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Squatters in disused Dublin prison could face jail over contempt of court

The squatters had been told to leave the premises by midnight last night.

The entrance to the prison on Halston Street.
The entrance to the prison on Halston Street.
Image: Google Maps

MEMBERS OF A group of squatters, who broke into and have been living in a disused and derelict prison, now face terms of imprisonment in fully operational jails for failing to comply with a High Court order.

Ms Justice Deirdre Murphy today granted the State leave to bring a motion before the court within the next two days seeking to attach and commit to prison the squatters for contempt of court.

Barrister Joseph O’Sullivan told the court that the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the Office of Public Works (OPW) considered the former debtor’s prison between Halston Street and Green Street, Dublin, to be unsafe.

A group of people had entered the squat on Sunday 7 August, O’Sullivan said, and had been staying there since.

Last week the State was granted an injunction restraining the squat and directing those in unlawful possession to vacate the property by midnight last night.

O’Sullivan said the order of Mr Justice Michael Hanna had not been complied with and he had been instructed to seek to attach and commit a number “of unknown persons” still squatting in the old prison.

John Roche, a man who identified himself as a member of the group, appeared before the court.

Roche said that he had complied with the order and had vacated the premises.

He told the judge that a week was not allowing the group enough time to leave the debtors’ prison and asked that the time be extended to a month.

“This makes us homeless,” he said.

“Persons Unknown”

Judge Murphy said she did not have jurisdiction to amend Judge Hanna’s order and granted the State bodies leave to bring their motion within 48 hours.

Roche attempted to introduce legal argument in defence of the squatters.

Judge Murphy said that the matter the court was dealing with today had to do with a defying of a court order to vacate the premises. The judge said that any defence the squatters had would have to wait for a full hearing.

O’Sullivan said a number of the squatters were in court but were unknown to the applicants.

“There are certainly other people in the building,” he said.

They were not identified in court and Judge Murphy granted the State leave to serve notice of motion on them by attaching it to the prison gate and placing copies in and around the old prison.

The judge expressed concern over how the court could attach an order to commit to prison “Persons Unknown”.

However, O’Sullivan said that there had been precedent for such an order.

Safety concerns

Earlier the court heard there were serious concerns about the safety of the group and anyone visiting them as the old debtors’ prison was in a derelict condition.

Judge Hanna had been told the squatters had recently been ordered by the High Court to leave a squat in Grangegorman and had moved to the old debtors’ prison.

He heard the building was in a dangerous state and had no running water. The State authorities feared that its electrical circuit would not support various appliances which had recently been brought in by the squatters.

The State argued there were also health concerns in relation to the effect of pigeon droppings on young children.

The motion will be brought before the court on Wednesday.

With reporting from Cormac Fitzgerald

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Read: Court tells squatters to leave disused Dublin prison

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Ray Managh

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