(Reading time: 8 mins.)
A rally on Custom House Quay on Saturday protesting the housing crisis was followed by a march through Dublin city centre, halting traffic at a number of points before ending with another rally outside Mountjoy Garda Station, from which station Gardaí (police force of the Irish State) had protected an illegal eviction in the Phibsboro area only days before. Speakers at various points denounced the Government parties current and past, the rendering of housing a commodity by the capitalist system and the police for protecting that system.
The demonstration had been advertised already for some weeks and the date set by the Ireland’s Housing Action campaign group. The Garda protest element had been added only days before the date set for the demonstration due to a shocking incident in the Phibsborough area of the city. Residents of a house had agents of a landlord smash through their door, frightening tenants and throwing their possession into the street. Two Gardaí in attendance who said they were there “to prevent a breach of the peace” were in fact assisting in the commission of a breach of the peace by protecting the landlord’s thugs and intimidating tenants and others from resisting.
No eviction notice was produced nor did the Gardaí require one from the thugs, who proceeded to smash fixtures in the house, including the toilets. One of the eviction team shouted that a note had been sent to a tenant – on their Facebook account!
A local activist passing by noted what was going on and summoned assistance which in turn ensured the arrival of more Gardaí, including an Armed Response Unit vehicle (these units carry firearms and live ammunition). Helpers found temporary accommodation that evening for the evicted tenants, who the following day were assisted in returning to their home, with repairs carried out to toilets and some other fixtures.
It transpired that the eviction had been illegal even within the current system and protesters were informed outside the Garda station that the thugs had not registered as bailiffs for two years past and that the company they purported to represent appeared non-existent.
It was this incident which had ensured the march would culminate in a rally outside the very police station involved (some years ago this station was the scene of protest due to the collusion of Gardaí stationed there with companies installing water meters and threatening water protesters).
Since the eviction, the online Journal.ie published a report in which the Gardaí were quoted in what can only be seen as poor excuses and outright lies, including a claim that there had been no damage! The Irish Council for Civil Liberties has queried the role of the Gardaí and some TDs, including Green Party members of the Government have called for a ban on evictions during the Covid19 pandemic (the previous ban on evictions was very recently lifted by the Government). As is being increasingly the case, the property in question appears to have been acquired from the landlord by a vulture company (i.e finance companies that buy properties in debt from mortgage banks at low cost, to either sell them on again or to evict the tenants and sell the properties).
This is not the first occasion on which the Gardaí have been seen in support of landlords in recent times. The occupation of an empty house in the north inner city had been broken by bailiffs assisted by Gardaí in 2018, while an Armed Response Unit had turned up to an argument between a landlord and a tenant couple at another house in Dublin in the same period.
RALLY SPEAKERS DENOUNCE RACISM
Notable by their banners in supporting the rally and march yesterday were Dublin Housing Action Committee, Dublin Renters Union, Universal Public Housing campaign, United Against Racism (Home for All), the socialist Republican party Éirigí, and Countess Markievicz 1916 Society, some of which provided speakers.
The spokesperson of the organisers Patrick Nells along with nearly all the speakers emphasised the anti-racist nature of the protest, which was no doubt reassuring to many, given that Custom House Quay had been chosen a number of times as the venue for rallies by the racist and islamophobic Irish Yellow Vests leadership and also that some elements close to the housing protest organisers had colluded with the INV when they first emerged.
Speaker after speaker pointed out that dividing working people along lines of race or ethnicity would result in a weaker resistance to landlords and their Government supporters, and that the “house Irish first” slogan put forward by racists and fascists would benefit neither the migrants nor the Irish homeless. Contrary to propaganda of the Far-Right which pretends that migrants get better and quicker access to housing than do the indigenous population, some speakers also outlined how migrants were the most vulnerable to unscrupulous landlords and it was no accident that the adults subjected to a violent and illegal eviction recently had been migrants.
LONG WAIT, LONG MARCH AND DISAPPEARED FAR-RIGHT
I had rushed to the event from a conversation in Moore Street, worried I might miss the start of the march. I need not have worried, nor have hurried. It was advertised for 2pm and I got there around 10 minutes after that but it seemed nearer to 3pm before the event was officially started – and then it was with speeches, most of them very long. A musician concluded the rally with a performance of a composition of his in which the repeated line of “A hotel room is not a home” made an impact. He also introduced slogans which were shouted along the march: “Whose streets? Our streets! Whose homes? Our homes!”
Meanwhile the sun beat down and air felt heavy, even by the riverside. Some of the attendance were visibly wilting. By the time the march crossed to the south bank and turned west, a number of people had dropped out. On O’Connell Bridge, the leaders stopped the march, which now blocked it to north-south traffic and vice versa. Here there were some further speeches, also not short, a song of which it was difficult to make out the words and a spelling out of slogans on giant letter placards, which was a welcome distraction. But still the sun beat down and there was a substantial way to go yet. Some more people left the march here.
When eventually the march began to move again, taking the north-bound traffic lanes, it passed the GPO, where a group of the Far-Right have been holding their protests since the start of the Covid19 restrictions (which they neither obeyed nor were they compelled to do so by the Gardaí, who however harassed Debenham worker pickets around the corner in Henry Street during the same period).
Word had reached some on the housing protest much earlier that the Far-Right had decamped to Phoenix Park, the first time in weeks the Far-Right had abandoned their Saturday protest at the GPO. One could speculate that they feared the risk of another punitive surge into their ranks as had happened the previous Saturday when, after weeks of provocations including assaults, a mixed group including Republicans and Anarchists had finally burst in amongst them, in the course of which the Far-Right lost various items of sound amplification equipment. Or it might have been that the Far-Right organisers wished to avoid the public spectacle of being denounced by marchers against homelessness as they passed and, even worse, their supporters calling the marchers “paedos” as they regularly do to all antifascists.
The marchers carried on, shouting the slogan about “whose streets” and “whose homes” and “homes for all” along with “Vultures out, out, out!”, calling also on people to “fight back”.
When the remainder of the marchers, having lost perhaps a third of the original numbers, finally reached Mountjoy Garda station, it was around 4.30 pm and they sank gratefully to the road, a sit-down protest but also a weary relief. Here there were also some more speeches and the Gardaí came in for some well-deserved harsh words.
As we approached the station a few minutes earlier, some Gardaí stood smiling in a friendly manner at the approaching marchers, no doubt wishing to soften their image after their recent role at the eviction. “How are you?” one Garda Sergeant greeted the marchers with a broad smile. “None the better for seeing you,” replied one of the marchers, walking past the Garda.
Gardaí clustered beyond the outskirts at both ends of the crowd, with some diverting traffic. But none interfered with the march organisers, who took up their position at the bottom of the steps leading up to the station’s front door. For the most part, those inside stayed away from the windows too.
Apart from the speeches of some housing campaign and political activists, there were some also from one of the victims of the recent illegal eviction, an African woman who spoke of the terror of the invasion and the heartlessness of the authorities and how it impacted on her, with her two Irish-born children. A young African man who had also been evicted also spoke of the experience and of the situation in general. Both praised the Irish people in general (as distinct from the authorities) and those who had helped them in particular. A young homeless Dublin woman spoke also, criticising the provision for homeless people and for rough sleepers on the streets in particular. A young Irish woman read one of her poems against homelessness and the organisers thanked all for the attendance and brought the event to a close.
It was nearly 6pm and still fairly warm and heavy.
It was good to see people out in protest at the scandalous housing crisis throughout the Irish state and in particular in its capital city, especially following a period of State restrictions on large gatherings due to the Covid19 epidemic and when fears of infection have been keeping many at home.
It was not reassuring however in that respect to note those in attendance who wore no face covering whatsoever, probably as a result of the earlier statements of the Government health spokesperson dismissing the usefulness of wearing face-mask, countering the more recent requirements of public transport for passengers to wear such protection along with the current pressure in many shops to do likewise.
The numbers in attendance were lower than might have been expected, with the banners of a number of political parties and housing campaigns notably absent. I wondered too whether it might not be wiser to make less of an issue of illegal evictions, since most evictions are probably legal under the current system and eviction orders easily obtained, a point made by one of the speakers.
What the content of the activist speeches most reflected to me, apart from outrage at the situation and blaming of the State, along with the welcome rejection of racism (even though mostly from forces that are rarely, if ever seen in the mobilisations against the racist and islamophobic rallies of the Far-Right), was impotence.
The same calls for unity, the ritual invoking of the executed socialist James Connolly, the usual denunciations of the political parties of current or past governments and their facilitation of landlords and property speculators, the decades-old calls for the involvement of the trade unions ……… but no coherent strategy or tactics to take the housing movement further at this point.
And it is not difficult to see why. What makes the housing crisis possible is the lack of public housing and that in turn is made possible by successive governments not releasing funds to local authorities for public housing construction. All political parties thus far to take part in Government for decades have colluded in maintaining this situation: the two main parties of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, of course but also whenever in coalition government, the Labour Party, Greens and Progressive Democrats.
What then of a new party in government? Currently only Sinn Féin offers that prospect and the party did have the most members elected to the Dáil (Irish parliament) in the February elections this year. However, the signs of a radical break with the capitalist housing market from that party are not good, due to its general anxiety to please the more conservative elements in society, combined with what seems an unprincipled hunger to enter government. Which, furthermore, it would have to do in coalition with other political parties.
Nor is it long since the party’s councillors in Dublin agreed to hand over public land in the city to private developers.
The trade unions are if anything more compromised and less ready for tough social action and in fact seem unable even to protect their own members to any noticeable degree.
If it should not appear possible to overcome the crisis through reform, then revolution is the only viable option – or at least the imminence of revolution forcing sections of the ruling class into implementing radical reforms. That situation does not seem close at the moment, though of course future developments may accelerate its approach in a manner difficult to anticipate now.
It does seem clear that the housing movement cannot rely on changes in government party composition in the near future. It seems likely that only more radical housing action at grassroots level, quite possibly with some activists eventually going to jail, can force the pace and provide the necessary impetus for radical government reform – or for contribution to revolution.
Press report on the recent eviction in the Phibsboro area: https://ichh.ie/tenants-regain-access-to-dublin-home-after-eviction-by-private-security/
Masked Gardaí assist masked bailiffs in 2018: https://www.irishtimes.com/news/social-affairs/masked-men-secure-dublin-property-after-housing-activists-removed-1.3626087
Garda Armed Response Unit at homelessness dispute in 2018: https://www.irishtimes.com/news/social-affairs/armed-garda%C3%AD-respond-to-eviction-row-involving-homeless-family-1.3632449