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For a group that first came into public view on May 1st with an occupation of a building empty for two years, the Revolutionary Housing League has certainly been busy. At least two further acquisitions1 have followed since.
In addition, a hundred police with vehicles and helicopter have been videoed in one eviction of two activists; four activists have appeared defiantly in court in different cases and the High Court has granted injunction to companies against activists.
As I write this another eviction is being planned, resistance is being organised and further repression through courts and jail seem certain. The RHL are fighting the system, fighting a fundamental social wrong acknowledged by almost everyone.
SHORT HISTORY OF THE REVOLUTIONARY HOUSING LEAGUE
In 1st May 2022 activists acquired Lefroy House on Dublin’s Eden Quay, formerly used by the religious-based NGO, the Salvation Army to provide night-beds for young homeless people but empty for two years. The activists renamed the building Connolly2 House.
At that time the occupiers were calling themselves the Revolutionary Workers’ Union though their council subsequently formed the Revolutionary Housing League.
The Salvation Army took the occupants to court, claiming the SA had been renovating the house in order to accommodate Ukrainian refugees. Despite the absence of evidence of any renovation work and the presence of a leaky roof (fixed by the activists!), the court granted the injunction.
The occupiers called for a rally against eviction on 2nd June and a large crowd of people of various political backgrounds, organisations and independents, arrived to support but of course, the eviction forces could wait and choose their time.
On June 9th at 5.45 a.m early passers-by were amazed to see 100 Gardaí3 with a number of vehicles, supported by a helicopter, including armed police4, assault the building to take posession of it for the SA and to arrest two activist occupants. A video of the event taken by a passer-by went viral.
Both activists were later released on their own surety bail to await court process and the building was fortified against being retaken. To this date it remains empty.
On 13th June, the housing activists convened a protest picket outside Store Street Garda station.
Story of Connolly House: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rSL453gVHAg
The RHL had acquired another site5, this one having been a building for homeless people of the municipality, Dublin City Council, but also empty for a long period. On June 10th Gardaí arrested two activists near the building and they too are being processed by the courts.
After that, the RHL occupied a large warehouse-type building on the very north bank of the Liffey by Sean Heuston Bridge which they named, naturally enough, Ionad6 Seán Heuston. They opened it as emergency accommodation and held talks and discussions within it.
Employees of Pinnacle Security company with bolt-cutters entered the site on 3rd September but failed to evict residents and on the 5th September RHL activists picketed the company which, as a consequence, withdrew from acting as security for Chartered Land, owners of the site.
The building owner’s interests are managed by Davy Platform ICAV, acting on behalf of its sub-fund the Phoenix Sub-fund but ultimately, the owner is Chartered Land which intends to build high-rental apartments on the site.
Joe O’Reilly is the property speculator tycoon behind Chartered Land, once the biggest debtor to NAMA whose responsible officer Conor Owens permitted O’Reilly to transfer his Moore Street, ILAC and Dundrum Shopping Centre holdings to Hammerson, a British-based property company.
That transfer gave Hammerson control of properties O’Reilly’s planning permission from Dublin City Council for a giant “shopping mall” there which they have now changed but again approved by DCC’s Planning Officer and which is under appeal to An Bord Pleanála.
Conor Owens is now Ireland Director for Hammerson.
Lawyers for O’Reilly named a number of individuals as being in occupation of the property, at least two of them apparently on the basis of photographs of the interior shared by the them on social media. Last Thursday a number appeared in court on applications for injunctions against them.
One who had not been named, a homeless individual, made an emotional appeal for he and his partner to be allowed to stay and the occupants to provide services to more homeless people. Another denied he had been an occupant but had merely shared photos on social media.
That latter individual had the injunction against him removed but was asked to sign an undertaking he would not enter the building, which he declined to do, remarking that he should not even have had to attend the High Court in the first place.
Sean Doyle of the RHL declared that the action they were taking was necessary and quoted James Connolly: We believe in constitutional action in normal times; we believe in revolutionary action in exceptional times. “These are certainly exceptional times”, Doyle remarked.
The judge went ahead and granted the injunction and required all occupants to evacuate building by Wednesday 21st (i.e as this piece was being concluded).
The RHL organised a picket and temporary protest occupation of Davy stockbrokers, who were handling procedures for Joe O’Reilly, the property tycoon owner of the site of Ionad Seán Heuston.
Last weekend the RHL organised a solidarity concert at Ionad Seán Heuston with somewhere between 150 to 200 in attendance and with at least two bands posting on social media their delight at having performed there.
O’Reilly’s legal team claimed “a flagrant breach of the court order”.
The RHL have called a solidarity rally against the eviction at the site for tomorrow at 10am.
Whatever the outcome of the eviction intended for this particular building or the eventual result of court cases, it seems clear that the RHL are on a collision course with the State and its protection of landlords and property speculators.
While some may look askance at such a contest, one may ask legitimately what other course of action is effective and viable?
Marches and short-term symbolic occupations of individual buildings, including the high-profile Apollo House one supported by prominent individuals in December 2016, though possibly raising awareness, have not made a single dent in the homeless crisis.
Indeed, the situation seems to have got steadily worse – at least for those seeking accommodation; while on the other hand clearly landlords, letting agencies, property speculators, vulture funds and the very banks are raking in their profits.
OVER 10,000 HOMELESS INCLUDING 2,503 CHILDREN
And a recent report states that the levels of homelessness are under-estimated because of the accounting system used by the State, which focuses on rough sleepers and those accessing emergency accommodation9.
Sofa-surfing, rotating between friends and family, precarious rental arrangements all figure in homelessness but are not measured or accounted for by the State. Indeed these features of homelessness have been known for decades.
Clearly too, the obvious solution, the release of substantial funds by the State to local authorities to build public housing for affordable rent, is not favoured by any of the Government political parties.10
Apart from the general inclination of the ‘political class’ to serve big business many have direct interests in the housing situation, as an audit of TDs (member of the Irish Parliament) found over 80, i.e more than half, are landlords or own property – or both.11
Faced with such a situation it is clear that only a very substantial shock to the political system has any hope of having a serious impact on the housing crisis. Though the solution need not be revolutionary, all the evidence is that the methods do indeed have to be so12.
An interesting side-aspect of the RHL’s occupation has been the use of innovative and highly-effective art in banners and murals. Also the holding of a concert and some trad music sessions in acquired buildings, along with educational talks, discussions and Irish language classes.
The RHL is a small organisation fighting the State Goliath which is representing the Philistines of property speculators, vulture funds and banks. They deserve our support in whatever measure we are able to give, in attending events and spreading the word.
Indeed, they have called for wider action – the RHL has on a number of occasions called on people to do what they are doing, to occupy the thousands of empty buildings which, if people did, would transform this struggle into a mass movement.
With no other viable solution in sight, surely we should support the RHL? Do we not owe it to those on the street or struggling to pay mortgages or high rents? Do we not owe to the children now, the future generation that will be blighted unless we act?
1The RHL call their taking of empty properties “acquisitions” in the name of the people.
2After notable socialist revolutionary, trade union organiser, journalist, historian and writer James Connolly, executed by British firing squad in 1916.
3The police force of the Irish State is called An Garda Síochána and the plural of its members, “Gardaí”, singular “Garda”.
4The Garda Síochána is essentially an unarmed police force with an armed response section, the latter which however seems to be growing and more in evidence in different situations.
5They named that one Liam Mellows House in honour of socialist Irish Republican and former member of the Irish parliament, the Dáil, executed during the Civil War by the Irish State in retaliation on 8th December 1922.
6Ionad in Irish means “place/ location/situation”.
10Sinn Féin’s latest housing policy indicates a crash building program for “affordable homes” but unclear whether to rent or own. Election promises tend to be taken with a pinch of salt by commentators; SF Councillors on Dublin City Council voted public land sold to developers. In addition, a future government including SF would almost certainly include a former government party in the coalition.
12The State has the power to put empty properties to use to eliminate all homelessness immediately and the Government can divert funds towards starting a big housing construction program which would give everyone good quality affordable homes in a couple of years. It does not do so because that would upset the profits of the property speculators, property management companies and the banks, their lenders.
SOURCES & FURTHER INFORMATION
Revolutionary Housing League: https://www.facebook.com/JamesConnollyHouse
Video interview as RHL awaits eviction force: https://www.facebook.com/JamesConnollyHouse/videos/435978475290460
A total of 115 homeless people died in Dublin 2021, more than double the number who died in 2019: https://www.irishexaminer.com/news/arid-40853996.html
Discussion of number of empty buildings per homeless people: https://www.thejournal.ie/factcheck-16-vacant-homes-per-homeless-person-ireland-5801978-Jul2022/
Narrow definition of homelessness by Irish State: https://www.breakingnews.ie/ireland/narrow-definition-of-homelessness-failing-to-respond-to-true-nature-of-crisis-1365817.html
RWG/ RHL acquisition of Connolly House: https://www.irishtimes.com/news/social-affairs/workers-group-occupying-eden-quay-property-to-defy-court-order-1.488610
Property speculator seeks eviction of occupants Seán Heuston House: https://www.breakingnews.ie/ireland/high-court-injunction-sought-for-alleged-illegal-occupation-of-dublin-building-1361850.html
Joe O’Reilly (Chartered Land): https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2063815/3bn-debtor-living-life-OReilly-Developer-sprawling-Dublin-mansion.html
Property Speculator seeks further legal action agains RHL: https://www.thejournal.ie/high-court-revolutionary-housing-league-parkgate-house-5871136-Sep2022/
Concert a “flagrant breach of court order”: https://www.msn.com/en-ie/news/newsireland/concert-held-in-property-occupied-by-homeless-campaigners-a-flagrant-breach-of-court-order/ar-AA122xZA?li=BBr5KbJ
Ex-NAMA senior officer now Director of Hammerson Ireland: https://europe-re.com/hammerson-appoints-connor-owens-as-director-of-ireland/68421#:~:text=Hammerson%20has%20appointed%20Connor%20Owens,ILAC%20Centre%2C%20and%20Swords%20Pavilions.
Previous high-profile housing activist occupations:
Apollo House December 2016: https://www.thejournal.ie/apollo-house-glen-hansard-hozier-performance-homeless-3151048-Dec2016/
“Almost 80 TDs are landlords, landowners or both”: https://www.facebook.com/JamesConnollyHouse/photos/a.104667018908396/149716974403400/