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Glen Hansard outside Leinster House yesterday. Brian Lawless/PA Images
and so this is christmas

'Homelessness is not normal': Effort to kickstart national movement begins with laughter and song outside the Dáil

On a bitterly cold day, hundreds of people turned out to support the concert in support of the homeless.

“THE NATION IS better than this” was the cry from presenter Dil Wickremasinghe as the concert aimed at drawing attention to the plight of the homeless got underway.

She was followed by musician Lisa Canny, whose cry of “freedom” reverberated through the crowd on a bitterly cold day in the centre of Dublin city.

Then it was Glen Hansard who, to the tune of John Lennon’s War is Over, sang “So a very merry Christmas, and a happy new year/Let’s hope it’s a good one, get your asses into gear.”

The concert at the gates of Leinster House yesterday came almost a year to the day since a group of people began to occupy Apollo House and began converting it into housing for the homeless.

A year on from that major event, there are more homeless people than ever in Ireland.

With efforts underway to kickstart a movement around the homelessness crisis on par with the anti-water charges one, this concert organised by Inner City Helping Homeless was a passionate reminder that this problem isn’t going away, with musicians, poets and artists conveying that message strongly on the Irish government’s doorstep.

“Bring change”

“The message is that homelessness is not normal,” ICHH’s CEO Anthony Flynn told before the start of the concert.

There are over 8,300 people in emergency accommodation and they’re going to be there for Christmas… What we need to do is bring people together to bring change, and that’s what today is all about.

With the hurried stage set up and sound checks meaning that the concert didn’t quite start on time, crowds had begun to gather just before 1pm, with the young and old in attendance despite the cold weather.

With children on their father’s shoulders, young people dancing, and journalists and cameramen shivering, a day-long concert was getting underway.

The crowds were joined by quite a few politicians who made their way over from Leinster House before it got under way.

Solidarity-PBP’s Richard Boyd Barrett was there, as was Independent Joan Collins and Catherine Martin from the Green Party.

Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald and Gerry Adams made an appearance too.

Homeless in Ireland Brian Lawless / PA Images Brian Lawless / PA Images / PA Images

This wasn’t a day to simply attack the government for its homelessness strategy, however. It was a day to unite behind a cause so many feel so strongly about.

“A national disaster”

The tone for the concert was set by its host Dil Wickremasinghe. The former Newstalk presenter soldiered on in the cold from midday till 5pm.

She kicked off by describing a situation where more than 3,000 children are homeless in the country as an “abomination”.

She said: “If there was a national disaster and nearly 10,000 people in Ireland were made homeless, we would declare a state of emergency… Everything would be done to keep a roof over their heads.

Why isn’t the government regarding homelessness as an issue which requires a state of emergency?

“So this is Christmas, and what have you done?”

Glen Hansard had been due to go on stage first but a late arrival meant that Lisa Canny and her band came first.

Homeless in Ireland Brian Lawless / PA Images Brian Lawless / PA Images / PA Images

The Mayo musician had travelled back from London to play three songs in the freezing cold outside Leinster House, and she was one of many who travelled far and wide to make it there.

Hansard has been a very public face for this movement against homelessness since the Apollo House occupation last year, and the now-iconic rooftop concert along with Damien Dempsey and Hozier.

He got a massive cheer from the crowd when he took to the stage, and started with his own amended version of Lennon’s classic Christmas tune.

“So this is Christmas, and what have you done?/3,800 homeless and you talk like there’s none.

So this is Christmas, for the have and have-nots… for the living and dead ones, you won’t be forgot.
So McVerry very Christmas, and a happy new year/Let’s hope it’s a good one, get your assess into gear.

He later namechecked current Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy, former housing minister Simon Coveney and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in the song, before singing “a doorway’s no place to be sleeping/a hotel’s no place to raise your children”.

His song drew a chorus of approval from those in attendance and quite a number of laughs, showing the aim to provide a link between the artistic and cultural community, and the current crisis around homelessness.

Hansard was followed by a host of other musicians, poets and activists who each took to the stage to share their own, often personal, take on the homelessness crisis.

National movement

If Apollo House did not fully succeed, yesterday’s concert was a sign that what was created there has not gone away and that what was started just under a year ago has been taken on with the aim of turning it into a national movement.

Political parties, homelessness charities, activists, trade union groups, actors and musicians all united at the Mansion House just before the concert to outline their plans for a national day of action against the homeless and housing crisis on 7 April.

“It is time to come out in great numbers,” said Aisling Hedderman of the Dublin Bay North Housing Crisis group.

Addressing the crowds in between songs, Hansard said that the idea for the Apollo House occupation was hatched over a few pints.

He said: “It was very simple but super naive. Naivety might be our greatest asset in a situation like this. If you know what you’re about to get into, maybe you wouldn’t get into it.

But if you just get into it, you may find you do something very good.

Naivety may have proved effective when the groundswell began behind the Apollo House occupation.

But is this concerted effort to put homelessness at the top of the agenda the way the anti-water charges movement put hundreds of thousands protesting on the streets just as naive?

With such a strong, united front out on show yesterday it would appear not, but we do know this for sure: Hansard is completely right when he sings “a hotel’s no place to raise your children”.

Read: ‘Out of control’: National day of protest against housing and homelessness crisis to be held in April

Read: Tears and cheers as Apollo House occupiers claim a ‘sad victory’

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