Gardaí police this week forced entry to an abandoned homeless shelter to evict activists seeking to tackle a crisis which has now prompted the involvement the Irish President, Michael D Higgins.
No less than eighty Garda police took part in an operation at Lefroy House, at Eden Quay in Dublin City Centre, dubbed ‘James Connolly House’ by the socialist republicans who reopened it.
Like Apollo House a number of years ago, Lefroy House was seized by an amalgamation of Socialist Republicans and housing activists on International Workers Day, May 1st.
Two activists, Sean Doyle and Caoimhín Ó Dubhghaill, were arrested on the basis they had ignored a court order to leave the building, but were subsequently released by a judge.
Mr Doyle, in refusing to give an undertaking to comply with the order to vacate, said that his defence to the action was the 10,000 homeless people in the 26 County state, including 3,000 homeless children.
He pointed out that even if half of Ireland’s vacant properties were occupied it would be more than enough to deal with the homeless crisis.
After considering submissions, the judge said she was not going to make an order committing them to prison, a power she said should be used “sparingly”.
“The Gardaí have demonstrated once again that they are entirely on the side of exploitative landlords and housing vultures, determined to maintain the current state-sponsored housing crisis. This must be opposed,” according to a statement by the Revolutionary Workers Union.
“Despite legally being a civil matter Garda wrongfully has charged the activists with trespass on non-existent evidence,” they said.
“While the two activists have been freed, the disproportionate response involved 80 Gardaí, a number admitted to by Gardaí in court, shows how much the State wishes to prevent homes being acquisitioned for the people.
“We remain defiant in the face of state repression. A system of law which allows there to be over 10,000 homeless in this country cannot be respected.”
But Gardaí then arrested a further two activists at abandoned council flats which had been occupied in Inchicore in west Dublin. That building was dubbed “Liam Mellows House” after another Irish rebel and martyr.
A protest was organised outside Store Street Garda Station against what were described as “disgraceful attempts” to criminalise housing activists.
“The RWU will continue fighting to alleviate suffering on our streets and continue acquisitioning vacant homes. It is the 10,000 homeless people in this country that is the real crime. No amount of harassment from Free State police will deter us.”
Separately, Irish President Michael D Higgins has been widely praised for his intervention on the housing issue.
In remarks made during a visit to an addiction charity in Kildare, the president made an impassioned speech about the state of the nation. He said he often asks himself “how Republican is what we’ve created?”.
“I have taken to speaking ever more frankly in relation to housing because I think it is our great, great, great failure,” he said. “It isn’t a crisis anymore, it’s a disaster.
“We have to really think about meeting the basic needs of people in a Republic, be that food, shelter and education... Building homes is what’s important. It’s not to be a star performer for the speculative sector internationally or anything else.”
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald supported President Higgins’ comments and rejected criticism from Cabinet Ministers.
“I think they’re entirely wrong. I think the President very honourably and very strongly has reflected the reality of people’s lives,” she said.
“The President is the first citizen and I think the President is speaking on behalf of people who are now really suffering and really struggling is a very honourable and very noble thing.”
She said that President Higgins’ comments were made “very honourably” and that it is “blindingly obvious” that the country is now “not just in a crisis but we are in a housing disaster”.
“I commend him for that type of honesty.”