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As angry as f**k - but at least we try to do something about it: Irish artists on homeless crisis

Barry Egan talks to some of the artists who will appear at Tuesday’s Rock Against Homelessness benefit gig


Fontaines DC are curating Tuesday’s benefit gig at the Olympia Theatre

Fontaines DC are curating Tuesday’s benefit gig at the Olympia Theatre


Fontaines DC are curating Tuesday’s benefit gig at the Olympia Theatre

Anger is an energy, sang Johnny Rotten. And were we not filled with righteous anger by the death of a young homeless woman in her emergency accommodation in Dublin in January? And by the "life-changing injuries" caused to a man sleeping in his tent beside the canal in the piercing cold of the same month?

Righteous anger.

There are about 10,500 people homeless in Ireland - and almost 4,000 of them are children. The vast majority of homeless people in Ireland stay in ultimately dehumanising emergency accommodation such as hostels.

Righteous anger.

Independent.ie's Rock Against Homelessness concert in aid of Focus Ireland started five years ago in response to an emergency situation. Everyone went out of their way to help. The Olympia theatre in Dublin has given the venue rent free every year (big thanks to Denis Desmond and Caroline Downey of MCD Concert Promotions for this). Today FM and 98FM have given a massive amount of free radio advertising every year. Big thanks to Denis O'Brien. Cadbury and Hard Rock Cafe have also been proud sponsors.

Acts like Dermot Kennedy, Glen Hansard, The Boomtown Rats, Imelda May, Paul Brady, Deirdre O'Kane and Laura Whitmore (to name but a few) have been phenomenal.

This year's show, in the Olympia this Tuesday, sold out in hours - 1,600 tickets gone in a flash. This wasn't a surprise given that the concert is headlined and curated by Fontaines DC, the most exciting Irish band since U2. Once they agreed they'd do the show last November, the bill they painstakingly put together was incredible - The Murder Capital, Melts, Kneecap, Just Mustard, The Altered Hours, Stefan Murphy, and The Mary Wallopers.

Asked how they felt about the homeless crisis in Ireland, the bands' answers were marked by one emotion: rage. Atlanta-based Stefan Murphy put it like this. "The homeless situation in Ireland is a product of the compassionless excuse for human society we are dealing with at the moment. I feel like Ireland can be a heartless regime politically but your average Irish person is far from that. The outdated attitude that homeless people are authors of their own misfortune still exists. That attitude needs to change from the top down."

How does Kneecap feel about playing the sold out Olympia show?

"Angry as f**k," replied Kneecap. "It would be great if it wasn't needed. We're p**sed off that shows like this are needed to help homelessness... Blokes in suits have destroyed the island, blokes in tracksuits are gonna take over."

The issue has been ignored for far too long, says Cathal Mac Gabhann of The Altered Hours. "The Government has not given the people any faith that there is enough being done to tackle the issue. It's become a media topic due to people-powered initiatives and protests raising awareness and funds - but there's still a long way to go before we wake up as a nation and tackle this wholeheartedly.

"But it's reassuring to see so many people get behind the cause. It would be comforting to know that anyone coming to the show might take a moment to chat with someone on the street as they make their way to the Olympia. Compassion and empathy can bring dignity to those who long to be treated equally."

Making a difference to the lives of homeless people is something Eoin Kenny of Melts is keen to do.

"Sometimes I feel really helpless you know, like there is nothing you can do to stop the high rents and stop people ending up in temporary accommodation and on the streets, the whole housing machine seems cold and careless - so we are honoured to be a part of this night and to help Focus Ireland in the work they do, in making a real difference in so many people's lives, people who are at their most vulnerable."

His thoughts on the work being done by Focus Ireland were echoed by post-punk outfit The Murder Capital.

"It's hard to describe it in lighter terms than a disgrace. Ireland has proven itself to have the tools to demand social change for the better, with the Marriage Referendum and the repealing of the Eighth Amendment. But we are still seen to not be able to look after our people when it comes to sufficient housing.

"As much as we have to hold the Government accountable, it's so important to shine a light upon and support the people who are making a difference. People like Focus Ireland strive to find resolutions to the problem while aiding those who are being mistreated by the system."

Seeing people being treated like rubbish was distressing, Dundalk trio The Mary Wallopers said: "In a country where people have so much, it's horrible seeing those suffering from not having anywhere stable to sleep. People are treated like literal rubbish, being forcibly moved off the streets, and it needs to stop."

Peter Vandermeersch, publisher of Independent.ie, said: "Rock against homelessness obviously is about great rock. That's why it sold out in a couple of hours. But more important than the great rock music is the cause: homelessness.

"It's still a disgrace that people in this country are living in the streets. As a media organisation we want to keep this sad reality on the minds of our readers and of the public.

"Let's enjoy the great music of Fontaines DC and the other bands, but above all let's act together to fight homelessness."

Sunday Independent