In 1972 John Lennon, the most politically aware of The Beatles, asked what people had done to make the spirit of Christmas real other than shop and splurge. It was a timely question just as the age of consumerism was sweeping in.
His song “Happy Christmas” with the lyric “and so this is Christmas/and what have you done” has been a seasonal hit ever since.
The answer for most people, usually, is very little -- with honorable exceptions. It seems folks in Dublin at least are doing something good this Christmas.
In Ireland, a brave new movement to end homelessness this holiday season has grown up. With over 7,000 homeless and 70 families being evicted every month, it is high time something was done.
The group known as “Home Sweet Home” has taken over a huge office block, now in receivership, just one of the ghostly galleons of Dublin property abandoned after the Celtic Tiger crash.
The Apollo office complex is in Tara Street on Dublin’s South Side, an eyesore at present, but now the site of a magnificent community outreach and effort. The name, also used for the origins of the American space program is apt.
Something is taking off in Dublin. Something new and good.
The group, led by such well-known names and celebrities like Glen Hansard, Saoirse Ronan, Hozier, director Jim Sheridan, musicians Christy Moore and Frances Black and others, have illegally taken possession of the building, known as Apollo House and thanks to incredible community unity and backing have begun converting it to livable units for the homeless.
When Hansard appeared on Ireland’s top-rated television program The Late Late Show, the overwhelming support from the audience for what he truthfully described as an illegal action was very telling.
Sheridan told the media that Ireland was the first country in the world to pass a gay marriage vote by popular referendum. Why can’t it be the first to end homelessness, he asked,
The Apollo, a shell of an office building, will likely end up in the maw of some American vulture fund which will strip its assets and sell it on just as property prices improve.
Given that reality, it is easy to see why the general Irish public is supportive of the “Home Sweet Home” movement. For far too long there has been little or no discussion of the dreadful impact on poorer families of the harsh austerity measures put in place by the previous government by order of the European Union.
Put simply, there are record numbers of homeless because of what was done to banjax the economy.
The bankers who fueled the dreadful Ponzi schemes and gave out the hair-raising loans have mostly got off scot-free. The powerless in Irish society have not.
The occupation of Apollo House had shown that it is no harm to shine the spotlight. The public has made clear where it stands.
As of early this week, 31 families, doomed to sleep rough every night, had been re-housed there. Support has come flooding in from every quarter while the government and powers that be protest mightily.
The fact that a previous Irish government created much of this situation by letting the banks run amok and then agreeing to pay back $70 billion of debt they ran up weakens their case substantially when they talk about responsibility.
The poor will likely always be with us as Jesus is reported to have said, but they don’t need to be homeless as well. Some very committed people in Dublin seem intent on proving that and good luck to them this Christmas 2016.
Nollaig Shona do cach!