Occupants of Lefroy House ignore court order as deadline to leave runs out

No effort made by Garda as yet to remove those inside Salvation Army property in Dublin

A group occupying a former hostel for at-risk teenagers in central Dublin has ignored a court ruling ordering them to leave and say they have already occupied more buildings. There was no effort made by the Garda to remove those inside Lefroy House, Eden Quay, Dublin 1, when the deadline for them to leave expired at 10am on Thursday.

The Revolutionary Workers Union moved into the Salvation Army-run property on May 1st and its members said they were offering accommodation to the homeless in buildings that were vacant because “people are dying on the streets”. They have remained despite the Salvation Army saying it had planned to improve the property so it could be used to accommodate Ukrainians who have fled Russia’s invasion of their country.

Seán Doyle (72), who is one of those inside the building, told The Irish Times on Thursday morning the occupation was “not a publicity stunt or some kind of last stand”. Instead, it was a practical step to ensure homeless people had a place to stay and vacant buildings were used to alleviate the housing crisis.

Mr Doyle, who ran in the 2014 local elections in Wicklow for the Éirígí party, said he and those he was with in the building were now “under siege”. They had “passed an acquisition order” to take the vacant building and offer accommodation to the homeless but the High Court had ruled that the self-styled “order” had no standing in the eyes of the courts.

“Our view is that this State could have passed acquisition orders on long-term vacant buildings over the last 10 years and they didn’t. And yet the number of deaths on the streets over the last 10 years, and I hate to say this, but it has been normalised,” Mr Doyle said.

On Thursday morning a group of about 25 people had gathered outside Lefroy House, which the Revolutionary Workers Union council has renamed James Connolly House, to support those inside in the event Garda members moved in as the court’s deadline expired.

However, no gardaí arrived and it was expected Garda management would liaise with those occupying the building, as well as with the leaseholders, before any effort is made to apprehend those inside and bring them before the court.

Any effort by the Garda to move in on the occupiers would be regarded as a last resort, and very sensitive, given the clashes that broke out when housing crisis protesters were being removed from a building on North Frederick Street, Dublin 1, in 2018. Supporters of the Reclaim the City group clashed with Garda members, who were wearing hoods, after agents for the property owner went into the building to order those inside to leave.

On Wednesday, Ms Justice Emily Egan of the High Court said she had “no alternative” but to order the attachment of persons continuing to occupy the Salvation Army’s property on Eden Quay in defiance of previous court orders.

Ms Justice Egan placed a stay on the execution of her orders until 10am on Thursday to afford those in the building some time to leave. However, once that deadline passed gardaí could bring the occupiers before the court and they could be imprisoned for contempt of court unless they agreed to stay away from the building.

Last month the Salvation Army secured a High Court injunction requiring persons to vacate and cease trespassing at the Lefroy House property. The building, for which the charity holds a long lease, had been operated as emergency accommodation for minors in crisis for many years until its closure early last year when funding ceased.

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times