Friday 6 December 2019

Unite and Ogle find housing issues not just black and white

Brendan Ogle Picture: Colin O'Riordan
Brendan Ogle Picture: Colin O'Riordan

How the tables have turned.

Yesterday, it emerged the Unite trade union sought a social housing exemption for its former Dublin headquarters.

A trust connected to the trade union applied to be exempted from social housing for a development at the building on the upmarket Merrion Square in Dublin city centre, one of the capital's most salubrious addresses.

At the same time, one of its top officials, Brendan Ogle, was planning the occupation of Apollo House in the city centre last month.

Unite's application for a Social Housing Exemption Cert was granted by Dublin City Council on December 16, the day after its official, Mr Ogle, and others, gained access to Apollo House to begin a four-week occupation by homeless people and volunteers. What's more the Merrion Square building has been empty for almost three years.

Now, nobody is suggesting the building on Merrion Square was suitable accommodation for homeless people.

But neither was an ageing office block in the middle of the city centre, which was never intended as accommodation.

At no point, though, did Mr Ogle mention his union having an empty building available just a mile away.

These tales are not always black and white.

One can easily understand Unite's position in this case. The union is selling off its old headquarters and seeking to get the best possible price to spend on services for its members.

All new developments are required to provide 10pc social or affordable housing under Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000.

In reality, though, changes to the law mean a development envisaged on the site of Unite's old headquarters would be difficult to reconcile with the social and affordable housing provision.

There are exemptions for small-scale developments and building conversions. Unite argues the development cannot meet the social housing provisions on developments of 10 units or less, so an application for the exemption was virtually compulsory.

The application for private residential development within the building is legitimately intended to make it more attractive to be sold.

Unite can easily be accused of feathering its own nest and not practising what it preaches in relation to the homeless. But that would just be lazy commentary, which failed to take into account the complicated aspects of such developments.

The debate prompted by the Home Sweet Home organisation's occupation of Apollo House did highlight the issue of homelessness.

However, there was scant regard shown for property rights and the law of the land when Apollo House was illegally occupied and a court order was required to remove the group from the building.

And the notion that an office block was suitable accommodation for the homeless was simplistic.

The experience with its own headquarters shows Unite needs to be more open to listening to the arguments put forward by the opposing side, instead of just making demands.

Unite and Mr Ogle will have to learn that both sides of the story do actually matter.

Irish Independent

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