Tuesday 25 October 2016

Home truths: Boycott the bad deeds of owners

Published 19/06/2015 | 02:30

'Once again in Ireland the worlds of high finance and morality have collided – and high finance comes out on top'
'Once again in Ireland the worlds of high finance and morality have collided – and high finance comes out on top'

SEPARATED by just five generations from an era in which 10,000 (0.2pc) landlords owned 99pc of Ireland - and just 750 owned more than half of the country's landmass - we Irish know more than most nations about the substantial powers conferred by property ownership. We also realise just how sometimes devastating a set of title deeds can be when wielded immorally as a bludgeon or a crowbar - especially when this happens with the full connivance of the law.

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People are often reliant on the owner's property for rented private accommodation, for rented farming land, workspace or even for employment linked to that property. Property ownership brings responsibility and for the most part Irish laws uphold them.

In the case of Clerys, Gordon Brothers, its immediate previous owners (who vowed to regenerate the famous Dublin department store when they acquired it a few years ago), must have realised the growing power of their property deeds in the context of the overall business package.

This is because they acted more than two years ago to split the property entity out from the retailing entity and to form two separate companies controlling each.

This action certainly suggests either an intention or a contingency plan formed early on to enable the future separation of both in what would always be an impossible outcome for the retail business.

Increasing shortages of city living and working spaces have since increased the value of the Clerys building to the degree that Gordons have just walked away with a 100pc profit for taking on what seemed to be a floundering retail business but in reality was a shrewd property investment.

This week Clerys' new owners, the D2-led consortium, summarily ejected more than 400 workers and summarily evicted 50 small concession businesses with the sort of landlord-led callousness our ancestors would have been familiar with in the 1880s.

The objective has been to capitalise on the property, now split out from the business, to enable a cheaper wind-down of the latter in a process which many believe has stuck two fingers up to the accepted treatment of workers in this country, to voucher holding customers, to scores of client concession businesses and to society as a whole.

By its very perpetration, the D2-led consortium, which now owns Clerys, believes its ice-cold commercial coup will be successful and will bag it a big profit.

The prevailing view is that in the absence of laws broken, Irish society is now powerless to prevent property power being deployed to treat people like this.

Not true.

Five generations ago we found a 100pc Irish-generated "people power" response to this sort of property wielding blackguardry. It's called a boycott. It was announced thus:

"When a man takes a farm from which another has been evicted, you must shun him on the roadside when you meet him - you must shun him in the streets of the town - you must shun him in the shop - you must shun him on the fair green and in the market place, and even in the place of worship, by leaving him alone, by putting him in moral Coventry, by isolating him from the rest of the country, as if he were the leper of old - you must show him your detestation of the crime he committed."

Charles Stewart Parnell, one of our best admired moderate democrats, thus summonsed the people's response to property deed-wielding bullyboys at a Land League event in Ennis on September 19th, 1880. The act of such a community shunning was named after Charles Boycott, a vindictive landlord's agent in Mayo who appeared to delight in coming up with ridiculous new rules and fines for stricken tenants. The action produced results.

Boycott soon had no one to bring in his crops, to iron his shirts, to cook his food, to deliver his letters, to talk to him in the street, to drive his horse-drawn buggy, to sell him food at the shop, to serve him a drink in the pub. Boycott needed the army to harvest (it cost €10,000 to bring in €500 worth of crops).

By year's end he had abandoned Mayo in a horse-pulled army ambulance because no one would drive a regular carriage for him. When he arrived at a hotel in Dublin, customers threatened to boycott the building and management asked him to leave. He departed Ireland just days later.

It might be too late for the Clerys workers and the 50 concession businesses stung, but Irish people can show others contemplating such callous deployment of property splitting by distancing themselves from the building in question.

The cold D2 coup will only bring the perpetrator its profits if Dubliners convey their tacit approval or disinterest by visiting the Clerys store building in its future form. By spending money there.

For a true boycott to take effect, Dublin needs to break with its time-bound tradition and it needs to make a universal stand... far away from Clerys' desecrated clock.

Indo Property

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