‘A turning point is here, there’s a mass movement building’

Activists are ‘spoilt for choice’ regarding options for occupations in Dublin, according to Andrew Butler, housing activist and Maynooth University student.

Butler, who was evicted from 34 Fredrick Street earlier this month, says that ‘this is what happens when you engage in peaceful protest regarding the housing crisis.’

He was one of 4 occupiers on shift in the house that evening, when ‘15 lads in Balaclavas armed with sledge hammers, angle grinders, the whole lot’ forced entry with armed garda presence outside the building.

According to Butler, the building had been vacant for 3 years before this occupation began. An injunction had been placed on the building after the arrival of the activists, which made this protest illegal. The group ‘were aware of the illegality’ of their actions.

While eviction procedures ‘normally consist of a knock on the door’, ‘procedures were not followed’ he told the MU Times.

As the homeless crisis continues with over 9,000 people homeless in Ireland and rental contract prices increasing 12.4% over the last year, activism is simultaneously increasing. There are 16 groups involved in ‘Take Back the City Dublin’, such as The Dublin Renters Union, Take Back Trinity, and Maynooth Housing Action. Take Back the City were responsible for this occupation as their activity includes the occupations of empty properties in the capital as a form of protest.

‘We were upstairs at the time’ says Butler. ‘We had mattresses on the stairs, as kind of a tactic’, ‘I walked out with my hands up and was grabbed and thrown down the stairs.’ He left the building with a cut on his hand yet he ‘didn’t feel it when it happened… so much adrenaline.’

Action

While the government have promised action and Eoghan Murphy has announced the Rebuilding Ireland plan, it is ‘old wine in a new bottle’ according to Butler.

The figure of 33% of houses built under the scheme to be social and affordable (priced at 320,000) is not enough, he says. Asked about short- and long-term solutions to the crisis, along with an implementation of rent caps and the building more social and affordable housing every year, Butler stresses that ‘it’s about the type of homes that are built, family and student homes are what’s needed.’ ‘There’s not enough social and affordable housing built because they’re not profitable.’

Social Media

Similar to recent social and political campaigns in Ireland, social media output is proving a central component of this movement. The planning of public demonstrations such as Saturday’s ‘National Day of Action’ which saw 1,000 people gather at the Garden of Remembrance and walk down O’Connell street, and the coming ‘Raise the Roof’ national day of protest on October 3rd, are organised through Facebook and gain traction from the platform.

Asked about a ‘Take Back the City Dublin’ Facebook post describing a recent attempted eviction on Gardiner Street – which was contrasting to the Irish Times version of events – Butler says that ‘this is the nature of being involved in a social movement’ and that ‘emotions can take over’ in the reporting of events.

After a year of Erasmus in Utrecht, Butler now returns to Maynooth for final year. Speaking about the lack of student accommodation and high rent prices that students experience, it is because of there being ‘no rent cap’ in place, ‘so rents can continue to rise even if more accommodation is in place.

Asked about a low point in his activism to date, he speaks about the eviction from 34 Frederick street taking place in the manner that it did. However, there is ‘polarity’ in this event as it led to the high point of his involvement. That evening, on Abbey street, a small demonstration of 120 or so people took place on O’Connell Street condemning the events of that day.

‘People are supporting us. A turning point is here, there’s a mass movement building.’