Tuesday 23 April 2019

While anger over housing boils over, the plight of many tenants continues to be ignored

'Whether you condone activism or not, at least it has brought housing to the forefront of the political and public agenda.'
'Whether you condone activism or not, at least it has brought housing to the forefront of the political and public agenda.'
Amy Molloy

Amy Molloy

Up to 120 tenants were forced out onto the streets of Dublin's north inner city last May.

The group of men who evicted these vulnerable people from five houses in Summerhill refused to identify themselves or the landlord they worked for.

There were no balaclavas on that occasion, but they did show up in a van and demand everyone leave.

This incident kick-started the recent occupations of vacant properties by protesters across Dublin and exposed all that's wrong with the housing system in Ireland. Tenants lived in overcrowded conditions, with up to four people sharing a room.

Dublin City Council said the properties were a fire hazard and the landlord, whose identity remained a mystery for months, ordered everyone to move out.

There were no leases, rent was paid cash-in-hand and the tenants didn't even know who owned the roof above their heads.

So when they were told to "get the f*** out" by a group of aggressive men, they had no choice. Thanks to the lack of affordable accommodation available, they also had nowhere to go.

Housing activists then decided to "take a stand against slum landlords".

In August, members of homelessness groups broke into No 35 Summerhill Parade and took over the property. Soon after, they were summoned to the High Court and ordered to vacate the building. They left peacefully, but refused to stay quiet.

"This is just the beginning," a spokesperson for Take Back the City said. It took 48 hours for the landlord to evict up to 120 people and only a matter of days to secure an injunction against the activists.

But what about the tenants, their rights and the dangerous conditions they lived in? That's a matter that will likely never come before the courts.

What started out as a stand against slum conditions is now an outright protest against Ireland's housing crisis.

Activists turned their attention to No 34 North Frederick Street, a building that lay idle for almost three years, and which has no connection to the Summerhill houses.

This action proved divisive among commentators and the public. Occupying a vacant property may not be the right way to go about things, but it's caused a lot more people to start paying attention to what's happening in this country.

Pictures and videos of men in balaclavas forcibly removing protesters from a building, while gardaí in hooded masks looked on, has asked a lot of serious questions of An Garda Síochána, local authorities and the Government.

Images of substandard accommodation and record-hitting homeless figures don't shock people any more as they expect it in 2018 Ireland, but what unfolded on Tuesday made people take notice.

Hence why up to 1,000 people marched through the capital the following night.

Whether you condone activism or not, at least it has brought housing to the forefront of the political and public agenda.

And perhaps certain political commentators should direct their anger at those responsible for this mess, not those protesting against it.

Irish Independent

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