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Dublin: 5 °C Sunday 20 January, 2019
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Tears and cheers as Apollo House occupiers claim a 'sad victory'

There were tears and cheers in equal measure this morning following today’s leaving Apollo House.

Activists hug each other this morning outside Apollo House.
Activists hug each other this morning outside Apollo House.
Image: SAM BOAL/RollingNews.ie

THE BLUE GATES and gold lettering parted and the taxis rolled down the walkway of the Apollo House entrance this morning.

They drove out onto Poolbeg Street in groups of two and three, ushered on by volunteers in blue or green hi-vis jackets.

As the final residents left the building that had housed many people without a home over the Christmas period, one man shouted from the back of his taxi:

“Homes for the homeless! You should all be ashamed of yourselves!”

Brendan Ogle, one of the principal members of the Home Sweet Home campaign, told reporters that today was a “sad victory” for campaigners.

The volunteers present were proud of their achievement – they had housed up to 40 people a night for the duration of the Christmas period. They had brought a government minister to the table to hear their views on homelessness

Campaigners say they benchmarked new minimum standards for homeless accommodation and secured long-term housing for the people who passed through the building.

A court order meant that Apollo House had to be left behind but the concessions activists won from authorities would remain, as would the Home Sweet Home campaign and the thousands of people who support it.

This evening one homeless man remained inside Apollo House, but the High Court was told this afternoon that he would leave in due course.

12/01/2017. Apollo House- Home Sweet Home. Picture Volunteers exit through the gates of Apollo House. Source: SAM BOAL/RollingNews.ie

Three pillars

The main faces of the campaign were all present outside Apollo House this morning.

A different mix of activists, artists and musicians, trade union officials and volunteers who – for a month to the day – have dominated and directed the discussion around homelessness in Ireland.

As well as the public support, this mix can be divided into three pillars:

  • The Irish Housing Network
  • The trade unions
  • The artists and musicians.

Aisling Hedderman – one of the founding members of the Irish Housing Network (IHN) and a key figure in the campaign – couldn’t hold back tears outside the gates as she hugged volunteers and thanked them for their support.

“The community is going to go on and every homeless person and anyone at risk of homelessness voice will be heard,” she said.

Thanks for all the support. I’ve never had so much support from anyone… it’s been such a team effort.

12/01/2017. Apollo House- Home Sweet Home. Picture Hedderman with Apollo House volunteers this morning. Source: SAM BOAL/Rollingnews.ie

For Hedderman – who helped found the North Dublin Bay Housing Crisis Community and Help the Hidden Homeless action groups over three years ago – today was hugely significant.

She was one of four named defendants in the court case surrounding the occupation of Apollo House when it appeared before the courts. She was the only defendant present in court yesterday when a judge refused to grant the occupiers an extension to the occupiers to remain in the building.

Together with many members of the Irish Housing Network, she is well versed in direct action occupations of buildings, albeit on nowhere near this scale.

This is the same collective that assisted in the takeover of the Bolt Hostel in the summer of 2015. They supported the occupation of John’s Lane West hostel last summer when it was due to close. They also helped families occupy Lynam’s Hotel on Dublin’s O’Connell Street in July.

download (24) Niamh McDonald of the Irish Housing Network speaks to reporters outside of Lynam's Hotel during the summer. Source: Cormac Fitzgerald/TheJournal.ie

The group has occupied council buildings in the past, and helped to stage a campout in the grounds of the Regency Hotel in June in support of a young homeless family.

This experience in direct action, its history of working with the homeless, and committed volunteerism is what the IHN brought to the table. The occupation couldn’t have survived without them.

But, of course, Apollo House was a lot bigger in scale and garnered more public attention than anything they had done previously. The premises on Tara Street was also an old, abandoned office block with no power, heating, showers or cooking facilities.

Before it could become an impromptu home, it needed to be professionally set up and made liveable. This is where the second pillar came in – represented outside Apollo House today by Unite trade union official Brendan Ogle.

12/01/2017. Apollo House- Home Sweet Home. Picture Apollo House this morning. Source: SAM BOAL

It was Ogle and Unite – with the support of other trade unions – that provided much of the manpower to convert an old abandoned office block into what more than one homeless person described as “heaven”.

Restoring the electricity, getting the heat working, refitting the kitchens and anything else that needed doing was arranged with union manpower.

Ogle, the main pointman for media of the campaign with little history of activism in this arena, spoke to reporters briefly this morning. More restrained than his IHN colleagues, the Right2Water and Right2Change organiser pointed to the public’s support as the main reason for the success of the occupation.

“It’s a very emotional day for everyone that’s been here for the last few weeks,” Ogle told reporters, flanked on either side by the other members of Home Sweet Home.

12/01/2017. Apollo House- Home Sweet Home. Picture Brendan Ogle speak to reporters, flanked on either side by Glen Hansard and Aisling Hedderman. Source: SAM BOAL/RollingNews.ie

He personally thanked all the volunteers who had taken part in the occupation and supported residents of Apollo House throughout the month.

They’re heroes, in a country in dire need of heroes.

Representing the third pillar of artists were musician Glen Hansard, actor and director Terry McMahon, and musician and producer Dean Scurry – who is credited with bringing the disparate elements of the campaign together at the beginning – among others.

Hansard has become somewhat of a poster boy for the campaign since it began. He was the one who said on the Late Late Show on the first Friday of the occupation that the activists were involved in an act of “civil disobedience”.

He also organised the high profile open-air concert which helped to keep the issue in focus and garnered huge public support and good sentiment.

Today Hansard said that he got on board with the campaign due to what he saw as the “chronic” situation of homelessness in Ireland.

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

“It’s illegal to walk out in the middle of the road right?” Hansard said to reporters.

But if someone’s lying in the middle of the road bleeding, dying – you’re just gonna fucking walk out in the middle of the road. That’s what this was.

The fourth pillar

Hansard and the other celebrities involved in the campaign were instrumental in building the fourth pillar of the occupation, without which the whole thing would have quickly crumbled: public support.

From the get-go, the Apollo House occupation garnered huge goodwill – signing up thousands of volunteers and raising tens of thousands of euros.

It was this groundswell of sympathy to the cause that led to Housing Minister Simon Coveney conceding that the occupiers had started “a conversation”.

download (25) People march in support of Home Sweet Home last week. Source: RollingNews.ie

It also ensured that any moves by the receivers to remove the occupiers before Christmas would have resulted in a severe public outcry.

This widespread backing was harnessed and handled by an extremely adept media team, that managed public functions, press conferences, marches and all other elements to a strong degree.

The team ensured that the best aspects of the occupation were featured regularly in the media, while working hard to keep any negative elements out of the spotlight.

The fact that it was also Christmas – the most charitable time of the year – didn’t hurt the occupiers either.

20/12/2016. Apollo House Homeless Crisis Source: RollingNews.ie

Keeping the fire of this generosity alight will be essential to any further action or plans for the group.

It was plain to see outside the gates of Apollo House today that Home Sweet Home campaigners were exhausted. It’s been a long and trying month for all involved.

As the crowds dispersed before noon, activists hugged each other and reassured each other that this was just the beginning.

12/01/2017. Apollo House- Home Sweet Home. Picture Activists hug each other this morning outside Apollo House. Source: SAM BOAL

Tears were shed, cigarettes were smoked, emotions were running high.

Scurry – who has been front and centre of the campaign – shouted out as he walked off down Poolbeg Street:

We’re gonna disperse from here now for a bit and just get on with our lives.

There was talk of what would happen next, and a few of the activists headed off to meet others at the pub, for what has to have been a much-needed debrief.

Read: Apollo House occupation: One resident remains inside the building

Read: “Not one person left behind” – there’s a cheerful defiance about Apollo House this evening

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Cormac Fitzgerald

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