‘They broke in using brute force’: Irish activists protest attempted eviction from vacant building

·5-min read

Private security guards and police descended on a building in Dublin, Ireland, on October 27 to evict a group of activists who had been squatting and using the site as a community space. After a 10-hour face-off, the activists reclaimed the building and began to repair the damage. Residents and advocates say the eviction was disproportionately violent and destroyed liveable space in a country that is facing a housing and homelessness crisis.

On September 18, 2021, a group of people called That Social Centre moved into a vacant building at 23 Prussia Street in northwest Dublin, naming it Sunnyvale. The building had sat derelict for up to 10 years.

On the morning of October 27, private security guards entered the building under the pretext of evicting the residents, who say that they were violently assaulted and their possessions destroyed.

Ireland has the 10th-highest rate of vacant homes in the world, at 9.1 percent with more than 180,000 buildings vacant or derelict. The country is also experiencing a homelessness crisis, particularly in the capital.

‘The residents had called the Gardaí, and they started to defend the men who were being violent rather than the residents’

Jess Bernard is a “defence officer” for the Community Action Tenants Union (CATU) and helps coordinate events for That Social Centre. She arrived at Sunnyvale around an hour after the eviction began.

At 7am yesterday [October 27], a group of armed men, and even some teenagers, arrived at the social centre and broke in to violently evict people that were just sleeping in their beds. There was absolutely no warning whatsoever. They broke in using brute force. I was notified along with a number of other community organisers via WhatsApp.

When I arrived, people were being escorted out of the property. The Gardaí [Irish police] were actively assisting these hired thugs, who had been really, really violent. The residents had called the Gardaí, and the officers started to defend the men who were being violent rather than the residents. I saw the guards assisting these men going in and out of the property, men who were smashing up people’s belongings and just really ruining the property. The guards were sort of escorting the residents to get what remained of their belongings. People were injured and bleeding. And a crowd was forming of CATU members and local residents to try and support the people who were being evicted.

The Gardaí said that a “property owner, in compliance with a court order, was securing a premises and facilitating access to persons to remove personal items”. The owners of the site, The McGrath Group, told The Irish Times that they were issued a court order from the Dublin City Council to remove the squatters to prevent “serious fire and safety risks”.

The McGrath Group had lodged a planning request to demolish the building and build 160 apartment units at the site. The project, which will include “a host of residential amenities including a cafe, cinema room, gym and concierge”, is set to begin in late 2022.

Sunnyvale residents and CATU advocates say they were never informed of the eviction, that the court order in question dates from 2018, and that the show of force and destruction of property was illegal and unjustified.

‘Everyone’s possessions had been smashed up with bats. Everything was destroyed’

Sunnyvale residents and activists re-entered the building after the security personnel eft. But they were met with a dismal scene.

Bernard continued:

Once the goons had finished destroying the property as much as they could, they fled over the back wall and the residents came in over the roof on the front. So the residents took the property back around 5pm, but there’s always a risk that the men will come back.

There had been oil dumped over people’s beds. The roof was completely destroyed, and when it started raining later that night, water was just pouring into the building. Everyone’s possessions had been smashed up with bats. Everything was destroyed. They smashed the toilets with bats so nobody could use the bathroom. They tried to turn on the water to flood the house, so there’s basically an inch of water all over the house.

The destruction of the property is to render it uninhabitable so that people wouldn’t come back. And the abuse and assault was completely unjustified, it’s a scare tactic to make sure people don’t come back.

#DerelictIreland: An epidemic of abandoned buildings

According to Bernard, the renewal of 23 Prussia Street was primarily aimed at providing a place to live for people affected by homelessness in Dublin, including some migrants and young transgender people.

Dublin is a city full of unaffordable properties, and there’s a huge homelessness crisis right now. Everywhere you go you see [vacant derelict buildings]. The planning board is approving more and more permissions for hotels and co-living units and build-to-rent apartments – they’re not creating secure homes, but instead they’re becoming profit hubs for private developers. A lot of sites remain unoccupied because they would rather them stay empty than allow people to live in them.

With so many buildings vacant or derelict in Ireland, people on social networks have been using the hashtag #DerelictIreland to share images of abandoned, out-of-use buildings in the country.

Meanwhile, Ireland is experiencing a homelessness crisis, particularly in Dublin, where 70% of the country’s homeless population is located. There were at least 8,000 homeless people in Ireland in June 2021 and service providers have warned of an increase in people entering emergency housing.

The government has proposed several projects to renew or renovate vacant buildings into subsidised housing, but few funds have been made available to start development.

Activists and Sunnyvale residents have been raising money to repair the damage to the property, hoping to stay there as long as possible and restart their community activities.

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