You may recall RTÉ One’s report from Monday, by John Kilraine – about the former headquarters of the Unite trade union, on Merrion Square in Dublin, which has been vacant for three years.
It was reported:
“…a trust connected to the trade union Unite applied to be exempted from social housing for a development at its former headquarters…while one of its top officials was planning the occupation of Apollo House…”.
The report went on to say Brendan Ogle, of Unite and the Home Sweet Home movement, gained access to Apollo House a dayafter Unite’s application for a Social Housing Exemption Cert was granted by Dublin City Council.
Mr Ogle subsequently wrote a lengthy post on Facebook concerning the RTÉ report.
Further to this…
Yesterday evening, Mr Ogle spoke to Matt Cooper on Today FM about the matter, during which a statement from RTE was read out.
A transcript of the interview:
Matt Cooper: “Brendan Ogle, Home Sweet Home organiser, also the Unite trade union’s education and policy officer has joined us in studio today. Jimmy Kelly, the regional organiser, of course, was with us on yesterday’s programme to respond to the story which RTE broke yesterday about the former Unite headquarters in Merrion Square being vacant for the last three years. Leading to questions as to why it could not have been used as a venue to look after the homeless people rather than occupying Apollo House in Dublin city centre. Brendan Ogle, can you understand why people would ask that, and regard it as a legitimate question?”
Brendan Ogle: “No.”
Cooper: “Why not?”
Ogle: “I can’t understand why a workers’ organisation and volunteers and members of it, which is an non-profit organisation, a friendly society organisation, comes under attack for helping homeless people. I can’t understand it.”
Cooper: “Attack. Why do you say attack?”
Ogle: “Well, because, this is not journalism. We were approached by RTE at lunchtime, Saturday afternoon. I was approached, notwithstanding the fact I had nothing to do with property. I don’t even own one, nevermind having anything to do with it. And it was a very complex question. And Jimmy Kelly, who you’ve just mentioned – the leader of Unite in Ireland – sought, until today, until Tuesday, to provide RTE will full facts. Bearing in mind, Matt, that it was Saturday afternoon, if we’d got contacted on Monday, or even on Friday, we might have been able to do something.”
Cooper: “Sorry, had you not anticipated at any stage, over the last month or so, that somebody might come along and say to you, ‘hang on a second, you’re very involved in this campaign, you’re leading it down in Apollo House and, as it happens, you have a large building in Merrion Square which has been vacant for three years. If you’re concerned about the homeless, why didn’t you actually use that as a venue to house people?”
Ogle: “No, I didn’t anticipate it. I anticipated that elements of the media were up to no good when they were standing outside the gates of Apollo House, offering homeless people, going in and out, money to tell stories about what was going on in there. That was going on the whole time. So I appreciate…”
Cooper: “I have to say, I know nothing about that…I don’t know which organisations may have done that.”
Ogle: “Absolutely, and actually it wasn’t RTE either, it was print outlets. But I watched it, and I watched it on several occasions. So I anticipated a dirty tricks campaign because any time anybody stands up and puts there head above the parapet, be it the union or be it me or be it a long list of other people in this country – and stands up for people who need help – then agendas quickly set in…”
Cooper: “Hang on, why is it, no, no, no, hold on a second, why is it a dirty trick to ask what many people regard as a legitimate question as to why you did not use the property in Merrion Square?”
Ogle: “Well, first of all, it’s not a legitimate question because we went into Apollo House, very clearly stating – first of all, we were asked could we get into Apollo House by the artists. We’ve stated that, on the record, a number of times. So that loop was left out of the questions. Second of all, we went into Apollo House because it was a Nama property. We already own, and I’m not going to discuss it again – I will if you want, if you’ve the time – but the point about it is: it was a Nama property. As it turns out we were quite entitled to look for time to look into this. When we looked for time to look into it, we discovered that the so-called obligations do not apply at all because there’s only four units planned in Merrion Square. And [former environment minister] Alan Kelly changed the requirements to nine. So we can’t give someone .04 of a unit. And then we discovered today – and John Kilraine could have been told this, if he’d waited till… well I could have said I don’t know why the story was broken yesterday. I know exactly why the story was broken yesterday…”
Cooper: “Well, you assume you know why, you don’t actually know directly. Let’s be fair now…”
Ogle: “I’m suggesting, okay, I’m suggesting and I fully, genuinely and sincerely believe – the story was broke yesterday to damage me, to damage Unite trade union, so the facts that we discovered today would come out after the damage was done. I’m suggesting that, I sincerely, honestly and earnestly believe that to be the case. And what we have discovered is that, three years ago, Unite trade union spoke to a number of groups working with homelessness – which wasn’t as bad then as it is now, but was on the way – and invited them to look at Merrion Square and see was it appropriate for housing emergency accommodation. And one of the groups, the others can identify themselves, but one of the groups that will be happy to identify themselves was Focus Ireland, who came into Merrion Square three years ago, looked at it, looked at the state of the building and decided that, for emergency accommodation for the services they provide homeless people that that was not a suitable location – notwithstanding any planning problems. And we have worked very, very well in Home Sweet Home, we have…”
Cooper: “Hang on, why didn’t you know that or Jimmy Kelly knew that? Who, in Unite, actually spoke with Focus Ireland and why did they not tell you that?”
Ogle: “Well, first of all, Matt. Staff, as you know here, come and go and move through situations and we looked for time of RTE to give a full, detailed response to those questions. If the question had come on a working day, we could have done it quicker. It came on a Saturday afternoon, very bizarre altogether. Saturday afternoon? We looked for Tuesday, I don’t think it was unreasonable, there’s no reason why RTE couldn’t have waited until Tuesday and it took us time to do a search of our records, of our archives, or our emails, and of our systems. We’re not in that building anymore, Matt. We’ve got rid of that building. Our headquarters by the way…”
Cooper: “Have you got rid of it? You still own it, don’t you?”
Ogle: “It’s held by a trust and I think it’s on the market. My headquarters, Matt, and all the years I’ve sat with you in this building and in your previous building, in Abbey Street, you were over there once too, my headquarters is in Abbey Street..”
Ogle: “It’s always been in Abbey Street and what we are saying, putting on the record today, we’ve issued a statement at 5pm is that Unite trade union did that with charities working in the NGO sector. Focus Ireland, I believe, will confirm that – that could have been confirmed, had RTE simply waited until today. But there was a rush to judgment. There was an agenda set, in my honestly and earnestly held opinion and it’s unbecoming journalism and it’s unbecoming of the national broadcaster.”
Cooper: “Ok, but even if Focus Ireland didn’t want to use it, and I’ll come back and I’m going to ask the question: a lot of people would have said, if Focus Ireland had gone into Apollo House, they would have said that wasn’t suitable either. Now, you decided to takeover Apollo House, make it suitable, and the question is, if your issue was looking after homeless people, instead of occupying a building belonging to somebody else, why did you not use a building to which you had access?”
Ogle: “Our issue wasn’t looking after homeless people. Our issue was forcing the Government to fulfil its obligation to look after homeless people. The role, the job of looking after homeless people does not fall on Brendan Ogle’s office, on Jimmy Kelly’s office and Jim Sheridan’s house and Glen Hansard’s wardrobe – it falls on the Government. And the Government have a land bank called Nama and Apollo House was full of Nama. By the way, Apollo House, Matt, would accommodate ten times’ the number of homeless people and an awful lot quicker. We were able to kit it out in a day and a half. That could never have been done in any other building of a similar size and no other building of a similar size was available anyway.”
Cooper: “Nama, though, has offered many properties to various local councils around the country, including Dublin City Council and the various councils have rejected many of those particular properties. So, Nama has actually tried to give properties – is that not an issue? So, why takeover a Nama commercial building for this particular purpose?”
Ogle: “Well, Nama has offered buildings that local authorities have thought to be unsuitable and Nama has refused to offer other buildings that local authorities have sought – these are two arms of the State. Hold on, Matt, now. These are two arms of the State who are talking to each other against a background of at least 7,000 officially homeless people. Now, can I just make this point, Matt, because I don’t know how long we’ve got. I’m happy to stay here all night. But can I make this point: what is so wrong about people giving up their Christmas, using their energy, their activism and their resources – there was no homeless person who died on the streets of Dublin this Christmas, none. There was a fantastic atmosphere in Apollo House, it has put an historic spotlight on this emergency…”
Cooper: “But hold on a second, Brendan, that wasn’t all down to you…in fairness…”
Ogle: “No, no…”
Cooper: “I’m not criticising your bona fides in relation to this, right. But there’s the work of the likes of the Simon Community, the Peter McVerry Trust, Focus Ireland, the work by Dublin City Council as well – in putting new facilities in place. There are an awful lot of people, even before you came along…”
Cooper: “With the Home Sweet Home campaign who have been trying their damnedest…”
Ogle: “Absolutely, and Matt, you’ve never heard me and nobody has ever heard me saying a bad word against any of those people. And despite their best efforts, despite their very best efforts, homelessness continues to skyrocket, we’ve got over 7,000 people, we’ve got Santa Claus coming to hotels and a lot of those people have discussed it with Home Sweet Home and discussed it with me, and discussed it with other people over the last few weeks. This has helped those people and those agencies make the case: what is so objectionable about that?”
Cooper: “Ok, but isn’t Nama’s remit, as set down by legislation, to get as much money back as possible for the State?”
Ogle: “No, it’s not. Section 14 of the Nama Act 2009 provides a remit for Nama to be aware of their social responsibilities. Home Sweet Home have written to the Minister for Finance on this issue, asking to act on it. He sent a holding response two and a half weeks ago – saying he would send a more detailed response which still is not forthcoming. Matt, we do not accept, Home Sweet Home do not accept, and Unite trade union do not accept that Nama is fulfilling the social responsibility ascribed to it, under Section 14 of the 2009 act.”
Cooper: “But, on your website, that you set up, and it’s a pretty basic website, Home Sweet Home, you don’t mention…Nama at all…”
Ogle: “I didn’t set it up..”
Cooper: “Ok, well somebody from Home Sweet Home set up this. It’s a website setting out your objectives under homelessness now. And Nama is actually not mentioned there.”
Ogle: “Well, Nama has been central, Matt. That’s why we wrote a five-page letter to [Minister for Finance] Michael Noonan. When Unite were approached by the artists – so when everybody is attacking Unite, a union that has put more resources into campaigning on water, on change and on homelessness than any other union in Ireland in the last number of years – which seems to be scaring the wits of some people – let me finish, Matt. When…”
Talk over each other
Ogle: “When I got approached by the artists, I got asked to procure, if possible, a Nama building. The Home Sweet Home is specific to forcing the Government. Matt, we can all do our best, the citizens of Ireland, for many, many years have been doing their best to address the homelessness situation in many, many ways. The charities you’ve named have as well. It’s the Government that needs to be forced to do it and Nama was the vehicle. And John Kilraine knows that.”
Cooper: “Ok, we have a statement from RTE because you [Brendan Ogle] have a fairly extensive Facebook post about this…”
Ogle: “I have..”
Cooper: “It says:
‘While we welcome feedback and have processes in place to facilitate feedback and official complaints, we strongly condemn personal attacks on our journalists and presenters. RTE stands by yesterday’s report and its reporting of the Apollo House story which we are satisfied has been fair and accurate’.
Ogle: “Well I will let the listeners and the viewers of RTE judge whether a report that was rushed out – without giving us the two days, two working days is all we requested – and which now turns out we had offered the building to Focus Ireland and other NGOs which can identify themselves and it didn’t meet with Alan Kelly’s provisions in any case. Of course RTE are going to defend their man. I think it’s an appalling standard of journalism and, to be honest with you, it’s something, through the water campaign, we’ve learned to expect from RTE.”
Home Sweet Home has released the following statement:
Since Home Sweet Home (HSH) was launched, the following has been achieved:
No homeless person died on our streets over Christmas 2016, or since.
Single-night beds in hostels were turned into minimum six-month beds where wanted by residents.
Night-time only beds have been made 24-hour beds.
New and specific provision has been made for couples in emergency accommodation.
Two new facilities have been gained which will support ‘own key’ independent living for our most vulnerable citizens where appropriate.
Residents of Apollo House have enjoyed a warm, happy and special Christmas and New Year thanks to the generosity of the public and volunteers.
A new level of public awareness has been brought to this homelessness and housing emergency focussing not just on bed numbers, but on raising the bar on the minimum standards of care available to all homeless people.
During the Apollo House occupation, 76 people previously sleeping on our streets have been transitioned into stable beds.
It is regrettable that, in recent days, the State has failed to take this opportunity to publicly support this effort to address a national emergency, instead seeking to deny clear commitments made and to use law to effectively force some people back into unsuitable accommodation for their needs.
This has meant that citizens who are entitled to support services cannot access them in Apollo house due to a court order. This is unsafe and therefore untenable.
Home Sweet Home announced on Monday, January 9, that it is to be a permanent intervention in the nation’s housing policy and discussion. This does not involve forcing people who are in recovery to enter a ‘wet environment’ against their wishes where they are endangered.
Accordingly, Home Sweet Home, as a public campaign, will house those currently in Apollo House elsewhere until Minister [for Housing, Simon] Coveney and the support services deliver what they committed to last Friday, January 6 – the short and long-term needs of residents being met according to their needs.
Home Sweet Home will not be making these locations public in the interest of residents’ privacy but details will be provided to support services so that all supports will be available.
Home Sweet Home will ensure that all of the matters agreed with Minister Coveney will be delivered and will continue its campaign to deliver on its Emergency Housing Plan published on January 5, 2017.
Rosi Leonard, of Home Sweet Home and the Irish Housing Network
Sr Stanislaus Kennedy spoke to Ray D’Arcy on RTÉ Radio One.
During the interview they discussed the occupation of Apollo House.
At one point, Rosi Leonard, of the Irish Housing Network and Home Sweet Home campaign, joined the show by phone.
From their discussion:
Ray D’Arcy (to Rosi Leonard): “You’ve definitely got more coverage for the homelessness situation in Ireland, than anybody else has in a long time. What’s the end game?… Or what’s the end game?”
Rosi Leonard: “The end game, the long game, is that we end this housing crisis. And that’s beyond Apollo House, that’s the intention of Home Sweet Home, it’s the intention of the Irish Housing Network. The current game… I mean Apollo House should never have to be the answer. But Apollo House is a massive, vacant building – one of thousands – in our country. And it was a very practical intervention. It was very much an intervention to ensure dignity. And we created a standard in Apollo House that now Government are saying that they can’t do. And we’re a group of volunteers who did it in three weeks. It was more out of common sense and love and respect to the community, that we created those standards. Not any of this bureaucratic nonsense that they keep throwing back at us.”
“The short-term goal is that the people of Apollo House are housing in suitable conditions and that they see this, the Government see that they cannot disrespect and disempower people. People are empowered now, they have a voice. And we want that to continue.”
D’Arcy: “We’ve been talking to Sr Stan for the last half an hour or so and we mentioned that she’s been working with the homeless for the last, over 50 years. Sr Stan, would you like to say anything to Rosi there?”
Sr Stanislaus Kennedy: “Well, I think the aim is laudable, to end the housing crisis. Because it is a scandal. However, I think, I would prefer to see them stick, do it within the law. And I would encourage them to do that, do it within the law.”
Leonard: “But how many times has Government defied the law by letting people die on our streets? I mean that’s really what this comes down to. We talk about the law and yet, where are we prosecuting Minister Simon Coveney for not doing anything about the housing crisis that is now seeing 60 families every month living in a hotel.”
“I have met children, through the Irish Housing Network, who are six years old, being treated for depression because of the way they feel in these hotels, the way they see their lives panning out. And all I would say to that, is that we need to actually look at ourselves now as a country and say what are we willing to accept because right now it seems that we are willing to roll over.”
Kennedy: “No, I know all that. I think we’ve been on record several times talking about the situation of families, and particularly children – the 2,500 children – who are in emergency accommodation at this moment. All I’m saying is, I would prefer to work within the law. Keep at it but I think your campaign has drawn attention to it and well done on that.”
A skeletal timeline on various recent campaigns to end homelessness in Ireland…
July 1998: Sr Stanislaus Kennedy writes a letter to The Irish Times saying an unprecedented Exchequer surplus of over 1.2 billion pounds, announced a week previous, could enable the State to end homelessness. She said in 1997, 877 people under the age of 18 used the services of Focus Ireland – up from 352 in 1994.
July, 2001: A three-year plan to end homelessness in Cork is announced. The strategy is called Homelessness – An Integrated Strategy for Cork 2001-2003 and the Southern Health Board announces that 600,000 pounds will be distributed to different voluntary organisations, including Cork Simon Community, St Vincent de Paul and Good Shepherd Services. It’s reported that up 350 homeless people seek shelter in Cork city every night while up to 20 sleep rough.
2002: The official homeless figure in Ireland is recorded as being 5,581.
October 2003: It’s reported that begging and street drinking in Dublin city centre has almost been eradicated as a result of a programme in place since July – operated by Dublin City Council, gardaí and the health services.
“Parnell Square to St Stephen’s Green has been designated a ‘public domain zone’ as part of the programme. As well as 2,800 arrests in the area, including 70 for begging, there has been a programme to help people access accommodation, health services and addiction treatments.”
An Independent Dublin City Councillor, Ger Dorgan, is reported as saying the initiative was an attempt by the council to “sanitise” Dublin city in advance of Ireland hosting the European presidency in 2004.
February 2004: At the Simon (Community) National Conference in Dublin, the director of the six Simon Communities in Ireland, Conor Hickey, says Ireland is poised to “make a real breakthrough in the fight to end homelessness”.
He says if if the annual bonus on the Special Savings Incentive Accounts (SSIA) scheme was reduced from 25 per cent to 24 per cent €21million more would be available to the Exchequer and could be used to end homelessness.
May 2004: The Cork Simon Community AGM is told more than 100 people, between the age of 16 and 25, are homeless in Cork while, in total, 500 people are homeless.
The charity launches a €21million four-year action plan and pledges to raise more than €7million from its own fundraising activities to go towards the cost of the plan.
December 2005: It’s reported that the government is more than 20,000 social housing units short of its social housing target set out in the National Development Plan; and that it has yet to respond to the National Economic and Social Council recommendation that 10,000 – 12,000 social housing units should be made available between now and 2012.
June 2006: Simon Community Ireland launches its three-year strategic plan, Ending Homelessness, Creating Homes. In an article in The Irish Times, Anne Connolly, chair of the Simon Community of Ireland, writes:
“Simon estimates that the provision of high-quality accommodation in the private rented sector – with a support worker – would cost €12,000 in a year. The average cost of hospital psychiatric care is €120,000 a year. To provide the same person with supported housing in a community environment would cost €40,000.”
Ms Connolly is also reported as saying that, while Simon did not have any official data or figures, it has seen an increase in the number of individuals from Poland, Lithuania and Latvia sleeping rough.
October 2006: Focus Ireland, the Simon Communities, the Society of St Vincent de Paul and Threshold launch their Make Room campaign, calling on the Government to end homelessness by 2010.
They also call for the provision of 10,000 social and affordable housing units every year to 2010 and €2 billion being put into the National Development Plan.
January 2007: It’s reported that there are 6,000 homeless people across Ireland with 80 per cent of these people living in Dublin.
Vincent Browne, Brian Ormond, Caroline Morahan, and Eamonn and Brian Fallon, of daft.ie, lend their support for the Make Room campaign, urging members of the public to sign an online petition.
February 2007: Ahead of the general election in May, the leader of the Labour Party Pat Rabbitte says, in a pre-election speech:
“When we build houses we must also build sustainable communities. My firm commitment for change is Labour’s new ‘begin to buy’ scheme for affordable homes in good neighbourhoods.”
“We will also legislate to protect the consumer rights of home buyers, to regulate management companies and estate agents, and to control management charges. We will end homelessness and reform the planning system to better serve communities.”
May 2007: General election takes place with Fianna Fáil returning 77 seats (down 4); Fine Gael 51 (up 20); Labour 20 (no change); Green Party 6 (no change); Sinn Fein 4 (down 1) the Progressive Democrats 2 (down 6).
June 2007: A Fianna Fáil, Green Party and Progressive Democrats majority coalition government – supported by four Independent TDs – is formed.
July 2007: The charities behind the Make Room campaign call on the parties in the newly formed Government to honour their pre-election pledge to end homelessness by 2010.
October 2007: In a pre-Budget submission to the Minister for Finance Brian Cowen, the Simon Communities of Ireland calls on the Government to increase its funding for services for homeless people by 5 per cent and invest €2.5billion in new social housing units over 2008. This does not happen.
December 2007: In its annual review for 2006, the Simon Communities of Ireland said 55 people, who used Simon’s services in 2006, had died.
The average age of those who died was 42. Of the 55 who died, 25 died in Cork, four in Dundalk, eight in Galway and 18 in Dublin. The general cause of death was “ill health”.
August 2008: The Government announces a four-year strategy to end long-term homelessness, called The Way Home: A Strategy to Address Adult Homelessness in Ireland 2008-2013.
The 83-page document emphasises the use of private-rented accommodation over emergency hostel beds.
Housing Minister Michael Finneran vows that, by 2010, no homeless person will be sleeping rough or staying in emergency accommodation for more than six months.
It’s also reported:
“About 40 key services for homeless people which were due to come on stream this year have been shelved due to a funding freeze (at €33million, same as 2007) imposed by the Health Service Executive (HSE).
“Homeless agencies in Dublin and Cork say they are turning away dozens of homeless people as a result of their emergency beds being used to capacity.”
In addition, it’s reported that an implementation plan [including in regards to funding], to accompany the strategy, may not be ready “for some months’.
It’s reported that around 5,000 people in Ireland are homeless, 43,000 households are on local authority housing lists and 36,000 children live in families on social housing waiting lists.
October 2008: Simon Communities of Ireland claims that, in Dublin alone, there are 10,000 unsold private units, almost half of which have two bedrooms, and calls on the Government to buy some of these properties in order to provide accommodation for homeless people.
September 2010: It’s reported that the number of people sleeping rough and using emergency homeless services in Dublin has risen by 20 per cent over the past 18 months – from 812 people per month in 2009 to 908 per month, during the second quarter, in 2010.
December 2010: As the Government fails to reach its goal of ending long-term homeless by 2010, Kerry Anthony, of DePaul Ireland, is reported as saying:
“I’ve been saying for some time now that I don’t think we really understand the full impact the recession is going to have on homelessness.”
“The figures haven’t fluctuated much to date but we know there are an awful lot of people defaulting on their mortgage repayments, we know about 90,000 people are defaulting on electric payments and 23,000 on their gas payments.”
February 2011: General election takes place with Fine Gael taking 76 seats (up 25); Labour 37 (up 17); Fianna Fáil 20 (down 57); Sinn Fein 14 (up 10), Socialist Party 2 (up 2); People Before Profit 2 (up 2); Workers and Unemployed Action 1 (up 1); Green Party 2 (down 6). Fine Gael and Labour formed a coalition government.
February 2013: The Government sets 2016 as the target for ending long-term homelessness.
The Irish Independent reports:
“The Government has vowed to eradicate long-term homelessness by the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising.
“The strategy will revolve around property leasing rather than purchases, access to NAMA housing stock and fast-tracking homeless people from emergency shelters to special transitional housing.”
“Housing Minister Jan O”Sullivan defended the new strategy and its 2016 target as achievable despite the fact the former Fianna Fail-led government failed to deliver the same target with greater resources by 2011.”
Further to eight residents returning to Apollo House yesterday because the accommodation offered to them by Dublin City Council was unsuitable to their needs.
Causing a collapse in the agreement reached between the Home Sweet Home campaigners and Minister for Housing Simon Coveney…
Home Sweet Home writes:
“At 10.30am this morning, the Home Sweet Home legal team are going into the High Court to seek an extension to the stay placed by Judge Gilligan on his order to vacate Apollo House on January 11. The stay is due to expire today, January 11, at midday.
“Despite great efforts by the Home Sweet Home collective and, despite assurances given by Minister [for Housing] Simon Coveney at recent negotiations, it has not been possible to secure adequate alternative accommodation catering for the short and long-term needs of the residents of Apollo House.
“It is imperative therefore to seek an extension to the stay until safe and adequate alternative accommodation is secured for the residents of Apollo House.
“It may be necessary as part of the application to Judge Gilligan to join Minister Coveney to the proceedings.
“Apollo House and Home Sweet Home campaigners are calling on public support to join them outside Apollo House from 11am today, Wednesday, January 11, as they defend the gains of this campaign and the basic right to a home.”