Activists occupying the Apollo House office building in Dublin said they would defy a court order to leave the premises and that they would continue “kicking in doors” to get the homelessness crisis solved.
A High Court judge on Wednesday refused an application on behalf of those who have been occupying the Dublin city centre property since December last to extend the length of time they were allowed to stay in the building.
Mr Justice Paul Gilligan refused the application for a stay on the eviction order he granted on December 21st. The order came into force at noon.
Campaigners from the Home Sweet Home coalition, which has organised the occupation in order to provide accommodation for homeless people, and members of the public linked arms around the outside of the building as the noon deadline for the eviction order passed.
Coalition spokeswoman Rosi Leonard accused the Government and Dublin City Council of reneging on promises to find suitable alternative housing for the homeless people who have been accommodated at Apollo House for almost a month.
“We won’t be leaving,” she said. “Our main focus is the protection and dignity of people and the raising of standards for everybody in this country.
“If we leave, there are going to be a number of people in this building who are going to be left in really unsafe environments, as they were yesterday. They came back to Apollo House to escape those environments. We are not tolerating that.”
Ms Leonard said the group wanted “stronger guarantees” for the homeless people currently living in the building.
The actions of the Government and the council, she said, should be “a source of huge anger for everybody in this country who is affected by the housing crisis”.
Addressing the crowd of several hundred supporters outside the building, Ms Leonard said: “We are going to defy this court order. We are staying here.
“We are staying here for ourselves, for our communities, for our families, for everyone we know who is affected by this crisis because they can’t treat us like fools anymore.”
Another activist told the crowd: “We are going to keep kicking in doors. If we have to kick the door of the Dáil in, we will – guaranteed.”
Film director and Apollo House campaign supporter Jim Sheridan arrived outside the building after attending court for the ruling on Wednesday morning.
He said he had expected the outcome, but he did not believe it was a viable option for homeless people to remain in Apollo House for the long-term.
“I think we have to consider other ways now of dealing with this, which might be an appeal on a constitutional basis, for shelter, or some other tactic. But I don’t think a kind of defiant breaking the law will serve [any purpose],” Mr Sheridan told The Irish Times.
“That’s my own personal opinion and others may not agree. I think we should hold out to get correct accommodation for everybody that’s in there but I think that’s a different issue.
"I'll say a prayer for Simon Coveney – I hope he can solve it. My wife will light a candle for him. God bless him trying to get it together. But it's a f***ing nightmare."
A number of politicians, including Richard Boyd Barrett, Chris Andrews and Dessie Ellis, were among those supporting the activists outside the building.
Actors and buskers staged street theatre and sang for the hundreds of people thronging Poolbeg Street from about 11am until the afternoon.
By 2pm, the numbers outside the building had dwindled to a few dozen.
One Home Sweet Home volunteer estimated there were between 20 and 30 activists still in the building.
Eleven homeless people who had been living there left on Wednesday morning after they were accommodated by the Peter McVerry Trust homelessness charity. Eight homeless people remained in Apollo House.
A Garda spokesman said gardaí had not been informed that any Garda presence was required at the building.
“If we were there it would only be in a monitoring role,” he said.
In a statement following the ruling, Minister for Housing Simon Coveney said a number of measures had been undertaken in the past few weeks to provide accommodation for homeless people.
Three new facilities at a cost of €6.1 million were up running and available in Dublin city centre and 210 new additional emergency beds were being provided.
“This brings the overall total of emergency beds available in Dublin to more than 1,800.”
He said his priority continued to be the provision of safe and suitable accommodation for homeless people,
He encouraged the Home Sweet Home campaigners to continue to engage with the Peter McVerry Trust and Dublin City Council, with a view to making arrangements for the transition of people currently in Apollo House to alternative suitable accommodation with appropriate supports.