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Unite hits out at RTÉ coverage, says building was offered for homeless accommodation

Focus Ireland rejected the building as it was unsuitable and because “the offer was for three years or less”.

Brendan Ogle and Home Sweet Home activists at the Four Courts last month.
Brendan Ogle and Home Sweet Home activists at the Four Courts last month.
Image: SAM BOAL

THE UNITE TRADE union has said the building that formerly housed its headquarters at 15 Merrion Square in Dublin was offered as accommodation for the homeless three years ago.

The building was rejected by homelessness charity Focus Ireland as “completely unsuitable for their needs,” the union said.

This evening’s statement was issued in response to a story published by RTÉ News yesterday revealing that a trust connected to Unite applied to be exempted from social housing for a development at its former HQ around the time one of the union’s top officials, Brendan Ogle, was engaged in the Apollo House occupation.

Unite has applied to turn the Merrion Square building into one residential unit, with an apartment building behind it, and the union’s trust applied for an exemption from using those units for social housing. That application was granted by Dublin City Council last month, on the same day Ogle gained access to Apollo House.

That initial occupation – backed by a group of activists and musicians – became a four-week takeover of the Tara Street building, which was converted into a temporary hostel for the homeless and led to a public debate about the issue.

Use of the exemption – regarded as routine for a development such as this – and the fact that the building had been lying idle for years, as the housing crisis worsened, led to accusations of hypocrisy against Ogle and his union. A group called Hands Off The Homeless staged a demonstration at the site yesterday – accusing the union of a “publicity stunt” at Apollo House.

Unite said yesterday that that take was “disingenuous”.

They were trying to sell the former Amicus offices because they’re “in poor condition, with the benefit of planning permission for apartments” a statement said. The union insisted it simply wanted to maximise the resources it had for members.

In a fresh statement this evening Unite Regional Secretary Jimmy Kelly said that when Unite vacated the building “we contacted a number of NGOs working in the area of emergency housing provision and invited them to inspect the premises and assess their suitability.

The offer was for a three-year period.
One of the organisations who took up our invitation, Focus Ireland, came to the conclusion that the Merrion Square building was completely unsuitable for their needs as it stood and would also pose inevitable planning difficulties for their type of service.

A spokesperson for Focus Ireland told TheJournal.ie that Unite had asked the organisation if it was interested in using the building “while the union was developing its own plans for future use of the premises”.

However, it was reviewed by Focus Ireland and found to be totally unsuitable for any of our projects or housing as it would have required extensive refurbishment, significant investment and planning permission.
Given the offer was for three years or less it was not taken up.

Elsewhere in this evening’s statement, Unite said that they were initially contacted by RTÉ News about the story on Saturday, and had promised to respond in full by today.

Kelly said that was because the trust in question (Unite the Union Trustee Company) did “not work over the weekend” and that he needed that much time to search the union’s records for the relevant documentation.

RTÉ said in a statement that while it welcomes feedback, it condemned the personal nature of Unite’s statement about their reporter John Kilraine.

“While we welcome feedback, and have processes in place to facilitate both feedback and official complaints, we strongly condemn personal attacks on our journalists. RTÉ stands by yesterday’s report and its reporting of the Apollo House story, which we are satisfied has been fair and accurate.”

Read: Unite says there is no parallel between its plan to build apartments and Apollo House >

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