Interview with an ISR Housing Activist

Free State Police supporting masked paramilitaries to Violently defend a long vacant home owned by a landlord that had been liberated and occupied by housing activists in Dublin

Irish Socialist Republicans argue that the housing and homelessness crisis in Ireland is a deliberate act of policy by the Garrison Class in Ireland to drive up super profits for the parasitic landlords and Imperialist vultures that “own” the private housing stock in Ireland.

Today, in the third of our new series of Interviews with Socialist Republican Activists, aimed at highlighting the scope and depth of the mass work, millitant class struggle and community activism that Irish Socialist Republicans are involved in on a daily basis, Socialist Republican Media speak to an ISR activist who has been centrally involved in the millitant direct actions against the private landlord system in Ireland.

Comrade, thank you for taking the time to speak to Socialist Republican Media today.

1. Can you tell me how and why you got involved in housing activism?

Housing has been a major crisis in Ireland for years now, with a particular impact on my generation. I have friends who were forced to commute from Louth or Carlow every day for college due to soaring rent costs, and friends who are paying 600 euros to stuff themselves into a greedy landlord’s attic. Wages simply haven’t kept up with the cost of living. Homelessness has become an epidemic with thousands of homeless children in this state today. Instead of social housing Dublin City Council has approved the construction of dozens of hotels, with local facilities often being demolished to make space. Foreign vulture funds are seizing control of property in vast amounts. Everywhere the housing crisis was and is becoming increasingly inescapable.

While I had been involved in marches, when the opportunity arose to join in a more militant housing action I decided to get involved. This was an eviction attempt in 2017 at Mountjoy Square where noted slumlord Paul Howard used mercenaries to break down the door of several young people and forcibly evict them. THis was was resisted by housing activists, who eventually occupied the apartment for some time. This was in response to an illegal rent increase by the landlord that the tenants had resisted. The Gardai were also involved, and it could not have been clearer where their sympathies lay. Throughout this occupation the housing group was providing legal support to the tenants, raising awareness on social media and knocking on doors in the apartment block so as to inform the local residents of what was occuring. Even just in this process we discovered other abuses. I recall one man who was being evicted along with his family the day before Christmas Eve, and he wasn’t confident that he would be able to find new accommodation. The violence of the landlord class, the indifference of the police, the resourcefulness of the housing activists all left a deep impression.

2. You were involved in Take Back the City, can you tell us a bit about the campaign, it’s aims and overall ethos?

Take Back the CIty was a broad group of over a dozen grassroots housing groups, migrant groups and other progressive organisations. It aimed to raise consciousness about the housing crisis through occupations of unused properties as well as other actions, highlight exploitative slumlord practices, and putting pressure on the government to take emergency measures. The occupations were run on a shift basis with volunteers, personally I mostly volunteered for night time shifts. Some of the basic demands of the campaign were: To ban all evictions, for rents to be capped at at a 20% of income, All vacant land and property be taken by compulsory purchase order and put to social use as universal public housing.Launching a more robust housing network to provide support in local communities was another aim. There was a conscience attempt to train activists in basics of security and safety when it comes to occupations and direct actions.

3. What was the class character of Take Back the City, and how did it seek to mobilise the masses to resist the housing crisis

The movement was mostly students, with support from migrant organisations, anti racist groups and working-class activists. Migrant issues were particularly to the fore in Summerhill, where hundreds of migrants were evicted by the landlord due to the building not being up to firecode. In Summerhill, where the first occupation took place, there was a concerted effort to engage the local working class communities.. This was done by knocking on the doors of neighbouring houses and encouraging involvement. There was also an effort made to engage people in other ways, with music and poetry recitals outside Summerhill. By the time of Frederick Street however, some of the momentum had been lost and not as much of an effort was made to engage the masses directly. However, I would say that the movement definitely captured the imagination of many in Dublin for a time, I personally overheard many conversations in my workplace, in cafes and on buses about the campaign. This was in part due to the highly effective use of social media by activists.

4. Take Back the City gained national media attention when activists were violently evicted by masked paramilitaries, backed up by the Gardai, from a house on Frederick Street. Can you tell us some of the details around the eviction?

The owners of the abandoned 34 Frederick St property put an injunction to through the courts. Naturally the order to vacate was ignored by TBTC activists, the property had been abandoned for 3 years after all. Several weeks after this, 15 or so hired mercenaries wearing balaclavas, supported by Gardai wearing the same, arrived at the property. These hired thugs arrived in a van which had a plate registered to the Manchester Police, something which raises all sorts of questions. Concerns have been raised about the possible links these mercenaries may have to Loyalist paramilitaries in the North. They broke into the barricaded property using an electric saw, showing a blatant disregard for the safety of those inside. They proceeded to violently force the activists inside out of the building. A picture of masked members of the Garda Public Order Unit standing outside the property has rightfully becoming iconic. Shortly afterwards, garda attacked several of the protesting activists who had gathered in a crowd outside. Some activists were sent to hospital with concussions. 5 activists were arrested for supposedly attacking officers, a blatantly absurd claim unsupported by any evidence from the day. Afterwards the crowd of activists marched over to Store Street Station and demanded the release of the arrested activists, which thankfully was achieved.

5. Why in your opinion did the state respond so violently to Take Back the City?

The state cannot abide radical action by activists and the working class, even of the disciplined peaceful kind as Take Back the City’s occupation of 34 Frederick Street undoubtedly represented. I think you can also see this in the outrage the Free State media has expressed in response to the peaceful Bring It To Their Doors campaign. Frederick Street was also not the first occupation Take Back the City had engaged in, and I am certain there were fears that that militancy would spread beyond what could be managed.

State security forces deploying ever increasing violence in how they deal with housing crisis. In the past year we’ve seen the armed response unit being deployed in evictions, such as against a defenceless homeless family housed in a B&B last September. Similarly people will be familiar with the video of thugs violently handling a farmer in that case in Roscommon, as the police dutifully watched on. Before this, armed gardai were deployed to evict a peaceful squat that the Connolly Youth Movement in Cork were operating. In all of these cases the police were acting on behalf of the landlord class and vultures this state exists to facilitate. As the housing crisis worsens, and as the government continues to make no attempt to improve it, repression seems to be all the garrison class has left to maintain its position amidst growing anger.

For the Free State to properly tackle the housing crisis it would have to undermine the foundations of its own existence. “You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.” as Liam Mellows said.

6. Aside from Frederick Street, what other activism did Take Back the City engage in?

Peaceful sit down protests, such as occupying O’Connell bridge and protesting outside the Dail. This was also supplemented by other direct actions, with the occupation of AirBnB headquarters. I was involved in one such action where we occupied the tribunal room of the Residential Tenancies Board while it was in session, disrupting it and highlighting the fact that the adjudicators had ties to property development and other clear conflicts of interest. One of them was a chair of the Landlords Association of Ireland! A woman and her children were going to be disgracefully evicted by Focus Ireland, one of the leading homeless charities in this country. That even a homeless charity would be willing to evict someone into homelessness is a testament to how broken the system in this country is. The RTB essentially functions as a way to fast track evictions, despite their claims to be protecting to protect the rights of tenants. We succeeded in having the hearing delayed. While there the activists even did a mock court session where they brought “landlords” to trial. That kind of creativity and good humour is something that was inspiring about the movement.

7. For Socialist Republicans, it is clear that the housing crisis is deliberately engineered by the Free State government to generate super profits for private landlords and imperialist vultures. What in your opinion is the solution to the housing crisis, and how do we best mobilise the working class in that fight?

Socialist Republicans believe that in order to overcome the housing crisis we must attack the underlying causes. This will require building alternative working class resistance structures across the country, working in a broad front with other progressive groups to affect change. Building universal social housing and seizing putting all vacant land and property to public use is a good solution, but only after imperialism, capitalism and landlordism in Ireland are smashed, and a Socialist Republic established, will we be truly able to affect meaningful change in this country, and not only on the question of housing. I think Socialist Republicans can learn a great deal from Take Back the City and its successes, in how it managed to bring together a broad swathe of different progressive groups for a time, in how it used social media to mobilise activists in support of direct actions, and how it managed to use direct actions in conjunction with more traditional and legal forms of struggle such as marches and campaigning. Many of the grassroots organisations involved are still doing excellent work in opposing evictions and providing support to people in their local areas, such as Dublin Central Housing Action.  There is no shortcut to building the socialist republic, and no quick fix solution to the housing crisis either. Through struggle working class people will come to understand that they themselves can provide each other the support and the care that they need, dependance on the state for solutions will only ever result in defeat. 

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