Monday 23 April 2018

High Court rejects Apollo House occupiers' request for another week to vacate property

Glen Hansard, Jim Sheridan, Justin Casey and Brendan Ogle outside the Apollo House complex. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Glen Hansard, Jim Sheridan, Justin Casey and Brendan Ogle outside the Apollo House complex. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Aodhan O'Faolain

The High Court has dismissed an application by the occupiers of Apollo House in Dublin City Centre for an extra week before they have to leave the building.

Dismissing the application, which was brought over the suitability of alternative accommodation on offer to homeless people in Apollo House, Mr Justice Paul Gilligan said the court "could not get involved in a dispute over the standard of alternative accommodation."

apppollo house 3
apppollo house 3

The judge said while he sympathised with the plight of the homeless the court had already found that the occupants had no right or entitlement to be on the premises.

Any issue about the quality of accommodation fro homeless people was "a matter for government" and "not one for the courts," the Judge said.

The building, located on Tara Street and Townsend Street in Dublin, was taken over by activists under the Home Sweet Home Coalition and offered as accommodation to the homeless.

Last month at the High Court Mr Justice Gilligan gave the occupants, many of whom are homeless, until 12noon Wednesday to vacate the property.

Housing Minister Simon Coveney agreed to find new accommodation for those living in Nama-controlled Apollo House
Housing Minister Simon Coveney agreed to find new accommodation for those living in Nama-controlled Apollo House

Shortly before the deadline was due to expire Ross Maguire SC for the occupants asked the court for a seven day extension.

Counsel said while his clients had tried to comply with the order to vacate issues over the suitability of alternative accommodation for the residents had arisen.

While efforts were being made to find suitable accommodation with Dublin City Council more time was needed so that suitable accommodation can be found for the 25 people remain in the building.

Counsel said one of the problems was assurances about the immediate provision of suitable alternative accommodation given to the Home Sweet Home coalition, who organised the occupation, by the Minister for Housing Simon Coveney had not been delivered.

Mr Maguire SC, appearing with Michael Lynn SC, represents four of occupiers including musician Glen Hansard, trade unionist Brendan Ogle and activists Aisling Hedderman and Carrie Hennessy who are all members of the Irish Housing Network group which is part of the coalition.

The application for an extension was opposed by the Nama appointed receivers who own the building.  Rossa Fanning SC for the receivers said the court should not entertain the application for a further stay because of a dispute over the quality of alternative accommodation.

The case was about the property rights of the lawful owners, and the court had already found that the occupiers were trespassers.

The receivers, who counsel said are sensitive to the plight of the homeless had been in contact with the Dublin Region Homeless Executive, and the Fr McVerry Trust  and was satisfied that there are places available for all those in Apollo House "tonight".

The court, counsel said, which had already granted an to vacate Apollo House  said could not get involved in what was "a political issue outside the proceedings."

Mr Justice Gilligan, who said he "admired" HSH's campaign to help the homeless, said that court had been clear in its judgment last month and that the receivers were entitled to possession of the building.

"Ample time" and "a more than generous stay" had been given to those in occupation to vacate a building they have no right to be in. 

The court said it did not want to give the impression that it would take "a benevolent attitude" in cases where buildings or public owned buildings that are occupied illegally. That would be an intolerable situation in a democratic society, he added.

The case he said relates to private property rights.  The judge agreed the court could not get involved in a debate about the dispute about the suitability of the quality of accommodation that was on offer. 

The Judge also said that it was wrong to criticise Minister Coveney as he was not a party to the proceedings.

Following the judge's decision to dismiss the application for an extension Mr Fanning asked if an assurance could be given that the building would be vacated before the case returns before the High Court on Thursday.

In reply Mr Maguire said he could not give such an assurance.

The case will return before Mr Justice Gilligan on Thursday morning.

In his ruling on December 21st  Mr Justice Gilligan granted an injunction sought by Tom O'Brien and Simon Coyle of Mazars, who were appointed joint receivers over the building by a Nama related company Nalm Ltd in 2014, to vacate the property and restraining the trespass at Apollo House.

The Judge, noting arguments made on behalf of the group the Coalition including a sworn statement from Fr Peter McVerry about the current homeless crisis and the suitability of accommodation currently being offered to rough sleepers in the city, said he was placing a stay on the order to vacate Apollo House till 12 noon January 11th.

The stay was on terms including that no more than 40 homeless people stay at Apollo House per night.

Other requirements of the stay included that access to the building is provided to the receivers, that thee occupiers co-operate with the receiver's requests and in particular that there be co-operation between the parties in regards to the building's electricity supply.

The injunctions are to remain in place until the full hearing of the action. The occupants he said were trespassers and had occupied the building to highlight the plight of the homeless.

However the "law was clear" in regards to an ongoing trespass and the rights of the receivers who had charge of the property. The courts "must apply the law".

When seeking the injunctions Mr Fanning said the application was not about putting people on the street at Christmas or at any other time. They said they had "no choice" other than to take proceedings over the occupation.

Counsel said due to the occupation the building, which has been vacant since mid-2015, no longer has fire insurance and that its public liability insurance will lapse in mid January unless the receivers are able to regain possessing.

The joint receivers were appointed over the property by Nalm Ltd. It acquired loans advanced by Anglo Irish Bank to the building's owners Cuprum Properties Ltd who had defaulted on borrowing of approximately €357,000,000.

The building forms part of a block due for re-development. The receivers want to sell the property in order to deliver the best possible return for the taxpayer. 

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