Republican community activist Rowan Clarke in the second of a series of pieces shares his thoughts on the Apollo House occupation.
Apollo House happened in a flash, a broad collective of political activists and charity volunteers, had stormed a Nama owned abandoned office block on Poolbeg Street, with the purpose of providing shelter within for the homeless particularly the rough sleepers over the Christmas in a safe secure environment with access to professionals and medics willing to volunteer their services.
An exciting prospect and most importantly the perfect springboard to launch a National Housing campaign, lovely. Then when enquiring through the grapevine who was pulling the strings and the main influencer, two words instantly dashed my hopes - Brendan Ogle - there was a collective sigh of disappointment.
For those who don’t know, Brendan Ogle is a well-known and eccentric Trade Union official from Dundalk Co Louth, with a background representing train drivers and later ESB employees and is currently an ‘organiser’ for the UNITE union, who at one time was paid a salary of 80,000 per annum.
In recent times Ogle, has re-emerged as the guru behind the ‘Right2Water’ movement, creating a broad front of political parties and anti-water tax activists under the one umbrella. Later it became ‘Right2Change’ to coincide with impending elections, with many ‘Right2Change’ independents running in their respective constituencies……it was a disaster, yielding very poor results.
Ogle is blamed by many within the water movement as having split it and pacifying what was ultimately a very militant campaign. He was seen many as having infiltrated the movement and using his considerable media and establishment connections (which admittedly are impressive) to manipulate key players and parties into singing to his tune and allowing him to take full control of the issue.
For some of the large marches that took place in the Capital during the Irish Water furore we can thank Brendan Ogle: for his flair for pageantry, orchestration and professional looking events on display top heavy with celebrities, musicians and prominent politicians hungry for votes.
The only thing missing was substance, something that disappeared as soon as Right2Water became the dominant force in fight against the water meters.
Water meter protests died down and organic organising locally dwindled. Eventually Ogle had made everything about electioneering and some would say building a profile for himself. There is little doubt he enjoys the attention!
Before Ogle's foray into Homelessness, he was touring the country promoting his book with the grandiose title 'From Bended Knee To A New Republic: How The Fight For Water Is Changing Ireland' (all for the low price currently of 16.95, formerly 19.99).
When Ogle is mentioned in conversation, the phrase ‘you either love or hate him’ usually comes up.
For me, I neither love not hate Brendan Ogle. I don’t know the man personally. What I do know is he is not the man to position himself the spokesman of both homeless and housing in Ireland and neither are some of the mainstream musicians, famous faces and ‘celebrity activists’ he has installed at the heart of what they are calling ‘HomeSweetHome’ who are essentially pulling the strings of the Apollo occupation.
While critical of the Apollo I am also mindful to be thankful to some of the individuals involved at grassroots level and who I can say are without agendas, who were nice enough to accommodate some vulnerable individuals I know personally who were in dire need of emergency accommodation which wasn’t forthcoming from their respective county councils, social welfare and even some mainstream charity bodies.
In one instance, I was lucky to manage to get a couple known to me personally into Apollo after nearly two days frantically trying to find a place for them to stay after they were the unfortunate to endure a house fire.
It is this aspect of Apollo I am most appreciative about: the good nature of the volunteers, who no doubt kept 40 people clothed, warm, fed and with beds over Christmas. Nobody can dispute that fact, nor discount the thanks they deserve.
But in terms of the overall political aspirations and message emanating from Apollo House, it’s been rather redundant.
The occupation itself has styled itself more a charity, albeit a militant one, than it has as presenting itself as a serious credible attempt to highlight the Housing Crisis and ideas and means to challenge it head on: an opportunity it has had many times but carefully refrained from doing so.
This is no doubt due to the fact that HomeSweetHome campaign has relied heavily on celebrity endorsement as a front to give its lifeblood. We can’t escape the fact it would never have gotten off the ground otherwise. Talk of Social House, scrutiny of the developer class and taking on the landlords wouldn’t go down well as its possible that many of the celebrities, musicians and big names involved are themselves landlords with property portfolios. Some present, certain tax dodgers and all, ultimately belonging to the elite class which controls this country, despite their insistences I’m sure to the contrary.
Al of this, I’ve no doubt is all Ogle's doing.