ECONOMIC protesters have claimed they were given use of a €1m-plus city centre office complex as "a Christmas gift".
The Occupy Cork protesters claim they were given the keys of Stapleton House on Oliver Plunkett Street on Christmas Day by an anonymous donor.
They now intend to turn the premises into a community centre, skills outlet, a library and resource space for groups including suicide support charities. Occupy Cork said they have secured public liability insurance for the premises, and yesterday insisted to gardai that the use of the building was a civil matter.
The building has been vacant and unused since its part-demolition and lavish refurbishment almost four years ago.
However, ownership of the building -- which had previously been offered for lease -- was unclear last night.
It was built in 2008 by Cork-based development companies Bowen and Padlake Ltd, though no ownership papers could be found with Land Registry searches. Bowen Construction went into liquidation last year with a receiver appointed by NAMA and Bank of Ireland.
It was Padlake Ltd that submitted the Stapleton House planning application to Cork City Council in 2007.
The company was dissolved in February 2011, leaving a number of unsatisfied mortgages, including several with Anglo Irish Bank.
NAMA denied ownership, with a spokesman saying: "NAMA doesn't own buildings so it is the responsibility of the owner or the receiver to organise its security. It is not something NAMA directly involves itself in. If it is a NAMA property, ultimately NAMA will raise the matter with the owners", he added.
Gardai called to the glass-fronted building at 11.30am yesterday to determine precisely how the protesters gained access, and what permission they had to occupy it. However, gardai did not attempt to remove any of the 30 Occupy Cork volunteers who have been using the premises since Christmas Day.
Occupy Cork vowed to maintain a round-the-clock presence in the building, which is located less than 100 metres from City Hall. Spokesman Liam Mulvaney told the Irish Independent that they received the keys as an anonymous gift, and intended to use the premises as "a gift to the people of Cork".
The group have posted a video of how they received the keys and their subsequent occupation of the building on the internet.
They claim the keys, and specific instructions of how to gain access, were left anonymously under their protest camp's Christmas tree on December 25. Occupy Cork volunteers have been camped out on the junction of the Grand Parade and South Mall in the city centre since last summer in solidarity with other 'Occupy' protests in Ireland, the UK and US.
Volunteers have cleaned the building and intend to equip it with donated furniture.