Activists take over city block to house Irish homeless

Homeless man Quentin Sheridan stands outside the office block taken over by activists in Dublin.

Story highlights

  • Hozier, Saoirse Ronan and other celebrities back the campaign
  • Building was part of "bad bank" setup after property crash

(CNN)A group of activists have taken over an empty office block in Dublin, Ireland, to house the city's homeless.

The activists, who are backed by a slew of Irish celebrities including singer Hozier, actress Saoirse Ronan and director Jim Sheridan, took over the property Thursday night and say they are overwhelmed by the level of support from Dubliners who have donated beds, food, and other essential items. More than 90,000 euros (about $94,000) had been raised through a GoFundMe page by Monday afternoon for the "Home Sweet Home" campaign.
The building is linked to an Irish government-backed "bad bank" that was set up after the collapse of the Irish property market in 2009.
More than 200 people are sleeping rough or staying in a homeless cafe in Dublin, according to the most recent statistics compiled in November. However, another 4,900 people are without a home, staying in emergency accommodation, including hotels and hostels.
Housing Minister Simon Coveney condemned the takeover.
"To occupy a building and try and put supports together in an ad hoc way is not the way to deal with this," he told Parliament Friday. The Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government told CNN the government has provided enough accommodation for all of the city's homeless. "Everyone who needs a bed can get a bed," the department said.

Civil disobedience

Activists including Academy Award-winning songwriter Glen Hansard argue that because the building is linked to the National Asset Management Agency (NAMA), it "belongs to the Irish people."
NAMA is a "bad bank" that was set up by the Irish government to acquire bad loans that property developers and other debtors were unable to pay after the collapse of the Irish economy in 2009.
The accounting firm Mazars, the receivers appointed to the property by NAMA, disagree with Hansard's assessment and on Friday their lawyers sent a letter to the activists asking them to vacate the building.
"Anyone who pays taxes in Ireland knows that buildings like Apollo House that are part of NAMA belong to Irish people," Hansard told CNN. "This is an act of civil disobedience, we shouldn't have to do it but the government is not doing its job to house the homeless."
"We're sick of walking down streets in Dublin seeing people having to sleep in doorways. These are very good people, many of them lost everything in (the financial crisis of) 2008," he added.
Activists played Irish rebel ballads after taking over the building in Dublin city center last week.

Support from Sinn Fein

A Facebook Live video showed the activists as they took over the building Thursday night, singing the Irish rebel ballad "The Foggy Dew" after they entered the premises.
Ireland's left-wing political parties have voiced their support for the occupation. Gerry Adams, the president of the Irish republican party Sinn Fein, said that the campaign showed the "undaunted spirit of the Irish people."

'Not the solution'

In a tweet Friday, the Dublin Simon Community, a homeless charity, said the project would "provide much needed respite." But one of the country's most prominent campaigners on the issue said he would not be lending his support to the occupation. Father Peter McVerry told The Irish Times that while he applauded the group for highlighting the issue, it was "not the solution."