From top: Then Minister for Housing Simon Coveney following his meeting with Apollo House activists, including top from left: Brendan Ogle and Terry McMahon; Terry Mcmahon
Filmmaker Terry McMahon was among a group of Apollo House activists who met then Minister for Housing Simon Coveney at the Housing Agency offices in Dublin on January 6, 2017.
Terry McMahon writes:
It was late at government buildings. Rain threatened as exhausted press photographers peered up at sparsely lit windows. A cynical RTE reporter sat in his expensive car hating the dumb do-gooders that had lately hogged his headlines. The streets were empty.
Minister for Housing, Simon Coveney sat across from us. Frustration on both sides. Trying to break a deadlock. We were ‘Home Sweet Home’ and Coveney and his cohorts were the government.
We were in lengthy negotiations to secure basic rights for some of society’s most vulnerable. They were complex and difficult but Coveney reiterated the brilliantly bold statement that he would have every family out of emergency hotels by July 1st 2017.
He gave his word on it. He was staking his reputation on it. This was going to happen. This was irrefutable. This was fact.
Our side of the long negotiating table was a motley crew. Brendan Ogle and Dave Gibney were the main negotiators. Brilliant men both. Union leaders. Fighters. Then there was Jim Sheridan, the multiple Oscar nominated genius in fiction and in life; Glen Hansard, the Oscar winning giant with a heart as big as his magnificent voice; the relentlessly brave saints of The Irish Housing Network, Aisling Hedderman and Oisin Fagan; and Dean Scurry, the visionary working class hero who started the whole damn thing.
And me, the dumb fuck hack-whore who’d never be normally let in the building. On the government’s side there were men and women who led us to believe they wanted to do the right thing. And we believed them. We had to.
I won’t speak for the others. They have their own tale to tell. Most of them much better than mine. Every one of them, without exception, handled themselves beautifully. Erudite, passionate and humane, they put everything on the line.
I only opened my mouth three times. There were several recesses during the lengthy negotiations where we’d break for fifteen minutes to regroup. I hadn’t spoken yet. Listening was more important. And watching. Lies aren’t just told with the mouth.
We had reached another bullshit impasse and broke for the obligatory recess. Downstairs in our allocated room someone asked if the room was bugged. We were told no. The collective decision was made that someone would have to shake up the negotiations. Pull the pin on a grenade. The decision was made that it should be me. Nobody asked how it should be done. It just had to be done. Effectively. But politely.
We went back upstairs and the mood in the room from the government folks was jovial. Confident. They had us on the run. Everyone took their seats and the Minister looked at Brendan Ogle waiting for him to recommence. Brendan said nothing. Best poker player I ever saw.
The Minister raised his eyebrows behind those ill-fitting glasses of his and waited. “Simon?” It was the first time he’d heard my voice. And he didn’t like it. Everybody in the room had shown respect to the office by addressing him at all times as, “Minister” and here was I calling him Simon.
He looked over at me. Him and the rest of his team. No attempt to hide their disdain. Coveney wiped his lower lip to hide a tiny quiver and peered over his glasses.
I didn’t know what was going to come out of my mouth but I watched his eyes to get a read of the man. In truth, all I saw was a kind of shallow vanity. Pointing to the large windows behind us, my voice became low, almost shy, and I said, “Everyone out there thinks you’re a bunch of lying scumfuck bastards.”
For a man accustomed to negotiations it was bizarre how the skin on Coveney’s face blanched. How the purple blood rushing behind the epidermis betrayed his entire facade. His disgust was palpable. Visceral. He wanted me dead. I didn’t blink. Fuck him. “What can you give me to prove to those people you’re not a fucking hustler?”
Coveney had never been spoken to this way. Not by anybody. Particularly not by some piece of shit commoner off the street. The rest of his staff were paralysed. Coveney looked to Brendan Ogle and stammered a demand for some kind of decorum.
But Brendan remained silent. The pin had been pulled. Coveney stared at me and spat the words out, ‘I’m no hustler.’ I stared right back at him and quietly said, “Prove it.”
This is the first week of July 2017 and, more than six months after the occupation of Apollo House, homelessness is worse than any time in recorded history.
In a Machiavellian deal with his new boss – Leo Vardakar – two weeks before he was due to deliver on his promise, Minister Simon Coveney dumped his Housing portfolio to become Minister For Foreign Affairs and Trade with Responsibility for Brexit.
Children are being raised in emergency hotel rooms with their families. The hotel rules and regulations they have to abide by would make convicted felons balk. These kids are not allowed go out to the grounds. Not allowed to enter and exit through the front door. Not allowed eat in the restaurant.
These children are ghosts. Walking through corridors in the early morning. Permission given only because they have to go to school. Uniform on. Head down. Passing noisy business types on their way to slice and dice some deal. Slice and dice some dream. Slice and dice some corpse. Masters of the Universe. Too busy to see these children. Too important to do a double take. Too indifferent to give a damn.
Everyone understands the contract. The perfect division. Shame does that to you. Trains you how to be silent. Teaches you how to become invisible. Prepares you for rage.
The second time I spoke was just after a break in negotiations. It wasn’t intended to be provocative. If anything it was an attempt to connect. We appeared to have made real progress. In between recesses, as everybody was taking their seats, Coveney threw away a comment about having to get on the road. He wanted to kiss his kids goodnight before they went to bed.
Despite all the bullshit, I found that touching. Plus, I’m a father of four. Empathy. “What ages are your kids?” That’s all I said. Across the room. Open. Warm. No hustle. He looked at me. That same purple rising up his face. How fucking dare I discuss his life. He stammered through an answer he hated having to give.
Turns out the Minister has three kids. Girls. They too have schoolbags on their backs. Uniform on. Head up. But there’s no need for silent bowing in their world. They don’t live in an emergency hotel room. In fact, now that Daddy is Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade with Responsibility for Brexit these girls will be in many hotel rooms. Plush rooms in plush cities with plush expense accounts.
The folks they’ll pass in hotel hallways will be Daddy’s mates. And those mates won’t be deaf, dumb and blind to these kids. Because these kids are minister’s daughters. They’re not the silent ghosts in cheap emergency hotel corridors. The ungrateful ones with the chips on the shoulders. The ones with the lazy parents. The future dole fraudsters.
These might get up early but it’s usually because they have to get three buses to school. The slovenly bastards probably sleep in class anyway. You know the type. Professional magpies. Scroungers. The cheats who cheat us all.
The third time I spoke I gave the game away. I was effusive. Emotional. Needy. When I was seventeen I got my first bedsit. I had been homeless. Lost. A ghost. Like those kids in the corridors. But when I closed that bedsit door behind me those keys were more precious than it is possible to explain.
During the negotiations I had become obsessed with the symbolism of ‘Own Key Accommodation.’ True autonomy. I was stupidly nodding in agreement to anything to secure Own Key Accommodation for the three new buildings that we had been promised.
Thankfully Brendan Ogle and Dave Gibney interceded and kept us on track. Brendan and Dave smelled a rat but I was willing to sell my soul for the thought of those people feeling that same thing I had at seventeen.
Own Key Accommodation. Coveney agreed to include it in the document. I could have kissed him. Him and his face that turns purple. Him and his instinct to kiss his daughters goodnight. Him and his, “I’m no hustler.”
Brendan and Dave’s instinct was right. They fucked us. They fucked everyone. Worst of all they fucked the most vulnerable. That’s the thing about being a Master of the Universe. Once you slice and dice one human being it gets easier. Becomes a numbers game. Statistics. Few things dehumanise faster than numbers.
One hundred homeless is a scary figure. One thousand is terrifying. Seven thousand is just a number. Deal done. An entire subclass of people to use as a weapon to threaten folks who can’t pay the mortgage. The ultimate whipping boy. The homeless. Not even people any more. No even numbers. Just, “the homeless.”
Simon Coveney is now the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade with Responsibility for Brexit. The same Simon Coveney who attended the Bilderberg meetings.
The same Simon Coveney who’s willing to let countless children be ghosts in their own lives. When it comes to slicing and dicing this country for Brexit who do you think this professional hustler will listen to? The countless children he lets haunt hotel corridors or his beautiful Bilderberg buddies?
On this first week of July 2017 the lies are once again exposed. And nobody gives a damn. Just like the lies told about Jobstown. There will be no accountability. No media outcry. No consequence. These sociopaths lie to get what they want. And lie some more to keep it.
And to keep their fictions alive some people have to die. Some die slowly. Some fast. Some don’t even see it coming. Some deny its existence. But the one thing that connects us all is the fact that austerity is premeditated, cold-blooded murder. And its champions are serial killers.
Kids in fancy hotel rooms don’t die. Kids in emergency hotel rooms do. One day at a time. Unless we fight for their future.