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Apollo mission

'This conversation is well and truly happening' - Tears and cheers from Apollo House activists after day in court

It was long day in the High Court as receivers sought an injunction against Apollo House occupiers. / YouTube

THERE WERE TEARS, cheers and cries of a victory in the battle, but hints that the war is far from over.

Activists and members of the Home Sweet Home coalition and the Irish Housing Network emerged from the bowels of the Four Courts in Dublin this evening to loud cheers from the assembled crowd.

They had gone to court and, if not won, had been granted some bit of reprieve by the judge. The 40 or so homeless residents who have been living for the past week in Apollo House will be allowed to stay over Christmas.

But Mr Justice Paul Gilligan granted an injunction to the receivers of the building – Mazars – to regain possession of the property.

He ordered all occupiers must vacate the building – which sits at 10 storeys on Dublin’s Poolbeg and Tara Streets – by 12 noon on Wednesday 11 January.

16/12/2016. Apollo House. Pictured Apollo House wh SAM BOAL SAM BOAL

Aisling Hedderman – one of the named defendants in the case and the principal members of the Irish Housing Network – was moved to tears as she thanked the public for their support over the past week.

“We together have the power to ensure that we can end homelessness,” Hedderman said to cheers from the gathered crowd.

And only by the kindness and love and compassion… that we show to those that are the most vulnerable in society.

The fact that those now resident in Apollo House – a Nama-controlled office building that had been abandoned since 2015 – would be allowed to stay there over the Christmas clearly meant a lot to the activists, and there were tears as they left the Four Courts.

Musician Glen Hansard – who has been instrumental in keeping the public awareness in the occupation at its peak – seemed overwhelmed as he spoke to reporters.

“We wanted to start a conversation, this conversation is well and truly happening,” said Hansard.

Thanks to these people for stepping up and giving everything they have, we’re learning as we go. This is a great decision today and we’ll continue on.

Long day

The activists could be forgiven for being a little bit fraught as they left the building this evening. It had been a long day in the courts.

People started gathering in the December cold outside the gates of the Four Courts at about 10am this morning.

21/12/2016. Apollo House - Court Case. Pictured Ap People outside the Four Courts supporting the Apollo House activists. Sam Boal / Sam Boal / /

By 10.30, Court 3 in the labyrinthine buildings was packed tight full of people, many decked out in white t-shirts with the red Home Sweet Home logo, which have become a symbol of the occupation.

It wasn’t long however before the court took its first of three breaks, adjourning until 12 o’clock as sworn affidavits were exchanged between the defence counsel and the plaintiffs.

It was in this brief sitting that the four defendants in the action were named for the first time. They were Aisling Hedderman, Glen Hansard, trade union official Brendan Ogle and homeless woman Carrie Hennessy.

The unusual thing – as both the judge and defending barrister Rossa Fanning SC noted – was that none of the named the defendants are actually currently resident in the building.

They all swore affidavits that were read out in court, with each defendant highlighting particular aspects of the occupation.

Ogle said the campaign’s objective was to end homelessness in Ireland; Hansard said the occupation had the support of a large list of celebrities.

Meanwhile, Hedderman focused on the practical running of Apollo House – listing off the various elements and works that went into the running it day by day; while Hennessy gave a personal account of being homeless, and how campigns like Apollo House could help people.

As the day went on, the court heard arguments for and against the occupation.

Senior Counsel for the receivers stressed the health and safety danger posed by bringing the abandoned office building into use as accommodation. The defendants appealed for the court to recognise the extent of the homelessness crisis and the needs of the people involved.

Both sides disagreed on whether there was enough suitable accommodation to house the homeless over Christmas.

Public interest

The huge public interest and support the occupation of Apollo House has garnered has been impossible the ignore for officials.

A concert outside the building yesterday afternoon attracted hundreds of people; the group has managed to raise over €130,000 in online donations in less than a week, and have been inundated with food, clothing and time donations.

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The courtroom stayed packed throughout the day, and there was a constant presence of supporters of some form throughout the day on the street outside.

Defence Counsel for the receivers were quick to point out that they did not question the motives of the occupiers, and that they were “sympathetic” to the plight of the homeless at Christmas.

The occupiers have scored a victory in that they were allowed to remain in the building, what will happen next remains to be seen.

Speaking this evening, Brendan Ogle said there were still legal avenues open to the occupiers following the court order. He said they would consult with their legal team and issue a statement on the matter “at another time” – hinting that the Apollo House saga may not yet be at an end.

IMG_20161221_163756 Brendan Ogle speaking to reporters. Cormac Fitzgerald / Cormac Fitzgerald / /

Meanwhile, an interesting point was raised in the court today by counsel for the receivers:

If the occupiers argue that Apollo House is a Nama building, Rossa Fanning SC stated, and therefore the public property of the Irish taxpayer, what about other public buildings?

Libraries, the courts, council buildings are all owned by the State, but that doesn’t mean people can take them over as they see fit, he said.

Leaving aside other public buildings, Glen Hansard was asked this evening whether the group would now target other Nama-controlled buildings for occupation.

“I’m not even in that conversation right now,” said Hansard.

“I’m in this. I’m in Apollo House – the Apollo mission,” he said, to a loud laugh from the gathered crowd.

The court day may be done for now, but as the activists have hinted – the mission could be far from over.

Read: Apollo House occupiers told to leave by 11 January

Read: Receivers to Apollo House launch court action to regain possession of building

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