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Dublin: 12 °C Thursday 18 October, 2018
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'It shows how angry people are': Occupation of inner-city terraced house enters second day

The occupation followed a protest on Dublin’s O’Connell Street yesterday evening.

IMG_4938 One occupant wearing a Leo Varadkar mask in the window of the property Source: Hayley Halpin via TheJournal.ie

“WE’RE GIVING THE property back to the community.”

Locals, activists and politicians gathered outside a vacant property in Dublin’s north inner city this morning as an occupation of the building entered its second day.

Up the steps and behind the bright yellow door of 35 Summerhill Parade, a group of around 25 people had spent the night.

This followed a protest on Dublin’s O’Connell Street yesterday evening, which Dublin Central Housing Action (DCHA) said was a protest “against the continuing national housing crisis and the government’s complete inaction”.

Following a housing forum earlier this month, a number of other local community grassroots groups, including the Take Back Trinity student group, made the decision to initiate the protest and occupation.

Speaking outside the building today, Oisin Vince Coulter of Take Back Trinity said that the groups chose this specific property to occupy because it has been left vacant since last May.

“We feel that these kinds of properties which have now been left vacant for months in the middle of a crippling housing crisis need to be taken into public ownership and given back to the communities,” he said.

Reflecting on the outcome of yesterday’s protest, Coulter added: “I think it shows how angry people are.”

Behind Coulter was a number of hand-drawn posters which read “housing is a right” and “Leo Gentrification Varadkar”, along with a large red banner reading “Homes for all”. Occasionally, occupants appeared in the windows sporting Leo Varadkar masks, keeping their identity anonymous.

A number of locals, politicians and homeless families were among the supporters outside the property this morning.

In a statement to TheJournal.ie regarding the occupied property, Dublin City Council said that is it in private ownership and it understands that it has been “vacant since May”.

“Dublin City Council have no comment to make on the people who appear to have taken up illegal occupation of the property nor do we know who they are. It is a matter for the owner/landlord to deal with the situation.”

housing The property at 35 Summerhill Parade, Dublin Source: Hayley Halpin via TheJournal.ie

Overnight stay

A spokesperson from DCHA was amongst those to spend the night in the property.

While the media was not granted access into the building today, the spokesperson described the scene inside last night:

It was actually calm, everybody sat and made some structures and created teams. We got organised and it was ‘okay, we need to get people rested’. We worked a rota of people on and people off, so we took turns resting.

“It’s kind of hard to sleep because you’ve got the adrenaline kicking in and it’s a bit mad.”

Conor Reddy, another overnight occupant and member of Take Back Trinity, had been at the property for 24 hours.

“I’m feeling good, morale’s high, morale is high inside with everybody else as well,” he said.

Describing the conditions when the group entered the building, he said there was “mould all up the walls and in the basement”.

“Ever since we’ve gotten in we’ve been at work, we’ve been cleaning the place, we’ve been tidying things up, making it habitable. We’ve defined spaces for sleeping, we have space for working and dealing with media and outreach,” he said.

“The place looks a lot better than it did when we went in at first.”

Speaking of why he feels so passionately about housing issues, he added: “I see the housing crisis, I see its devastating effects but as a student, I also see a housing crisis that affects us and I see these new shiny buildings cropping up where students are charged ridiculous rates.

“It would be wrong to divorce that from the broader crisis. The crisis is about property and it’s about commodifying housing. It’s about housing for profit rather than housing for need.”

Moving forward

Yesterday evening, a live Facebook video of the action posted by DCHA showed gardaí speaking to protesters asking them to leave the premises. Today, two gardaí could be seen cycling by the property on occasion.

Coulter said that community gardaí have come along and have been “very friendly”. While he said that they’re hoping there won’t be any issues, he can’t predict what will happen.

When asked if the occupants plan on staying put for the long-run, Coulter said: “Yeah, we’re giving the property back to the community.”

Speaking to a number of people involved in the occupation, it’s clear that there isn’t a concrete plan for the future of the takeover.

However, as the morning moved on, a stall was set up outside the property for the distribution of leaflets.

The DCHA spokesperson said that, as of now, the property will be run “as a bit of a hub” where “ideally, if people have any housing issues or any personal issues themselves to come down, we’re going to have advice”.

“We want to say to people that, look, this is just one house, there’s so many more out there. If there’s a group of you out there that want to come down, we can talk you through how it was done. Ideally, you’d want to see this absolutely spiral across Ireland,” the spokesperson said.

TheJournal.ie asked whether the group is considering adopting a model similar to that of Apollo House back in the winter of 2016, where the vacant building was renovated and made suitable for rough sleepers to stay the night.

However, at the moment there are no definitive plans to do so. A rota has been set up to ensure there is someone inside the building at all times.

Coulter added: “We plan on having a lot of community outreach, building connections to the community in the next few days.

“It’s going to be as much the community’s decision what they’d like to do with this property.”

And so, for now, the occupation continues.

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