by Fra Hughes, Contributor
The Home Sweet Home occupation of Apollo House represents a welcome intervention into the homeless crisis that is nationwide in Ireland today, after a total lack of adequate response from the state. An alliance of 18 affiliated groups came together in a bid to tackle the emergency: housing rights organisations, housing action committees, asylum seeker support groups and anti racist groups have all been present in the campaign thus far. Families in and outside of Dublin have seemingly bore the brunt of rising rents, privatisation of social housing, job losses and austerity cuts to social welfare payments – and there we have it: 30 Irish families are becoming homeless every week. A damning indictment of neo-liberal policy on this island.
With 50,000 ghost estates and a growing homeless population, we have the farcical situation in which we see thousands of homes without people, and many more people without homes. Under Section 14 of NAMA, the state can choose to use properties such as Apollo House for social housing. Unsurprisingly, the state opts to privatise a national asset by selling it off to the highest bidder.
The response from the public has been overwhelmingly positive. Speaking at the occupation, activist Niamh McDonald welcomed the fact that well over 3000 people have volunteered at Apollo House – 500 of which have been members of the medical profession. They have doctors, emergency medical technicians, psychiatric nurses, addiction counsellors and many others keen to help. Aside from medical professionals, Apollo House includes plumbers; cleaners, cooking staff, security, joiners and electricians – all donating time and love in equal measure, free of charge. The work of volunteers is aided by generous public donations; food, clothing, bedding and sleeping bags have been welcomed by activists. Notably, the campaign has received 160,000 euros as well as pro bono legal advice and celebrity endorsements from the likes of Jim Sheridan, Christy Moore and Damien Dempsey.
The State has an obligation to house its citizens. However, this appears to be an obligation which is continually overridden by a government more committed to harbouring tax evaders than supporting the dispossessed and disadvantaged.
The Courts have decreed that Apollo House must be vacated by 12pm on January 11 2017. The establishment is not only content to allow hundreds of its citizens in Dublin to remain destitute, begging and homeless on Dublin Streets during the coldest months of the year – it is also itching to evict them from Apollo House as soon as humanly possible. The positive response from the popular press should, however, be welcomed.
What will the campaigners of ‘Home Sweet Home’ do following the planned evictions in January is unclear. What is clear, is that these people, having given voice to the voiceless, shelter to the homeless and love to those in need, will not be dissuaded by the coercive efforts of the state, its officers, or its total and abject failure to stand up for working class people.
We must support ‘Home Sweet Home’. First and foremostly, however, we must support those they aim to help: our brothers and sisters in humanity Ireland’s homeless community. Civil disobedience has a strong a brave history on this island. Long live the occupation!
Fra Hughes is North Belfast-based independent activist, trade unionist and director of Palestine Aid.