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"I think people are very angry": Protesters call for action on homelessness in Dublin march

Around 250 people took part in a march to the Department of Finance this afternoon.

Updated at 3.30pm 

HUNDREDS OF PEOPLE, including Apollo House activists and residents, took part in a march to the Department of Finance this afternoon calling for Nama properties to be used as accommodation for the homeless.

Home Sweet Home, which is made up of a number of grassroots housing groups, has been running Apollo House as an accommodation centre for the homeless since mid-December.

They have been ordered to leave the Nama-owned building, on Dublin’s Tara Street,  by next Wednesday.

In a petition, signed by almost 5,000 people, Home Sweet Home urges Finance Minister Michael Noonan to direct Nama to make properties under its control available “to contribute to the social and economic development of the State,” as per the 2009 Nama Act.

According to the group, “NAMA has ample housing stock currently under its control which can be made available, through various mechanisms, to individuals and families who are currently homeless or under threat of being made homeless”.

The petition was handed into the Department by Apollo House volunteers following a march through the city centre shortly before lunchtime today. Around 250 people took part.

A press release issued shortly afterwards confirmed that the Department had “received a letter from the Home Sweet Home group, which is ten pages long and covers details relevant to the actions taken by that group”.

It added:

“The Department of Finance will consider the content and a response will issue in due course.”

The statement also highlighted a number of initiatives it said had already been taken, insisting that Nama “has already been active in this space and have offered almost 7,000 units to local authorities for use as social housing”.

“NAMA advise that of these local authorities have taken up c. 2,400 units for social housing use,” the Department said.

NAMA also has plans to facilitate the delivery of 20,000 private residential units on sites securing its loans in Dublin and its surrounds in the period to 2020.  NAMA is well on its way to deliver on that target and from Q1 2014 to December 2016 have facilitated the delivery of 4,500.

‘People are angry’

Rosi Leonard, Home Sweet Home’s spokesperson, said in advance of the march that they were hoping Minister Noonan would “step up” and take action to address homelessness.

The occupation of Apollo House, she said, had been an example “of one action taken in one part of the country in relation to an immediate crisis”.

“This whole country is in the middle of a housing crisis,” she said.

I do not think that this is going to be the last we see of Apollo House and I don’t think it’s going to be the last we’ll see of the energy that’s on the streets. I think people are very angry.
What we want to do here is raise the expectations of what people can do when it comes to the housing crisis or what governments should be doing when it comes to the housing crisis and we will continue to raise expectations until permanent homes are available to everyone who needs one in this country.

03/01/2017. Apollo House - Home Sweet HomeProtest. Carrie Hennessy, a volunteer with Home Sweet Home, with the group's petition. Source: SAM BOAL

Alongside residents and supporters, a number of TDs took part in the protest – including Greens leader Eamon Ryan and Paul Murphy of the AAA-PBP.

Ryan, a former minister under the Fianna Fáil-Greens coalition, described the Apollo House occupation as a “leap of the imagination”.

While the voluntary initiative was “not going to solve the homelessness or housing crisis”, he said, the activists had done a service by raising the level of ambition and imagination “as to what could and should be done”.

Nama was given a social dividend requirement in its initial legislation. It was recognised that they have to support sustainable social planning and in this city that means more ambition as to how we use the land banks and the buildings we have.

Murphy said he imagined the petition would have little impact on government policy, and that a campaign of protest needed to be kept up in the area.

“I think the instinct of the Minister and the government will be to continue on the track that they’re on, which is effectively using the resources of Nama to act as a life support machine for developers to get them back up and going again and re-develop the so-called housing market in perhaps the faint hope that some of that trickles down to provide housing for ordinary people.

A movement of pressure needs to built from below so it becomes impossible for them to maintain that and so that they can be forced to use the vast resources that Nama has to actually provide housing.

03/01/2017. Apollo House - Home Sweet Home Protest The march passes Government Buildings. Source: SAM BOAL

Carrie Hennessy, a volunteer with Home Sweet Home who is also homeless, spoke of her struggle to find accommodation from the steps of the Department. A current resident of Apollo House, Mitzalo, also addressed the crowd.

Activist Niamh McDonald repeated the group’s demand that Michael Noonan “open up the Nama houses,” as the event drew to a close.

“Families are living in hotels. They don’t have fridges. They can’t cook. Their children have no-where to do their homework.

There is a breakdown in our society because they say that profit is more important than the people. We have to show them that it’s the other way around. Everybody here has a responsibility to do that.

As part of its response to this afternoon’s action, the Department of Finance said that the availability of housing was “the key priority for Government”.

It has been the focus of a number of measures introduced under the government’s Rebuilding Ireland plan, the Department said. “The Department of Finance, the Minister for Finance, and NAMA continue to support that work.”

The Rebuilding Ireland plan, announced last summer, included a proposal to spend €5 billion on social housing over the next five years.

“In the next five years, we are going to provide about 50,000 more social houses for our people,” Housing Minister Simon Coveney said, at the plan’s unveiling.

Under the plan, the Government has said that by the middle of this year hotels will only be used as emergency accommodation for families in limited circumstances.

Read: ‘This is home for people now’ – A look inside Apollo House >

Read: ‘We’re preparing to give residents the best Christmas they’ve had in years’ > 

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