Campaigners on homeless crisis seek support in legal case

Apollo House activists demand Minister for Finance open Nama buildings for housing

Pictures from inside show the current living conditions in Apollo House, an occupied building on Dublin's Tara Street. Video: Irish Housing Network


Home Sweet Home campaigners are urging homeless people to join them in taking a legal case demanding Minister for Finance Michael Noonan use his powers to open Nama buildings for housing.

The housing activists have been occupying Apollo House, a vacant office block in Dublin’s city centre, since December 15th to accommodate homeless people.

However, receivers for the Nama-managed building say it is “unfit” for housing and were last week granted an eviction order by the High Court. Mr Justice Paul Gilligan ruled, however, that the group could remain until noon on January 11th as long as no more than 40 homeless people stayed there per night.

Home Sweet Home says its next step will be to seek a direction on Mr Noonan to use his powers in the 2009 National Asset Management Agency Act. Section 2 of the Act says among its purposes is, “to contribute to the social and economic development of the State”.

Section 14 says: “The Minister may give a direction in writing to Nama concerning the achievement of the purposes of this Act.”

Home Sweet Home co-founder Niamh McDonald said: “The Minister has very clear and strong responsibilities under the Nama Act.”

Among these was to ensure Nama contributed to the social well-being of the country, and tackling the housing crisis was the most pressing social issue facing it, she said.

The group was urging “as many people as possible who are either homeless or at risk of homelessness” to put their names to a legal motion suing the Minister under the Nama Act.

“We want get as many individuals to tell their stories and to put them together in one affidavit.”

Six categories

There were six categories of people who would be suitable, she said. These were people sleeping rough, people who have beds in emergency hostels, people in hotels or B&Bs, families in hotels or B&Bs, the “hidden” homeless who are couch-surfing or sharing overcrowded accommodation, and people who are at risk of losing their homes due to high rents.

Ms McDonald, who is on a back-to-education scheme and renting in Dublin, feels she is at-risk of homelessness. She will be among those making an affidavit for the case.

The group has set up a legal defence fund, to which people are being invited to pledge donations if the group loses the case and have costs awarded against them. The fund was not to pay a legal team, she added. The group’s solicitor, Gary Daly, and barristers were providing their service pro bono.

“What we don’t want is for anyone who puts their name to this case to be out of pocket, so the pledges will only be called in if we lose.”

She said the defence fund would be separate to Home Sweet Home’s Gofundme campaign which has so far raised more than €160,000. “That money was raised to help the homeless and end homelessness,” she said.

The charities regulator said on Wednesday that Home Sweet Home was not a registered charity.

“They are free to apply to register and all applications will be considered as per the requirements of the Charities Act,” the regulator said.

Asked if Home Sweet Home would register as a charity, a spokesman said: “No”.

He said though the coalition was “fully engaged with charitable groups such as the Peter McVerry Trust and Dublin Simon, Home Sweet Home is a movement whose aim is to end homelessness. It is not a charity,” he said.

Meanwhile Dublin City Council chief executive, Owen Keegan, has described the situation at Apollo House as “particularly disturbing”.

Speaking on Newstalk radio on Wednesday he said accommodation offered there was “substandard”.

“I find it difficult to reconcile why anyone would feel the need to accommodate homeless people in substandard accommodation when there are more than enough beds available in very good quality accommodation,” he told the Pat Kenny programme.

Among those supporting the occupation are high-profile artists, including singers Hozier, Glen Hansard, Damien Dempsey and Christy Moore, as well as director Jim Sheridan and the band Kodaline.