What happened, who is involved, and why are activists occupying vacant properties?

Q&A: North Frederick Street housing occupation

Six people have been arrested after housing activists were removed from a property at 34 North Frederick Street in Dublin's north inner city. Video: Jack Power

 

What’s the story here?

For the last three weeks housing activists have been occupying 34 North Frederick Street, Dublin 1.

On August 28th, the owner of the property, Patricia Ní Greil, secured a High Court injunction requiring the protesters to leave the building, which the activists had defied. The building appeared to be used as office space some years ago.

Shortly before 7pm on Tuesday, a number of men in black balaclavas entered the property. They used power tools to break in the front door, and then removed four people inside.

The men were from a private firm acting for the owner of the building, to retake possession of the property in line with the court order.

Gardaí from the public order unit attended the scene, to separate the men who had entered the property from a large number of activists from the group Take Back the City, who were behind the occupation.

While the masked men were securing the building, protesters from Take Back the City sought to demonstrate on the road in front of the building. Protesters and gardaí from the public order unit clashed, as gardaí sought to keep the demonstrators off the road.

Gardaí wearing face masks used batons, and also appeared to threaten to use pepper spray. Six arrests were made on public order offences.

Amnesty International Ireland and the Irish Council for Civil Liberties have both called for reports to be carried out into the actions of gardaí dealing with protesters.

After more than an hour inside the property the men acting for the owner boarded up the front of the building and drove off in a white van. The van was not displaying tax discs, and did not have a front registration plate.

A British registration plate on the back of the vehicle had not been taxed in the UK for four years. However, gardaí said they were “satisfied that the vehicle in question is tax and insurance compliant.”

Who are the activists occupying properties?

The group occupying vacant properties have called themselves Take Back the City. The coalition of activists includes several other campaign groups. Dublin Central Housing Action are one of the main groups behind the movement, set up in 2015 they run weekly clinics to advise tenants of their rights. They have been involved in several protests against landlords in Dublin city centre in recent months.

Student protest group Take Back Trinity are one of the other main groups involved in the action. They came to prominence earlier this spring, when they occupied a building on Trinity College Dublin’s campus, to protest attempts by the university to introduce a €450 exam repeat fee.

Other housing groups involved in the umbrella movement include Dublin Renters’ Union, Dublin West Housing Action, and the Dublin branch of the Brazilian Left Front. Several young People Before Profit activists are also involved.

Why are they doing this?

Take Back the City have stated their aims are to protest the housing crisis in Dublin, and the rest of the country. The group say they are bringing attention to the number of vacant properties in the city, by occupying private buildings that have been empty for several years.

Initially, the group were calling for Dublin City Council to use compulsory purchasing orders to buy occupied vacant property and refurbish the buildings for housing.

When did this all start?

This protest movement started on August 7th when activists broke into and occupied 35 Summerhill Parade, Ballybough, Dublin 1. The property is owned by the Pat O’Donnell & Co Ltd Retirement and Death Benefit Plan. Pat O’Donnell & Co is a machinery plant supply firm and is the long time sponsor of Clare GAA.

In early May, a large number of primarily Brazilian tenants were evicted with 24 hours notice from the house, and from five other neighbouring homes on the street owned by the fund. The evictions had been required due to fire safety concerns at the properties raised by Dublin Fire Brigade.

When the owners of the property secured a High Court order for the activists to quit the building, they moved to occupy the property on North Frederick St.

Are any other properties occupied?

The group are currently occupying a third property, 41 Belvedere Place, which is owned by a UK registered firm MJH Property Management Ltd. Michael (Mike) Joseph Horgan is listed as the sole director of the firm, which reported assets of £3.1 million in 2017, according to filed accounts.

On Tuesday occupants were served a legal notice by lawyers acting on behalf of the owner, demanding the occupants leave the building by 6pm on Thursday, or a High Court injunction would be sought.