Call it the Christmas miracle on Tara Street the Irish government could have done without.
This week a former social welfare office in Dublin was taken over by world famous Irish artists and activists in a daring plan to address the growing homeless crisis in Dublin.
As of Tuesday, the mission statement of the “Home Sweet Home” campaign has gone viral on social media, causing serious embarrassment to government ministers whose inaction on the crisis has left them thoroughly exposed.
According to the non-profit group Focus homelessness in Dublin has exploded by a staggering 40 percent in 2016 alone. Brendan Ogle, a spokesperson for the “Home Sweet Home” campaign, told the press this week that the growing numbers of homeless are proof that in the centenary of 1916 we do not cherish all of our children equally.
What is driving the campaign is public revulsion. Film director Terry McMahon, who was part of the planning and execution of the Apollo House takeover, gives the background.
“Dean Scurry, an extraordinary youth worker from Ballymun in Dublin, gave a call to arms without the arms to some leaders in the arts community,” McMahon tells the IrishCentral.com. Among the banner names supporting the campaign are film director Jim Sheridan, singers Hozier and Glen Hansard, and film stars Saoirse Ronan and Colin Farrell.
“Sometimes people got scared of taking action because we were talking about illegal activities, taking over an unused building,” explains McMahon. “But we conceived of this as – tacky as it may sound – sending a beacon of hope to our future generations.”
“The deeper question about what kind of people the Irish are becoming is best asked though the insane increase in homelessness,” McMahon says. Clearly neither he nor his co-organizers intend to go quietly.
When it became clear that the occupation of Apollo House was going ahead Scurry asked McMahon to write a speech to announce its aims. “A big meeting was held the night before the building takeover,” he explains. In the room were Damien Dempsey, Glen Hansard, Jim Sheridan and Brendan Ogle among many others. Like James Joyce in 1904 the word that McMahon kept coming back to that described the contemporary politics is “paralysis.”
“But undercover of night they went into Apollo House, and this ten story structure that has become a kind of Noah’s Ark. It’s given sanctuary to people that is profound.”
By picking Apollo House, the brutalist former social welfare office on Tara Street, the campaigners – composed of writers, musicians filmmakers and actors and longtime community activists – have demonstrated a keen eye for symbolism and irony.
Reportedly built by the real estate developer Garrett Kelleher, the former Chairman of Legatus (the organization that aims to promote the Catholic faith in business, professional and personal lives) the building brings together familiar strands of church and state.
But to McMahon’s surprise the media has been broadly supportive of the move. Anticipating predictable attacks on hand-wringing lefty luvvies he was amazed when it didn't happen. It may have to do with the internationally renowned names that have stepped forward in its defense, McMahon suggests.
“The argument is irrefutable. What’s happening to the homeless is fundamentally wrong and we need to address it.”
McMahon has no doubt about the factors that have created the crisis. In his speech to address “Home Sweet Home’s” aims, which has had over one million views in twenty four hours on Facebook, he writes: “In the eight years since the implementation of Austerity, more people have committed suicide than were killed in the thirty years of the Troubles. This is our Ireland and, one hundred years after 1916, Austerity is not just a lie, Austerity is murder.”
Meanwhile Dublin City Council, acting with lightening speed, has given the green light to demolish the Apollo House building, citing their concerns about “the health and safety of those staying in” the building.
Singer Glen Hansard scornfully rejected that contention on his Twitter feed on Tuesday morning however, asking if their health and safety would be better served sleeping rough on the streets?
A Facebook page allows members to check in to Apollo House in solidarity.
Meanwhile celebrities like Colin Farrell have expressed their support to the Irish media, turning the Irish government, if they decide to evict this week, into Christmas Scrooge’s at the one time of the year when they most want some peace.