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Take Back the City protesters on why they've taken to the streets

Activists cite rent, gentrification and community as reasons for joining the movement.

Take Back the City activists shut down O'Connell Street.
Take Back the City activists shut down O'Connell Street.
Image: Eamonn Farrell/RollingNews.ie

SINCE AUGUST, HOUSING activists have occupied a number of properties in Dublin’s north inner city and held rallies and protests under the Take Back the City banner. 

An umbrella group representing 15 housing groups, Take Back the City, emerged following two housing forums which took place during the summer in response to the housing and homelessness crises. 

So far, the group’s actions have divided people. 

Some, like founding director of Uplift Siobhan O’Donoghue, have argued that these actions have “surfaced serious questions about how those in power, including the police and property speculators, are held accountable – not to mention why property and land hoarding is so widespread”.

Others, such as Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin have said that, while Take Back the City’s actions are “a manifestation of a terrible wrong”, occupations are not a solution.

For those involved, though, a lack of affordable accommodation and local communities under pressure drove them to taking action. 

Tip of the iceberg

Activist Oisín Vince Coulter (24) has been involved with Take Back the City from the beginning. 

A Student Union officer at Trinity College Dublin, Coulter says that Take Back the City’s core membership consists of young people, “a lot of whom were probably politicised by Repeal”.

Coulter says the difficulty to privately rent in Dublin spurred him into protest mode.

It all came home to me halfway through the summer. A friend of mine invited me to some housing forums and it was there, listening to people on the sharp end of the crisis, that crystallised for me just how bad things were.

On 7 August, Take Back the City activists occupied 38 Summerhill Parade. 

In May, dozens of tenants were evicted from 38 and 39 Summerhill Parade following an inspection by Dublin Fire Brigade. 

Following legal action, Take Back the City activists left 38 Summerhill Parade and then occupied 34 North Frederick Street. 

Reading a statement to the crowd outside that property on 17 August, a spokesperson for the occupants at that time said that “the outpouring of support both locally and from further afield has given us hope for a strong, organised housing movement”.

“The government is not about to change this housing crisis – the people are. Summerhill was only the tip of the iceberg. We’re ready to keep going,” the spokesperson said.

That occupation, however, came to a head earlier this month after six people were evicted from 34 North Frederick Street. 

Just before 7pm on Tuesday 11 September men wearing balaclavas arrived at the property to remove the activists from the property. Members of An Garda Síochána’s public order unit were also in attendance, and also wearing balaclavas.

Over the following days, the security firm involved and the gardaí were heavily criticised over their attire during the eviction. The move was even deemed incorrect by the new commissioner, Drew Harris. 

The following day, protesters staged a sit-down demonstration on O’Connell Street where they then marched to a property on Belvedere Court in the city. Take Back The City activists have occupied this property and recently ran anti-eviction training nearby. 

Coulter hopes that the the Take Back the City movement gets more people involved and changes attitudes towards housing in Ireland. He says “there probably will be more occupations” in the future.

The occupation at Belvedere Place is ongoing.  

TBTC Protesters at 34 North Frederick Street.

Sparking change

The motivation to get involved varied from the very personal, as in Coulter’s case as he was trying to privately rent in the capital, to people who did not like what they were seeing around them, from their own homes. 

Others, like mother-of-three Neasa Hourigan who lives in Cabra in Dublin 7, were always politically inclined. According to her, however, her involvement with TBTC came about “kind of randomly” when she read a Facebook post one afternoon announcing that the first rally would take place outside the GPO. 

Hourigan, a Green Party candidate for Dublin Central, had been involved with the National Housing & Homeless Coalition for several years and when she heard about Take Back the City’s first actions she took her young daughter along.

We went along just to support them. I have friends on my road who are being pushed out. People who’ve grown up here their whole lives.

Housing and homelessness are issues now affecting most people in Ireland so Take Back the City’s actions have sparked something in people, says Hourigan. 

“The reality of this crisis is that everybody knows somebody affected. It’s very real to everybody now.”

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Hourigan and her young daughter put together a poster ahead of that first rally and marched to Summerhill. 

Hourigan says she helped out in the early stages of that first occupation, doing night shifts at the property and says she intends to keep campaigning as part of the movement. 

This is a piece of activism. This is a piece of passive resistance. That’s what it’s about. It is about raising awareness until the law changes. You can see that it has had an effect. It continues to bring pressure.

Changing neighbourhoods

Activist Coulter says that the movement is currently deciding on a long-term strategy and that Take Back the City will most likely be a multi-year struggle. 

Last Saturday, the group’s activists staged rallies nationwide, including a sit-down protest at O’Connell Bridge in Dublin City Centre. 

One of those who went along was Gillian Brien who lives at the 1960s Constitution Hill council flats in Phibsborough. 

For Brien, years of neglect by Dublin City Council and an increasingly gentrified neighbourhood, spurred her into taking part in Take Back the City. 

August’s evictions from Summerhill Parade galvanised local residents and led to the first Take Back the City’s occupation, says the mother-of-three.

Brien says that those involved in Take Back the City include people in council housing, individuals and families in private rented accommodation and people with mortgages.

We’re all standing up together. It’s a peaceful movement and it’s really putting pressure on the government. This housing crisis is affecting everybody.

Around the same time as the O’Connell Street rally, a house in Crumlin was occupied by activists for 24 hours. Last Saturday, a house in Balbriggan, which was vacant but undergoing council refurbishment, was also occupied. Take Back the City said that it’s group was not involved with the latter. 

Following this occupation, Sinn Féin’s housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin said: “People are angry, frustrated. [I'd urge] people to be mindful that if you do occupy a council house, it could have unintended consequences.”

Brien, who works as youth worker with BeLonG To, says that more of her Constitution Hill neighbours have gotten involved in Take Back the City recently and that the demographic of those involved is striking. 

I think this is a pressure point. It’s students, mothers, single people and pensioners. People just keep on joining in.

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