Republican community activist Rowan Clarke in the third of a series of pieces shares his thoughts on the Apollo House occupation.
Apollo House - It’s kind of a bit like Bob Geldof’s LiveAid with the same sort of atmosphere and attitude attached, choc a bloc with celebs and modern musicians that makes it acceptable and easy to support.
It comes with its own hashtag and T-shirts are aplenty.
Its gofundme appeal has now reached over €200,000 euro.
There is no doubt since HomeSweetHome campaign has relied heavily on celebrity endorsement and as a front to give it lifeblood and we can’t escape the fact it would never have gotten off the ground otherwise.
Talk of Social Housing, scrutiny of the developer class and taking on the landlords wouldn’t go down well as its possible that many of the celebrities, musicians and big names involved a few who themselves are possibly landlords with property portfolios. Some present were certainly tax dodgers, through engaging in overseas schemes to protect their wealth from being taxed in this country (money which ironically could go toward building much needed social housing and facilitating homeless services more adequately) and all ultimately belonging to the lite class which controls this country. This, despite their insistences I’m sure to the contrary.
Several business interests also contributed heavily to the Apollo effort and were instrumental in keeping it afloat and supplied.
It was free advertising which will no doubt will prove profitable but what also must be mentioned is the fact that one key benefactor, ‘Mattress Mick' - himself a man with a sizeable property portfolio and who is currently in dispute with NAMA over a warehouse of his based in North Dublin.
These dalliances with landlords, property developers and business magnates irked many among the hard Left who were vocally highlighting the glaring hypocrisy of the very progenitors of the housing crisis openly aiding Apollo’s occupation.
This all I’ve no doubt is all Ogle's doing. His sphere of influence would make it possible to involve such useful elements.
We can all agree Apollo has highlighted homelessness and aroused a sense of charity in many to a point they are willing to get out and volunteer. Yet we must explore some of the agendas at play in the scenario: who has what to gain and who will be the big winners when it’s all over and the buzz dies down.
To my knowledge, Brendan Ogle and many of the high-profile individuals involved in this collective have no experience in volunteering in housing activism and have no experience in the complexities of the ‘rough sleeper’, the type of individuals headhunted for entry into Apollo House to stay as residents.
Having worked previously with vulnerable people and through my studies, I have come to see homelessness as a very complex subject, in which the scenario of no access to a permanent residence is just a very small part of the problem. Addiction - mainly to Heroin and Alcohol - mental illness, habitual criminality and a myriad of other factors influence those who end up on the streets.
It was presumptuous from the get go on the part of the organisers of the Apollo occupation that tying Homelessness and Housing together was ever going to be a success, as the two issues are mutually exclusive. And the task of overseeing the care of such individuals is extremely problematic and requiring expert professional care the likes of which an ad hoc political occupation can never possibly offer even with some input from professionals, lending a hand over a few …. it’s a long-term job to meet these people’s specific needs which takes years.
The Irish Housing Network, a very loose collection of assorted housing groups, but arguably with a core junta made up mainly of - some might say without sounding too disparaging - your typical hyper-Liberal finding themselves student types, with also some I would deem ‘celebrity’ activists in the mix to give a bit of extra glam and gloss. They were tasked with being the overseers of the occupation aided by a number of voluntary soup run workers and sympathetic political collectives, who without question were happy to be associated and give a dig out.
It was most unnerving that later on during the occupation we came to see that Brendan Ogle himself, London based actor and mainstream musician Glen Hansard, millionaire movie director Jim Sheridan (who recently sold a palatial mansion in plush Dalkey for 2.3million ), along with granted some reasonably well informed housing activists, would be negotiating on behalf of the homeless residents with Housing Minister Simon Coveney. By proxy they were essentially putting themselves on pedestals to speak on behalf of those in Ireland affected by housing issues.
Maybe it’s just me but I can think of far more well qualified individuals who should have this role.
We can’t escape the stark reality that while I’m sure many of the celebrities and musicians involved have had good intentions, this has no doubt it’s been a gold mine in publicity and attention and no doubt sales will be looking good in the future.
This zaps any sincerity or substance from the campaign and disallows it from ever becoming the revolutionary movement it could have been.
Brendan Ogle will be the big winner, let’s not draw straws about that. But not without scrutiny which I’m sure he’s prepared for.