Press Release Children’s Rights Protest today 5:30 City Hall

Via Irish Housing Network

The Irish Housing Network calls on all support this Thursday at 5.30pm outside City Hall as it marks the publication of a report by the Children’s Ombudsman into the rights of the child in Ireland, and highlights the neglect of over 1,600 children currently homeless in Ireland and hundreds of families trapped in Direct Provision.

With almost 1,600 children homeless and many more in direct provision centres, the Network believes that the Government’s inaction and indifference to the housing crisis and the racist care systems in place for children seeking asylum has placed these thousands of children in huge risk and contravenes the development and protection rights of the child as laid out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Irish Housing Network calls on all support this Thursday at City Hall to show solidarity with the thousands of families living in sub-standard and trapped conditions of direct provision and emergency accommodation.

The Irish Housing Network believes that the conditions prevalent in emergency accommodation in Ireland contravene the rights of children and leave many children without equal opportunity to development. Aisling Kelly, a mother of 3 young children who has lived in emergency accommodation in Dublin’s city centre for 8 months has reported that she feels “lucky” to even have basic cooking facilities in her current accommodation. The conditions present in her hostel are similar to those in Catherine’s Gate on Parnell Road, which evicted the Reddington family and their two young children 3 weeks before Christmas over the incomplete payment of an electricity bill. In both Catherine’s Gate and the city centre hostel in which Kelly’s family are currently staying, adults and children alike are not allowed to socialise or talk to any other residents. There are no public areas or play facilities available for children. As Kelly says, when her children all under the age of 8 come home from school there is no option but to stay in their small flat. The family have little to no right of privacy in their apartment, with management entitled to walk in at any time to inspect the rooms. When her family became homeless, Aisling Kelly had to present herself and her family to the Dublin City Council’s Parkgate Street Homeless Services, “We were given a piece of paper and an address and told to go there. We got no information on how long we’d be there and they haven’t contacted us since.” Her family currently spend over €70 a week bringing the children to their school in North County Dublin where the family are originally from. In order to get to the school, the the family must leave before the heating in their complex is turned on. Even though they pay for utilities, the heating is controlled by the staff of the complex and is only turned on between 7.30 am to 10am, and remains off until 7.30pm in the evening until it is switched off at 10pm. In order to adequately heat the apartment, Kelly must bring in separate heating units which are technically banned by management. The family pay rent to Dublin City Council for their emergency accommodation, but as Aisling Kelly says, she does not know who manages the complex and staff are privately employed. The Irish Housing Network believes that this neglect in providing for the most basic play and utility needs of a young family shows that the Irish State is failing to equally provide for its children in homeless services.

The Irish Housing Network also believes that this neglect in care also extends to the many children currently seeking asylum in Ireland and living in direct provision centres. As Anne Mullhall from Anti Racism Network, a member of the Irish Housing Network writes: The government has recently pledged to raise the allowance for children in the Direct Provision system from 9.60 per week by a paltry 6 euro. In doing this, the government is primarily motivated by the need to avoid sanction from the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. This cynical and wholly inadequate measure will do nothing to alleviate the inhuman and degrading conditions in which 1,600 children are forced to live in the open prisons called Direct Provision. The asylum system tears families apart. Children born in this country and who know no other home live with the reality and the constant threat of deportation of themselves or of family members. In Direct Provision, children experience terrible deprivation, confined with their families to one cramped room for years on end. For many children, this is their only experience of ‘home’. Children ghettoised in DP are subjected to experiences and sights that no child should have to endure. Direct Provision robs children of their basic rights and casts a long shadow over their future. No increase in the derisory Direct Provision Allowance can redress these terrible wrongs that the State continues to perpetrate against children in the asylum system. In solidarity with these children, their families and all those kept in these open centres of detention, Anti Racism Network Ireland (ARN) calls for the end to the system of institutional abuse called Direct Provision.

The Irish Housing Network believes that the State and its institutions has abandoned their responsibility towards the children homeless and seeking asylum in Ireland, and subjected many thousands of families to needless hardship instead of tackling the housing crisis. The Irish Housing Network calls on all support and solidarity tomorrow at 5.30pm as they stand with the many families and children experiencing homelessness, poverty and insecurity.

https://www.facebook.com/events/1670929736482626/

ENDS

The Irish Housing Network: A Radical Common Sense (Part 4)

Part 4- Where to Now for the Irish Housing Network?

This is the final of a four part series on the Irish housing crisis and fight back against it; focusing on the rise of the Irish Housing Network. The final part focuses on the challenges of the New Year and where to next?

irish housing network logo 22nd Sept
This year will be a busy one, a year of elections and commemorations and a year where the housing and homeless crisis will intensify. Below are a few ideas from the Irish Housing Network’s campaign and organising priorities and ideas to build out housing and community responses to the crisis. I will also briefly look at the elections and offer some final words

Campaigns

Our three priority campaign areas are homelessness, anti-eviction work and marginalised communities.

In homelessness we are seeing conditions in emergency accommodation lead to occupations, legal cases and early signs that effective tenants organising might emerge. We are well placed and should support tenants in these terrible conditions. Modular housing is also an important flash point and if we build local community opposition and majority opposition from those in emergency accommodation we could have a strong mandate to resist modular housing and fight for proper housing for all.

The selling of land that we saw over Christmas, and its proposed use for private ownership and rental over social housing, is a huge step towards the long term goal of eliminating social housing altogether. Social Housing is a central commitment of many on the left. Will they stand up and fight where there is an immediate threat to it? Can we build community support for a resistance to the state’s plans and can we disrupt planned work?

Marginalised communities pose some of the greatest challenges. As refugees from the Middle East arrive, following the European pattern, we are likely to see a growing racist backlash. Anti-traveller racism is systematic and institutionalised. The housing network would be well placed to link together community organising, anti-racism activists and groups affected for a substantial fight back.

Importantly, such efforts cannot be left to liberals who spew forth humanist platitudes in print journalism, while simultaneously fully supporting the economic base that determines and grows racism. The fuzzy feeling that some ‘poor’ people need help is not enough. It also drives the idea that ignorance and mob mentality is the source of racism and discrimination; it is a massively condescending view, and a fundamental part of the problem. Liberals not only lack an analysis on the structural base of racism, their viewpoint blocks and demotivates people who want to restructure the base that breeds racism. We can build radical anti-racism by linking oppressed people and by fighting against the systems that oppress all swathes of society.

Anti-eviction work will be deeply tied to our organising effort around homelessness. Standing against economic evictions will also mean standing against the forced displacement of communities through gentrification.

Beyond these immediate campaign priorities we have the opportunity to build our organising power. Thus far this has been through communities united through single issues, using the methodology of community organising. I would argue this has to continue. The Irish Housing Network can become a truly national network by organising area by area and through new groups being set up and by bringing together existing groups on the ground. Importantly, we will continue to use our principles and, in particular, the idea of those affected leading the struggle; this breaks down a lot of the unhealthy power struggles that happen in campaigns.

Finally the Peoples Housing Forum offers a model for participatory analysis and action beyond the remit of our housing network. Our next session will focus on strategy and action; beyond that there may be room to extend the concept of people’s forums across different communities and across different issues and campaigns.

2016 and Elections Challenges

Elections are one part of power, a useful an important part, but still one part across a wide spectrum that includes community power, worker and trade union power, and the vast array of institutions and organisations in this country. All spaces are contested; all spaces contain revolutionary potential, and all spaces must be won. Electoralism is imperative: mere electoralism is insufficient. 2016 gives us a year of commemorations and elections. Both are important, but they are unlikely to change the immediate work of the Irish Housing Network.

There are three possible combinations in the next Dail. The first is a right-wing government of Fine Gael, Labour and right Independents or Fine Gael and Fianna Fail putting aside civil war politics and joining together in the name of ‘stability’. With a right government we are likely to see an acceleration of a fairly brutal housing system, along with a strong drive to privatise and support the housing speculation over need. The second is a centre government of Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein. With this we are likely to see similar policies to the current ones, possibly a bit more rental security and slightly larger social housing output, but this will not solve the underlying problems in the housing system. The final, and highly unlikely, combination would be a left government, Sinn Fein, left independents and radical left or a softer Sinn Fein, labour, greens and social democrats. They would face huge challenges, especially if they stick to a radical program of social housing building, rent controls, decent conditions, curbing speculation, community resources and supports. They would be viciously opposed and if they capitulated under the pressure we will be back with a failing system, and even if they didn’t capitulate their actions would be wholly insufficient without an enormous social movement based around housing of the kind we haven’t seen in this country for almost a hundred and fifty years.

No matter who is elected we will need to organise, grow, develop our strategy to build real long term power that can not only disrupt the day to day working of the system, but begin to create and sustain a fairer alternative.

Final Words

There are strategies and tactics that do work; there are a lot more that don’t. Most of the tactics currently existing in the left wing arsenal are seriously depleted or outdated; this has to be acknowledged and changed accordingly. This takes a lot of reflection, but reflection only serves if it is the prelude to action. This blog aims to share ideas, analysis and strategy that reflect today’s struggle lessons old and new.

Finally, I would say: get involved. Real change comes from the collective, not the individual. Join the network directly, join any of the groups in the network, or set up a group in your own area and link in with us. If you are already active and busy there are many ways to support and build solidarity: from media, to joint actions, to discussion and common strategy. If you have never been active before and are uncertain about where to start go to the Peoples Housing Forum on January 30th.

Thanks for reading and feel free to share, re-post or comment with any questions.

 

The Irish Housing Network: A Radical Common Sense (Part 3)

Part 3- The fightback grows

This is the third of a four part series on the Irish housing crisis and fight back against it; focusing on the rise of the Irish Housing Network. The third part focuses on recovering and building after the Bolt and challenges of political strategy.

(Left  Catherine’s Gate: Right, Peoples Housing Forum)

After the Bolt occupation the network and many of the groups in it took some time to rest, recover and reorganise. Groups got back to their own work, helping those in emergency accommodation, legal support, anti-eviction work, research and soup runs. We also got a chance to reflect about what we had learned from the Bolt and how we could grow.

Actions started back with a protest highlighting empty buildings in early September, with Right2Housing driving this (a People before Profit Housing campaign), and a Network organised Homeless Protest on September 22nd. Following the 22nd of September an unprecedented upsurge in action, training, education and organising took place. It would be impossible to cover all that was done so I want to just cover four important pieces of work (network structure changes and growth; actions around homelessness and efforts to engage with justice for marginalised communities; education and training; and our engagement with political strategy) and I want to try tease out some lessons from them.

Network Structures and Growth

We learned in the Bolt that there was huge overlap in the work being done by different groups despite our best efforts to support and educate each other. We also found that small numbers of people were at times taking on multiple roles. This was leading to burnout for these activists but also limiting the possibility of new members getting involved, as everyone came to rely on these few. To challenge these points and to strengthen the Network four internal teams were set up.

1) Cases: helping families, those affected, and the homeless. This team’s role was to pool resources and knowledge more effectively. This was modeled on North Dublin Bay HCC who had already set up a support group which had started to shift from individual case work to a format that better fostered group support and collective action.

2) Finance: We needed to be able to sustainably fund ourselves, particularly for longer campaigns. All grassroots groups know that money is a mixed blessing: without it, groups find themselves constantly lowering their expectations (volunteerism has an exceptionally low glass ceiling), but money creates its own set of problems. It can lead to infighting and reliance; also the existence of money can actually demotivate activists and make them less creative, rather than vice versa. To avoid these problems we began to experiment with a format which would not only be open, transparent and democratic, but also (hopefully) participative and heavily linked to action and housing awareness and keep us independent.

3) Media: Along with updates and calls to action released via social media, we needed to have media contacts at events and the ability to release good quality press releases. This team would expand and standardise our information and message, but also develop and collect relevant research and analysis. Underneath the suffering that a housing crisis brings, and behind the resistance that activists undertake, there is a constant ideological battle being waged against the idea of stable housing as a right. The media team was set up to disperse clear, easily understandable, information to counter the limitations of this pervasive, damaging mainstream narrative.

4) Outreach: this team’s focus was to support new members in the network; to work with new groups and to support new groups to join. In areas without groups, there were efforts to support groups setting up.

The teams allowed us to bring in new faces, spread workload and plan more effectively. This was boasted by new groups joining the network. More local groups such as Dublin Central Housing Action emerging out of the Bolt, joining groups such as D8HAC and Ballymun-Finglas Housing Action. A national network seemed possible as groups sprung up in Wexford and Kildare. Importantly, these groups did not come out of nowhere. Homeless groups, the remnants of previous campaigns, water and anti-austerity activists and small numbers of socialist and republican groups were starting to take part in broader community-based organisations in a participative and respectful way.

Homeless Action and Marginalised Communities

Homelessness became and continued to be central to our organising efforts. The Bolt Hostel focused this on a specific point, a direct fault line pitching us as a network against the full force of the council and courts. In contrast efforts after the Bolt were more diverse and in many ways offered even greater room for experimenting and building a fight back. The support groups set up by local groups such as North Dublin Bay allowed those facing homelessness, those in emergency accommodation to begin to lead homeless actions. At the same time the increased profile of the network and credibility as well the worsening crisis meant that more people were coming forward either facing eviction or already homelessness. Local sleep outs started. Agitation began in the hostels, hotels and emergency accommodation sites. Opposition to the wider interlinked aspects of the crisis from modular housing (prefabs) and Housing Assistant Payment (HAP) and low income rental instead of social housing starting to deepened and spread the reach of our organising efforts.

By November we were starting to get important links by supporting those affected, building local organising around them and with a wider network in support in the background. In Wexford a NAMA auction was successfully stopped. At Catherine’s Gate, a 12 day emergency accommodation stand off after severe mistreatment of tenants by staff was led by the family affected support by a new local network member D8HAC and backed up by the knowledge of the cases and media team of the network. It drew out a stalemate but organised opposition to tenant mistreatment in emergency accommodation was only starting.

As the refugee crisis engulfed Europe many of us in the network felt that homelessness was being used as an excuse to refuse refugees their right to shelter. We felt that we had a duty to fight this. We reached out to the Anti-Racism Network (ARN) to see how we could work together and they responded by joining the network. Soon after this the Carrickmines tragedy put discrimination against Irish Travellers sharply into focus. For many involved we want housing for all, and even more then this the most marginalised and suffering are the greatest target for mistreatment and the most important to support and build as central to our network. Single mothers, migrants, young people, the unemployed and travellers, no one can be left behind or out. We felt we were not experts by any means and the voice of those affected from these communities and grassroots anti-racism activists should be central to our struggle.

Education and Training

Education and Training became a huge part of our work after the Bolt. It was a key founding principle, that the network would exist to support, train, educate and show solidarity in action. It was important to give new groups confidence, to spread the work of activists and to share the knowledge ever growing from battle to battle, struggle to struggle. The two most important forms this took were the internal Strategy Get Together and the external Peoples Housing Forum. The Strategy Get Together allowed for a full day of training, strategy power analysis and then campaign discussion. It allowed us to reflect together, educate and plan for the short and medium term. The Peoples Housing Forum driven by Housing Action Now and supported by the network set out the building of people’s housing demands. Process in many ways was important as the outcome and we felt even in progress circles too much of housing policy and ideas are controlled by a small number of ‘experts’. This was a problem for three reasons. It created an elite, it detached policy from people’s experiences and it gave activists and those affected no ownership over the ideas necessary to change the conditions we faced. We wanted to begin to change that with the Peoples Housing Forum.

The Politics Game

As our network grew, our education, strategy and training strengthen and our action developed an important political clash happened. A National Demonstration was called by a few group the National Housing and Homeless Coalition. One group who left the network Help 4 the Homeless have being calling for a national demonstration since September. Their approach was to get the ‘heavy-hitters’ behind it, i.e left parties, trade unions and homeless charities. Despite differences within the network over this being too closely linked with various parties, we generally supported calls for a national demonstration. The Demonstration ended up having between 700-1000 people at it on a cold Tuesday evening in December. Below are a number of general and hopefully constructive critiques of the organising and impact of said national demonstration and what we need to consider moving forward with such actions.

Organising V Mobilising. Mobilisation/demonstrations can serve a number of important roles. They can be a show of strength, they can bring groups together in planning or organising of an event, forging new links and networks and/or they can raise an issue that is often ignored. With these upsides there are also downsides. A demonstration does not on its own achieve anything. In housing for example, it does not stop an eviction, build social housing, open a vacant building or take a homeless person off the street. It does not disrupt the day to day running of the system of the profit making which drives our current housing regime. In effect demonstrations alone appeal only to a vague idea of changing public opinion or damaging the government.

If they don’t achieve anything tangible why are they the main form of political opposition from the radicals left to moderate forces? The most simple answer is that they are safe. They give parties, trade unions and charities the change to show they are doing something and boast their profile without risking direct disruptive action or more long term deep organising on the ground.

Demonstration are useful when they are an addition to organising but they simple cannot be seem as a replacement. In the water movement they were an addition to pickets, water meter protests and direct action not a replacement. Traditionally in trade union circles they were and are an addition to the strike not a replacement. We made these arguments clearly to the new coalition, and we asked them to support organising on the ground and efforts such as the peoples housing forum as well as the demonstration. Time will tell if these ideas and demands are heeded.

Democracy. For organising to work large number of people affected need to be not only engaged but centre to the fight back. That means that they are central to decision making not simply used as boots on the streets. Old habits die hard in many corners of the ‘progressive’ movement on this fundamental organising question. We were requested to attend organising meetings as a network, with leaders of each of the left parties, heads of the left unions and the main homeless charities. We requested that such a meeting be opened out. We requested that rather than two members representing the network that all groups in the network be allowed to send representative and that we would be able to choose to rotate them so that those affected and new activists get to take part in the decision making process. They requested that two are selected, and in fact they recommended who they wanted and no more. This is smart politics in itself as it creates tension between those ‘selected’ or picked out as leaders and the rest of the movement.

Many from the radical left and more institutional left call for people power and a new democracy in theory but are slow to act out these ideas in their day to day organising practice. Without real democracy built into real and sustained organising effort no movement can or will grow to challenge or transform the world we have before us. This will be a long fight in our housing movement and more generally for all movements and efforts for justice.

The Irish Housing Network: A Radical Common Sense (Part 2)

Part 2- First Actions and the Bolt Hostel Occupation

This is the second of a four part series on the Irish housing crisis and fight back against it; focusing on the rise of the Irish Housing Network. This second part looks at the first network actions and then the Bolt Hostel occupation

First Actions

17175493127_f45c74b8d0_zHomeless Injunction

(DCC Occupation Credit IHN)                (South Dub CC Injunction, Credit IHN)

While the network was forming the housing crisis was intensifying. This was particularly noticeable in the increasing numbers of homeless visible every night. Four months after the declaration from Enda Kenny that ‘no one would be homeless unless they choose’ we were seeing families with young children being given sleeping bags in lieu of emergency accommodation, which had reached full capacity at the start of the year. A wave of occupations began.

First DCC were targeted. 4 cases were taken: a mother with 2 young children given a sleeping bag but refused accommodation; a mental health patient released onto the street; a pregnant mother, and a couple with 2 children were all forced into homelessness. The network took these families directly to DCC, occupying the premise until they were housed. Occupations had happened before, the DHAC of the 1960s and 1970s made it famous; the Says No activists of recent years took many buildings in symbolic direct action. We felt we were learning from these actions, but also trying something new. Those directly affected took the lead. They made the decisions, they voted on what to accept or not. We also felt that our target was more concrete then symbolic. Occupying a bank or the GPO has symbolism but occupying DCC, -who have the power to house the families coming forward- was concrete. We could also, if DCC gave in, directly and immediately win a victory. The first DCC occupation produced a 4 hour standoff, meetings with the head of housing and homelessness, and a vote on offers made. Temporary housing was won for these families who would have been on the street.

Next the focus shifted to South County Dublin: a couple faced with homelessness occupied council offices there, supported by local groups and the network. South County Dublin would not cave so easily: the couple occupied for 3 days inside the council buildings, were given a high court injunction, and then raised tents across the road. Pressure and public attention forced a limited offer. Temporary and precarious accommodation.

The council told us take your demands to the department: they control the money. So we did. The department was located in the large, and grand, former custom house on the quays. It was also a place where many people were sleeping rough, in full view of the minister and staff who controlled the housing budget and made housing policy.

Another occupation produced a meeting with heads of the department. We demanded the declaration of an emergency housing and homeless crisis. Their response was that ‘there was no crisis’ and ‘they were solving the crisis’. This confused and contradictory reply was a clear signal that nothing would change from the department, even as the crisis intensified.

For many activists we felt we had hit our expected brick wall. We knew that the state would not admit liability and perform their duty to protect their homeless because of a small amount of pressure; but we felt it was our duty to fully explore this option and to give them, as a preliminary, an unearned benefit of the doubt. It may be argued that this was always going to be the outcome, so why bother? Of course the system is rigged; of course the state and government is so close to the landlord and developer that it is difficult to tell them apart.

Nevertheless, activists and homeless people leading their own struggle had to see that themselves; to experience it first-hand through action. They had to witness, in a land of state-owned vacant properties, state representatives with the power to shelter vulnerable homeless individuals, point blank refuse to shelter them. These state representatives do this every day. They refuse people in need of emergency accommodation after putting them through laborious, nerve racking, difficult bureaucratic processes that stretch throughout the whole day, but which only operate within a small window of time, but these homeless people leading their own struggle, and our activists, had to see these state representatives refuse them to their faces. We were learning, communally, and now we had to prepare to up the fight.

The Bolt Occupation

Bolton StBolt Hostel Community4

We had wins from occupations; our network was growing; attention was on housing and homelessness, and many were beginning to take note. Now, in the middle of the summer, we decided to up the ante. An opportunity opened up to take a building in the city centre: a former homeless hostel, vacant for three years. We could do it up and house people. We had a clear message: radical common sense, whereas homelessness while homes are empty is radically nonsensical. The act of taking over a building violated the near-sacred role of private property ownership, but we felt a majority of the country would support the action because it was needed.

The battle ended up lasting 2 months. At first, support poured forward, all be it unevenly. There were many volunteers for painting, plumbing, electrics, donations, and community outreach. The media scrambled over each other to cover the story: messages poured in, parties, trade unions and broad swathes of the public showed support. People were housed, temporarily. We held rallies of support, community fun days and marched to the court. We put the issue of empty buildings in a homeless crisis on the map: which, in terms of housing, is the fundamental contradiction within our society. The occupation ended late August, exhausted and facing a mounting legal battle in the high court, consensus was reached to pull back. This was the first sustained public and political occupation since the height of the DHAC: an amazing effort and a demonstration that vacant buildings could be done up with a bit of time and little to no money. It showed that the problem was will and ideology, not money.

This occupation and in particular the intensity of the high court case took its toll, but we learned a few points that should be useful for actions such as this, but also more generally for our movements.

1) Capacity:

This was a huge challenge. An occupation that lasts longer than a week, and you don’t know when its going to end, transforms and consumes people’s lives if there are not enough people on rotation. We went in strong, as a network, but we pushed our capacity to the limits. We also limited our ability to take other actions because all our energy went into the Bolt. It can’t be overstated what an important consideration this is for any sustained action. Numbers, yes. Numbers are easy, but how many people can commit sizable chunks of time regularly to actions of this nature?

2) Good Activism

Any type of collective action involves a few things. Care and support for each other, consistency, planning and strategy. There also needs to be an exit strategy, an ability to up the pressure and stand against any threats. You also have to have something the other side values to fight with. In the Bolt we had all of these but were also challenged by all of these.

3) Challenges of the radical left:

Many of the left parties, revolutionaries and radicals, either don’t have the capacity or are unwilling to get down and dirty with something they have not planned, or with something that they cannot control themselves. If left parties, radicals and revolutionaries don’t have the capacity to help, we have to look at while that is? If they are unwilling surely that has to change? Surely actions like the Bolt are exactly what they should be involved in?

4) The anti-austerity ‘fringe’

Many of the newer anti-austerity activists were themselves scared and not in a position to care for others in an intense and extended collective action, or care and support those who are facing homelessness. This is understandable. It’s a huge responsibility, but it needs to be considered when planning such actions.

5) Sustaining the Fight

Finally there are two ‘groups’ that can sustain long actions and collective struggle and those are communities and trade unions The Trade Unions are not yet active in organising on the ground in housing, even if they are now proposing housing policies. That needs to change. We did some great work in the Bolt with the community and got great support, but real lasting action needs a lot more trust and the groundwork, and it should be done in anticipation of action as well as during the action (and should, ideally, continue after the action). Many groups call themselves grassroots and community, but in an empty sort of way. The only way to test out if groups that call themselves grassroots or community-based are is to test it through co-operative action. Community organising and action means large numbers of people in an area organising and fighting back, not small numbers who hate parties and trade unions and need a title so call themselves ‘community’ or ‘grassroots’ for lack of a different name. We need to build from networks that actually exist in the community, not people who call themselves the community. The ability to differentiate one from the other is a key organising tool. We need to build alongside those who are already trusted in the community, those who care for others within those communities, and those who hold communities together. We also need to politicise, radicalise and democratise them; turning the already-existing power of the community into something that can win big political fights; turn back the tide in housing and fight for a more decent society overall.

6) Dublin City Council’s (DCC’s) power:

DCC were not a neutral entity or a sympathetic voice. It set out to eliminate us. We learned how DCC works, and who holds power within it. DCC is dominated by a non-elected area manager who actively acts as a business CEO. This business model shows who holds legal and financial power over housing, and, importantly, who doesn’t. It shows the ability of the council to override and steamroll decision through. Elected councillors neither have the ability or the power to hold them to account or honestly set policy at a local level. It is a stitch-up and a farce. Above the council, if all else fails, the department of the environment sets the policy and controls the money. They are the link to the suitcase men; driven by lobbying from developers, bankers, accountancy firms and investors. And all this is channeled through a right-wing government.

7) DCC Tactics

DCC played nice, offering us deals on site by site cooperation (where we would provide free labour and they would get a house or two out of it), hoping we were naïve do-gooders. The intention of this was to split the network radicals from moderates, and it was done through carefully constructed proposals and hints at job offers for key network members. Meanwhile DCC also played viciously they enacted consistent surveillance of the building, social media surveillance, high court action and, most viciously, refused to take on any cases or families that were supported by the network. In effect, they sought to punish homeless people to isolate the network. Often they were just dishonest; arriving at the door of the Bolt to gain access while numbers were low, despite formally agreeing to only go through representatives at set times. There strongest suit was the legal route and it was filled with strong handed tactics too. We were called to court with two days’ notice and if that wasn’t enough we were whisked away to meet some of the most powerful barristers in the country at lunch on our court day who ‘reminded’ us of the consequences of being ‘obstructive’. DCC, naturally, was very keen on a total victory, not only to crush subversion, but also so that the glaring cracks in its own system didn’t become apparent for all to see.

Know your enemy by what they do when their power is challenged, not by what they say.

The Irish Housing Network: A Radical Common Sense (Part 1)

Part 1: Radical Beginnings – Forming the Irish Housing Network

This is the first of a four part series on the Irish housing crisis and fight back against it; focusing on the rise of the Irish Housing Network. This first part introduces the housing crisis and traditions of resistance, before then exploring why and how the Irish Housing Network came into being.

In December 2014, a stone’s throw away from Dail Eireann, a homeless man died. Though many more had died on the streets before him, there was immediate outrage and a public outpouring of emotion. There were speeches, calls for policy changes, photo shoots. And then… nothing.
By the end of 2015, the number of homeless families has more than doubled. 1,571 children were homeless; 130,000 people were on social housing waiting lists; more children were living in poverty, rents continued to rise and more evictions were being enacted. Things had only gotten worse. Why so, and what was the fight back?

The story of the rise of the Irish Housing Network is an important part in understanding the housing crisis, a crisis created and recreated by the drive of a rich minority. It is the story of a fight back against this crisis. It is the story of a growing housing movement that focuses on homelessness, social housing and tenants, but also on anti-racism, anti-austerity and community power. The review below is by Seamus Farrell, a founding member of the network. The views expressed are his own.

The Housing and Homeless Crisis

The Irish housing and homeless crisis of 2015, and the resistance to it, have deep roots. The vision of a radical Ireland, of justice, equality, peace and solidarity, envisioned by participants of the Easter Rising and the War of Independence was quickly suppressed by the establishment of the first Free State government. The new state was economically built on business power and a landed ruling class and ideologically built on church control. Property and housing was central to this new Ireland. Private property, speculation and landlordism -taken over by an Irish ruling class from the British 90 years ago-, was deepened and continued by Fianna Fail’s golden circle (longstanding centrist/conservative ruling party), who facilitated property developers and bankers, all the way through to the speculation boom and bust of the Celtic Tiger and the Financial Crash of 2008. Their opposition, the right-wing Fine Gael and nominal left of Labour, provided opposition only in name.

Throughout the 20th century, housing, which was a scene of deplorable conditions and suffering, generated notable housing movements. The tenements of the 1920s gave way to the social housing building programs and land reforms of the 1930s; the overcrowding, squalor and suffering of the 1960s and 1970s gave way to the Dublin Housing Action Committee. Rent strikes, occupations and mass direct action organised by effected tenants, forced the building of social housing throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Meanwhile in Northern Ireland housing was central to the emergence of a civil rights movement and deeply tied to radical efforts to challenge living and working conditions, as well as political oppression.

In 2008 the economy collapsed, driven by a golden circle and centered on property and finance. Property developers, investors, speculators and the political establishment were central to this collapse, and the austerity that followed was central to the preservation of the golden circles that teetered on the brink of collapse in 2008. By 2015 communities had been hollowed out by cuts, unemployment and emigration. Homelessness was on the rise, and underneath this very visible homeless on the streets was a host of interconnected disasters: the social housing waiting list had reached 130,000, while maintaining property prices and high end investment were government priorities; thousands were homeless while buildings lay empty; tenement conditions were returning and often three generations of the same family returned to living under the same roof for lack of options; and that is saying nothing of dramatic rent hikes and exponential mortgage debt that many people suffered under. The pressure was building.

Pockets of Resistance, a Water Movement and a Housing Crisis

(Credit Spectacle of Defiance & Hope)         (Credit Right2Water)

Austerity cut across large swathes of society. Education cuts, health cuts, community cuts and unemployment devastated working class and rural communities. Emigration dispersed another Irish generation across the globe.

Resistance has been mixed: the trade union movement after 20 years of social partnership had been demobilised and discouraged, negotiation rather than protest, picket and strike was now their tradition. Left parties had been begun to grow, but to little effect, as Fine Gael and Labour, both centre right parties, had formed a stable majority government.

The first resistance to austerity was driven by communities and those affected by austerity; out of shock and horror came pockets of anger. Occupy Dame Street followed the global occupy movement; Dublin Says No and Ballyhea Says No started to march against austerity, work place occupations occurred as business closed, anti-racism activism, feminist activism, student protests and We’re Not Leaving which focused on how austerity disproportionately affected the young all began to build. The Greyhound Lockout and the Campaign Against the Household and Property Tax took such battles more firmly into the communities.

These forces formed the basis of an explosive mass movement in 2014 based around the introduction of water fees. Communities across the country blockaded water meter installations, fighting Irish Water street by street, campaigns sprang up in every corner of the country, boycott campaigns kicked off, and national demonstrations drew between 20,000 and 100,000 for more than a year. The water movement was something new because of its scale and scope, because of the involvement of five unions split away from social partnership and the labour party, the range of left parties and forces involved and most importantly because of the sheer power and scale of community organising. It was also froth with division.

This was the context in which a housing and homeless fightback came together. What made up the beginning of a housing fight back was small, diverse collectives; in many ways the left overs of other campaigns, of communities outside of activism and another movement spilling into a housing fight back.

Housing: Fragments and fight backs

The housing fight in many ways was most pronounced and organised in rural Ireland. A wide combination of forces, of rural poverty, of small landholdings, of republicanism, populism and anti-establishment thought were working together. They were united by frustration and set about countering the crisis with anti-eviction work, opposition to the courts and banks, and boycotts, some of which were highly effective, though they failed to get much traction in the cities.

In Dublin, long standing activists consolidated. They aimed to put housing research into practice. Legal activists fought evictions in the courts, direct action republicans, anti-capitalists and a growing squatting scene provided a radical base for anti-establishment activities. These disparate forces coalesced with homeless support groups, along with some of the more radical elements in service provision that were interested in more participatory forms of grassroots action.

Beyond this, most importantly, several communities were self-organising. There, mothers affected by the housing crisis had begun supporting each after they had been used as mouthpieces by left parties on housing issues, and then summarily dropped once media traction had vanished. Dissatisfied by what they viewed as an opportunistic and ineffective model of politics, they began self-organising, they took direct action, they shared information and they built community power.

The Network Forms

The Irish Housing Network came out of these disparate fragments. Initially, Housing Action Now, who wanted to move housing research into practice, organised a workshop with the Spanish anti-eviction group, PAH (Platforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca). They invited housing groups from across the country. The idea was to learn from their struggle, to cement European links, but also to explore the possibility of bringing Irish activists and groups together. There was no guarantee that a network would be a direct outcome of the workshops, but it was worth exploring the possibility in a meaningful and respectful space. Appetite for some level of cooperation was strong among many. How this would take shape was undecided.

Shortly after a spring workshop, North Dublin Bay Housing Crisis Community hosted a public talk on the housing crisis in Darndale, Dublin. Many from the workshops were invited to speak. The range of background and skills was exciting: social workers, legal supports, direct action anti-capitalists, left activists all came together with a community that had borne the brunt of devastating cuts.

A network began to form. A simple structure was proposed. Groups would continue as they were, keeping their own name, and prioritising their own issues. The network would be a way of supporting each other- through shared action, shared learning and shared resources. It was agreed that something was needed in writing, a structure to formalise our work but also not overburden the groups involved. The loose collection of groups and activists started work on three pieces. 1) Principles 2) basic decision making structures and 3) a set of demands collectively developed which would be reviewed and revised as the network developed.

The principles are worth laying out in full below:

Irish Housing Network Principles and Structures
1. Housing (long-term and stable, a home) is a right, regardless of income.
2. Those affected by housing issues and the communities in which they live, are the centre of the housing struggle, and their consent, participation and leadership is the driving force of the housing struggle.
3. Anyone who is a member of a political group, NGO, government body, etc. is welcome in the housing network, but while in the network they are working to empower those affected by the housing crisis, according to the needs and wishes of those affected, not the needs and wishes of their respective party or organisation. In short, political allegiances are left at the door.
4. While participating in the housing network, members are subject to the democratic process of the housing network.
5. Violence has no place in the housing network, but all other forms of action, direct or otherwise, are respected when appropriate.
6. No member of the housing network can profit financially from those affected by the housing crisis.
7. We affirm our belief in solidarity. All groups support and train each other, sharing their skills, experience and knowledge, as well as resources where possible.

The democratic procedures allowed a space for working together, for voting and, importantly, it allowed groups to opt out of specific actions, although solidarity was encouraged. The demands took longer to form. They were radical and focused; collectively constructed by diverse groups. They included no evictions, the right to social use of vacant property and NAMA, social housing building, rent controls, tenants’ rights enforced by a tenants’ union, squatter rights, homeless protection and rights and housing as part of the wider community.

Tactically, and in keeping with the principles, the focus was on remaining independent of political parties and NGOs: the centre of its efforts would always be the empowerment of those affected, and the empowerment of their differing communities. There was a conscious effort to take the energy and hope of the water movement, while not replicating its limitations and infighting. Some thought the best way to avoid this was to exclude political parties and big organisations, whose solidarity always only ever stretched so far, and who would try to impose their own agenda rather than generating consensus from the grassroots. In the end, the majority of the network favoured working with, and welcoming, all groups, but introduced several mechanisms that would disallow hijacking. This meant not taking sides in disputes; groups being able to join who agreed with our principles; and parties being allowed in as minorities, not in a majority. More generally, there was the belief that we should actively encourage working alongside those affected; usually found in the base of organisations. We wanted activists rather than Councillors, workers rather than the heads of the trade unions, and frontline workers rather than charity bosses. We wanted to build and work from the frontline first, and would work with anyone who respected that and who was affected by this crisis.

So it begins

Radical ideas, debate and discussion.

Radical Whispers is my blog as a Dublin Activist and Socialist. A child in boom and an adult in austerity, forced emigrant and radical heritage, I hope this blog can be a space to share radical ideas, articles, debate and discussion.

As a housing activist, in a tradition and network rich in knowledge, much will be shared from this world.

As an Irish Socialist in 2016, a year of commemoration, it will be a time to discuss more generally. What is to be done?

In times of uncertainty, of crisis, of conflict there is much to do and much to reflect on. Hopefully this blog will contribute something useful more generally bridging thought and action, the academic and organising, the idea and practice.