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Sunday 23 April 2017

Ogle defends his union over social housing exemption

Unite education officer Brendan Ogle, who was key to the Apollo House homeless protest.
Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Unite education officer Brendan Ogle, who was key to the Apollo House homeless protest. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

Ryan Nugent

Brendan Ogle has defended his trade union's decision to get an exemption from social housing for an apartment development at its former HQ.

The building on Dublin's Merrion Square owned by the Unite union has been empty for nearly three years at a time when campaigners including Mr Ogle had been calling for the use of vacant properties to ease the homeless crisis.

In December, a trust connected to the union applied to be exempted from social housing in the development for a house and four apartments. Dublin City Council granted the exemption on December 16 - a day before the campaign, led by Mr Ogle, took over Apollo House.

Mr Ogle said yesterday: "You cannot meet the social housing provisions on developments of 10 units or less, increased from five by (former housing minister) Alan Kelly. So in this case application for the exemption is compulsory."

Read more: Brendan Ogle: 'You'd have to be sociopathic to enjoy this - and I am not'

A spokesperson for the union said it was seeking to sell the property, which had been up for sale in 2012 with a €2m price tag, and the planning permission would "maximise the value of the property for members throughout Ireland".

15 Merrion Square North. Photo: Steve Humphreys
15 Merrion Square North. Photo: Steve Humphreys
The rear of 15 Merrion Square North. Photo: Steve Humphreys

"It is Unite's understanding that, following legislative changes introduced by the previous government, the planning permission applicant (Unite the Union Trustee Company), had no legal option but to seek a social housing exemption," a representative said.

"If it should transpire that this was not appropriate in the case of 15 Merrion Square, the application will be withdrawn.

"Unite regards attempts to draw a parallel between 15 Merrion Square and Apollo House as, at best, disingenuous and, at worst, mischievous. As a Nama (controlled) property, Apollo House belongs to the people of Ireland."

The union insisted it remained committed to the aims of the homelessness campaign.

All new developments are required to provide 10pc social or affordable housing under Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000.

But this development in Merrion Square is planned for just five properties, meaning it would be unable to meet the social housing requirements.

The site has had a complicated planning history, but the latest application is to convert the original five-storey protected Georgian structure into a single dwelling and to build a five-storey apartment block at the rear with three three-bed and one one-bed apartments.

The address is a few doors down from the American College, once home to Oscar Wilde. Daniel O'Connell and WB Yeats are among the other well-known names to have once lived on the square.

Unite was formed in 2007 by the merger of the Amalgamated Transport and General Workers Union (ATGWU) and Amicus.

Number 15 Merrion Street is the former HQ of the ATGWU.

Irish Independent

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