The High Court has refused to give the occupiers of the Apollo House office block in Dublin an extra week before they have to leave the building.
The Home Sweet Home group has been occupying the vacant offices in the centre of Dublin since mid-December and using it to accommodate homeless people.
Mr Justice Paul Gilligan ruled shortly before Christmas that those involved in the occupation were trespassing. He said they must vacate the building by noon on January 11th.
Shortly before the deadline was due to expire on Wednesday, Ross Maguire SC, for the occupants, asked for a seven-day extension.
Refusing an extension of time, which was sought due to concerns about the suitability of alternative accommodation for the homeless people in Apollo House, Mr Justice Gilligan said the court could not get involved in a dispute over the standard of alternative accommodation.
While he sympathised with the plight of the homeless, the court had already found the occupants had no right or entitlement to be on the premises, he said.
Any issue about the quality of accommodation for homeless people was “a matter for Government” and not for the courts, he said.
Mr Maguire, for the occupants, said that while his clients had tried to comply with the order to vacate, issues over the suitability of alternative accommodation for the residents had arisen.
While efforts were being made with Dublin City Council to find suitable accommodation, more time was needed to find suitable accommodation for the 25 people still in the building, he said.
One of the problems was that assurances about immediate provision of suitable alternative accommodation given to the Home Sweet Home coalition by Minister for Housing Simon Coveney had not been delivered, he said.
Mr Maguire, with Michael Lynn SC, represents four occupiers – musician Glen Hansard, trade unionist Brendan Ogle and activists Aisling Hedderman and Carrie Hennessy.
Rossa Fanning SC, for the Nama-appointed receivers of the building, said the court should not entertain the application for a further stay because of a dispute over the quality of alternative accommodation. The case was about the property rights of the lawful owners and the court had already found the occupiers were trespassers, counsel said.
The receivers were sensitive to the plight of the homeless and had been in contact with the Dublin Region Homeless Executive and Peter McVerry Trust and were satisfied there were places available for all those in Apollo House “tonight”. The court could not get involved in “a political issue outside the proceedings”, counsel added.
Mr Justice Gilligan said he “admired” Home Sweet Home’s campaign to help the homeless but the court had clearly found last month the receivers were entitled to possession of the building. “Ample time” and “a more than generous stay” had been given to those in occupation to vacate a building they had no right to be in, he said.
The court did not want to give the impression it would take “a benevolent attitude” where buildings or publicly owned buildings were occupied illegally. That would be “an intolerable situation in a democratic society”, he added.
After the judge refused an extension of time, Mr Fanning asked for an assurance the building would be vacated before the case returns before the High Court on Thursday.
Mr Maguire said he could not give such an assurance and the case will return before Mr Justice Gilligan on Thursday morning.