organisers via WhatsApp.
“The residents had called the Gardaí, and they started to defend the men who were being violent rather than the residents”.
The men then tackle one of the site’s residents who had made his way to the rooftop.
“When I arrived, people were being escorted out of the property. The Gardaí were actively assisting these hired thugs, who had been really, really violent.
“The residents had called the Gardaí, and the officers started to defend the men who were being violent rather than the residents.
“I saw the guards assisting these men going in and out of the property, men who were smashing up people’s belongings and just really ruining the property.
“The guards were sort of escorting the residents to get what remained of their belongings. People were injured and bleeding. And a crowd was forming of CATU members and local residents to try and support the people who were being evicted.”
As the housing crisis continues to worsen, the involvement of police in support of private evictions and repossessions has become a matter of increasing concern. Hired loyalist gangs have been reported to be involved in several such evictions.
In 2018, balaclava-wearing Gardaí stood guard as a gang of thugs evicted housing activists from a property on Dublin’s North Frederick Street, caused widespread anger. There was a similar outcry after Gardaí stood by in 2019 while masked men removed tenants from a property on Berkeley Road in Dublin.
Housing activists have described a “standard scene” in recent evictions. The “heavies” arrive at 7am, smash the place up to make it uninhabitable, often in dubious legal circumstances. Gardaí then arrive, claiming to be maintaining public order, but help to provide security and support for the gangsters to finish the job and escape from any gathered protestors.
The owners of the site on Prussia Street had lodged a planning request to demolish the building and build an apartment and retail complex at the site.
Sunnyvale residents and CATU advocates say they were never informed of the eviction, that the court order in question dates from 2018, and that the show of force and destruction of property was illegal and unjustified.
Residents and activists re-entered the building after the security personnel had left, but they were met with grim devastation.
Ms Bernard said: “Once the goons had finished destroying the property as much as they could, they fled over the back wall and the residents came in over the roof on the front. So the residents took the property back around 5pm, but there’s always a risk that the men will come back.
“There had been oil dumped over people’s beds. The roof was completely destroyed, and when it started raining later that night, water was just pouring into the building. Everyone’s possessions had been smashed up with bats. Everything was destroyed. They smashed the toilets with bats so nobody could use the bathroom. They tried to turn on the water to flood the house, so there’s basically an inch of water all over the house.
“The destruction of the property is to render it uninhabitable so that people wouldn’t come back. And the abuse and assault was completely unjustified, it’s a scare tactic to make sure people don’t come back.”