Not The Housing Campaign We Hoped For

Rowan Clarke with the last in a four part series of articles on the Apollo House occupation.


In recent months Brendan Ogle, has been rumoured to have intentions to create a new political party.

Ogle has, from what I can see, picked up on a niche within the voting public, a large and substantial number of the populace fed up with political parties even some of the those regarded as more Left orientated and anti-establishment including Sinn Fein, Anti-Austerity Alliance and People Before Profit.

These parties are regarded, among your ordinary salt of the earth folk, as hollow and only interested in matters come election time.  From within this bloc a type of independent has emerged that many particularly working class communities regard as being of the adage ‘one of our own.’  They are regarded as ordinary Joe and Mary Soaps who say as they feel and avoid any sort of complex political tendencies, mostly content with just a change in government and putting it up to the establishment.

Ogle has reached out to this element's grievance and includes them on their level and this will be the backbone of his fledgling new party should he proceed with the idea.

He has also stated recently that he intends to soon launch his own attempt at a news media network.

It must be said that his involvement with Apollo and that he may soon have plans to launch,  both a new political party and some sort of news site is awfully convenient. It can’t be denied that HomeSweetHome will be a massive effective platform from which to launch both.

If this is the case, it is very insincere and only serves to trivialise a most emotive issue that deserves a more sensitive handling. 

Late in the occupation promises made had fallen through, promises made by Housing Minister Simon Coveney in which the residents housed in Apollo would be given suitable accommodation.  The residents were not at all happy with the digs on offer up to that point.

It was relayed that HomeSweetHome had secured from the minister the provision of €4 million to facilitate the building of hostels in the Inner City.  But it later transpired that this plan was in place well before the HSH meeting took place, solidifying the idea that the softly softly approach of HSH was not enough to jolt Coveney. A tough customer, no doubt about it.

I’m sure many are wondering why they are back in the drug addled, dirty and chaotic hostels, when in just a month HomeSweetHomecollected online nearly €200,000 when this could easily provide a deposit andfirst month’s rent for all residents to secure permanent residences in rented apartments or houses so that they can get back on their feet.

The Gardaí arrived on the scene early the next day ready to arrest anyone present in the premises.  My resident contact and other residents decided it was not worth the prospect of arrest and facing a conviction through the courts to continue staying within the building, the occupation was over.

HSH volunteers have since brought them to a hotel at the expense of the HSH fund and have stated that they intend to look after the former Apollo residents' interests in the interim.  I really hope they get the accommodation they deserve so they can get back on their feet and improve their lives.

But the fact remains - and I find it particularly peculiar - that Unite, in which Ogle is an organiser, and undoubtedly the main body with the most influence in this HSH conglomerate, could not house these vulnerable remaining residents in nearby Unite owned property on Merrion Square, a large Georgian building bought for a rumoured €2-€4 million several years previous. Unite had applied for planning permission on the 6th of December in a bid to convert the property into apartments.

It has since been verified that UNITE will Not be utilising these properties for Social Housing and have done their utmost not to engage in any schemes that would require Unite to participate in even a minimum level of social housing.

A bit rich ofUnite instigating a campaign against homelessness and addressing the housing crisis caused by property developers, yet Unite themselves seem on the path to become just that.

While ‘Home Sweet Home’ is being given applause and much back clapping from the wider public, there is much rumbling on social media from a sizable section of the more ideological inclined and militant activist. They are bringing forward many credible claims of being subjected to exclusion by sections within HomeSweetHome, for example, the Irish Housing Network. And there is much criticism over the decision to leave which seemed to be preplanned despite their insistence that they were staying put.

While I’m grateful to see 40 people got to keep warm, fed and bedded over a very cold wet late December/early January, with kudos to all those who ensured these folks were looked after, this just isn’t the housing campaign many of us have been waiting and hoping for. And I’m sure many are going to continue to wait until it emerges.




Then Out Of Nowhere Came Apollo House

Republican community activist Rowan Clarke in the first of a series of pieces shares his thoughts on the Apollo House occupation.

Firstly before I continue I want to state categorically that I am very heartened by the time, effort and enthusiasm shown by the grassroots activists volunteering within the Apollo House occupation.

I know many on a personal basis, albeit it from within the Republican community in Dublin, and an assortment of other campaigns I’ve been involved with over the years. And even some friends neither normally interested in politics nor volunteering have given their all to this snap response to an ever-worsening homeless crisis engulfing the capital and many of our regional cities.

I want it to be known that that I respect all those involved for just reasons, and that I support the basis of this Home Sweet Home campaign.

In saying that I’m sure I will still be subjected to a barrage of reactionary comments that centre around that I’m a ‘begrudger’, ‘keyboard warrior’ and in some cases ‘karma will visit you’ as more than one Facebook commentator was seen to exclaim on social media.

It can be extremely hard to relay constructive criticism and engage critical thinking around the matter as there is much hysteria around such an event. It's positive hysteria but hysteria none the less.

There is no question there is a severe housing emergency in this State, particularly in the Capital.

Social Housing is scarce, with nothing concrete coming from housing minister Simon Coveney other then the selling off of public land, which in the past were council estates, now being sold to private developers to build lavish residences which former residents in that community cannot afford.

Private housing is limited with landlords exploiting the situation charging upwards of 1600

for a modest two-bedroom house or apartment in many working-class communities and suburban areas on the outskirts of the city.

To add insult to injury many of these landlords - who range from the absentee landlord with an extra house handy that they bought during the ‘boom’ period, to the vulture funds buying up entire apartment complexes and charging extortionate unaffordable rent through management firms - are engaging in widespread discrimination against potential tenants based on their means, number of children they have, single mothers and social welfare recipients: all despite legislation that was enacted early last year supposedly to combat the ‘Rent Allowance not accepted’ culture among landlords.

Evictions are commonplace, soulless banks forcing families from their long-term homes with the aid of the court system which now seems to be a nothing but the legal arm of these banks and suspect lending institutions.

Gentrification. The list goes on ...

It is in this climate that many find themselves homeless through no fault of their own. They are joining the ranks of the rough sleepers, a demographic that has always been present on Irish Streets throughout this State’s history not just in recent times (although there is a visible increase in the last few years).

I myself have experienced first-hand how utterly anxiety inducing and miserable it is to be stuck in the renting nightmare, having moved something like 5 times in the last 6 years with no certainty of whether your children will have a roof over their heads or of where to money is going to come from to pay next month’s ever increasing rental rates.

Weirdly in contrast to the Anti-Water Tax movement which captured the hearts and minds of hundreds of thousands of ordinary men and women and awakened a sense of rebellion long dormant in the Irish psyche, the housing crisis has not animated the masses even though the prospect of not having a roof over your head is a far more daunting reality then being annoyed at having to pay a bill for water charges.

I myself have recently gotten involved in a local housing action group and it unlike some other more popular campaigns it can be hard going and from what I’ve seen from similar initiatives in other communities, it seems to be the same story.

The housing issue is only going to get worse and more people will sleep on the cold streets. People aren’t taking to the streets in protest despite the necessity of doing so.

There is a dire need for an effective National Housing campaign, but for there to be a campaign of this nature some very revolutionary ideas and solutions need to be adopted. Frankly the explication of these solutions are the only long term and short term remedy for housing.

This includes:

The immediate building on a large scale nationwide of Social Housing
More regulation and scrutiny of the landlord class

More rights and protections for those facing the threat of evictions

More investment and protection of current Social Housing

The utilisation of vacant properties, particularly Nama properties and empty council houses sitting idle
Most importantly, enshrining the right to a home in the states constitution, something sadly lacking even after the centenary of the 1916 rising, even with all the pageantry the Enda Kenny and co indulged in.

The uncomfortable fact is it would tweak many to even suggest any of the above.

Then out of nowhere, came Apollo House and ‘Home Sweet Home’…………