Apollo House: Judge says occupants must vacate in January

High Court grants injunctions sought by building’s receivers over homeless campaign

A group of housing campaigners called, ‘Home Sweet Home,’ took control of an empty office block on Poolbeg Street in Dublin last week. In response to the homelessness crisis they have moved a number of people into makeshift bedrooms in the building.

 

A High Court judge has ruled that those occupying Apollo House in Dublin city centre must leave the building by January 11th.

The building, located on Tara Street and Townsend Street, was taken over last week by activists from the Home Sweet Home (HSH) coalition and offered to the homeless as accommodation.

In a ruling on Wednesday, Mr Justice Paul Gilligan granted injunctions sought by Tom O’Brien and Simon Coyle of Mazars, as joint receivers appointed over the building in 2014 by Nalm Ltd, a Nama company.

The orders require the occupants to vacate the property and restrain trespass.

Noting arguments made on behalf of the HSH coalition, including a sworn statement from campaigner Fr Peter McVerry on the current homelessness crisis and the suitability of the accommodation currently being offered to rough sleepers in the city, the judge placed a stay on the order to vacate Apollo House until noon on January 11th.

The stay was made on terms including that no more than 40 homeless people stay at Apollo House per night.

Other requirements of the stay include that access to the building is provided to the receivers and the occupiers co-operate with them, particularly relating to the building’s electricity supply.

The injunctions apply until the full hearing of the action.

Giving his decision to a court packed with supporters of the coalition, the judge said the receivers were entitled to the injunctions.

The occupants were trespassers and had occupied the building to highlight the plight of the homeless, he said.

However, the judge said law was “clear” in regard to an ongoing trespass and the rights of the receivers who had charge of the property. He said the courts “must apply the law”.

The very exceptional circumstances that would allow the court not to grant the orders sought did not exist in this case, he said.

Lawyers representing four of the activists had sought a six-month stay on the order, but the receivers’ lawyers said they favoured a stay measured in days rather than weeks.

Opposition

Opposing the injunctions application earlier, Ross Maguire SC, with Michael Lynn SC, said he represented four occupiers - musician Glen Hansard, trade unionist Brendan Ogle and activists Aisling Hedderman and Carrie Hennessy - who are members of the Irish Housing Network, which is part of the coalition.

Counsel urged the court to use its discretion to not grant the orders sought because, Mr Maguire said, that would put the 40 homeless people who have been staying in the building back on the streets.

Claims advanced by the receivers of sufficient and suitable accommodation available for homeless people in the Dublin city area were disputed by his clients, counsel said.

As the property was in effect owned by Nama, the Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan, would also be contacted about making some of Nama’s property portfolio available for the homeless, counsel said.

Fr McVerry, in his sworn statement to the court, said Apollo House “did not present a long-term solution to the human crisis of homelessness”, but was “hugely significant in its contribution to addressing the issue”.

He said he could not agree with Dublin City Council’s assertion there are sufficient beds available for all residents of Apollo House should it have to close.

In a sworn statement to the court, Aisling Hedderman said the HSH coalition had taken steps to ensure the building was safe.

It was being run well and security was being provided by a professional firm, she said.

Rejecting claims it was unsuitable for use as accommodation for the homeless, she said the facility was dry and did not allow in drugs or alcohol.

She said each occupant had their own room , unlike the dormitory-type accommodation on offer elsewhere in the city.

In his statement, Mr Ogle said the campaign’s objective was to end homelessness in Ireland.

The situation was deteriorating and the occupation was “a direct, necessary and humane response to the homeless crisis in Dublin”, he said.

Hansard’s statement

In his statement, Mr Hansard said the campaign has the support of entertainment and sporting stars, including Jim Sheridan, Hozier, Kodaline, Saoirse Ronan, John Connors, Christy Moore, Mundy, Damien Dempsey, Lisa Hannigan, the Rubberbandits and Philly McMahon.

Seeking the injunctions, Rossa Fanning SC, for the receivers, said the application was not about putting people out on the street at Christmas and his clients had “no choice” other than to take proceedings over the occupation.

His clients have been in contact with Dublin City Council and the Dublin Regional Housing Executive and are satisfied there is capacity at other facilities operating as emergency accommodation for the homeless.

The receivers were sympathetic to the plight of the homeless, but the occupation was illegal and a form of “political protest”, he said.

There were several serious health and safety risks that made the building unsuitable for use as a shelter, he added.

The former office block was never intended for residential purposes and required extensive maintenance, he said.

Due to the occupation, the building, which had been vacant since mid-2015, no longer has fire insurance and its public liability insurance will lapse in mid -January unless the receivers are able to regain possession.

The receivers were appointed after Nalm acquired loans advanced by Anglo Irish Bank to the building’s owners Cuprum Properties Ltd, who had defaulted on borrowing of approximately €357 million.

The building forms part of a block due for re-development and the receivers want to sell the property so as to deliver the best possible return for the taxpayer, Mr Fanning said.

Frustration

Prior to the verdict on Wednesday, Minister for Housing Simon Coveney said he had spoken to some of the people involved in the Apollo House campaign, but had not visited those occupying the building.

Mr Coveney said he understood the frustration of campaigners, particularly at Christmas time, but that the focus ought to be on finding more permanent accommodation for the homeless people involved.

Mr Coveney was speaking as he attended the launch of the Simon Communities’ annual report, in which it detailed a 26 per cent increase in demand for its services.

The charity’s spokeswoman Niamh Randall said Apollo House represents the frustration Irish people have and they regard housing and homelessness as the highest priority.

“It has started a national conversation, but it is not a long-term, sustainable solution. For too long we have allowed the economy and the market to drive housing policy in Ireland,” she said.

She said support needed to be given to people to move from emergency accommodation into permanent housing.

Rosi Leonard, spokeswoman for the Home Sweet Home project, said on Wednesday that the campaign will continue and its members “won’t be backing down”.

Speaking in advance of the hearing, Ms Leonard said: “We plan to keep working as normal.

“We are hoping the needs of people will be put before the interests of receivers who want to see a building vacant and put homeless people back on the streets.

“No one can doubt that Apollo House has lit a spark in people all over the country that isn’t going to go out.

“We won’t be going away and we won’t be backing down.”

Demolition

Permission for the demolition of the property has been granted by Dublin City Council.

Plans for its redevelopment, along with its neighbour Hawkins House, into office blocks that will be up to 51.8m tall, were simultaneously lodged last June with the council.

However, while the council has now given the go-ahead for the Apollo House scheme, it has yet to issue a decision on the plans for Hawkins House.