Tuesday, February 7, 2017

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Apollo House ‣ A Volunteer's Response: Part 2

Paul Bowman continues with his response to an earlier series of pieces by Rowan Clarke on the Apollo House campaign. Paul Bowman is a member of Dublin Central Housing Action and the IWU, both affiliated with the Irish Housing Network, and volunteer with the Outreach Team in Apollo House.

This is the second post of my response to Rowan Clarke’s four TPQ posts on the subject of Apollo House. Rather than trying to deal with his points through some thematic or logical grouping, it's easier for me to just go through his four posts in order of appearance and comment on the different points as he raises them.


Then Out Of Nowhere Came Apollo House

The idea that the Apollo House action came out of nowhere is a bit mystifying. Clarke declares that he is familiar with a number of the groups and individuals who took part in the action, including the Irish Housing Network (of which the author is a member), yet seems to think that the action somehow happened spontaneously.

The idea of occupying a NAMA building was first raised by the Unlock NAMA group back in 2012 and a couple of short-lasting occupations were actually attempted, although without any sustained success. A few years later in 2015 the empty homeless hostel on Bolton Street became the Bolt Hostel, with the intention of providing shelter to homeless people, when it was occupied by the IHN for nearly 2 months. The same judge, Gilligan, who sat on the Apollo House hearing, issued the eviction order back in 2015 against 2 IHN activists, one of whom went on to become one of four individuals responding to last month's hearing.

Anyone with more than a passing acquaintance with the housing struggle in Dublin in the last few years should have known this.


Pulling The Strings Of The Apollo Occupation

If Clarke seems to have doubts about the validity or agency of the public in general (by dismissing the response as “hysteria”), the dismissal of the agency of the veritable army of volunteers as the passive marionettes of a string-pulling puppet-master is politically indefensible.

For the record I spent 13 out of the 27 days working in Apollo House and at no time did I ever meet Brendan Ogle, Jim Gibney or Glen Hansard, nor did any instructions emanating from that quarter ever pass my desk or shape the work of the team of which I was a part. The idea that Ogle or any of the other high-profile names associated with the occupation in the media, had any day to day hands on role in the actual operation of Apollo House is not one that would be recognised by any of the 750+ volunteers who worked in Apollo.

It was the volunteers who brought in the skills and experience necessary to maintain the building, provide care, food, comfort and support to the homeless residents and run the IT, communications and admin to make all that possible. The idea that Ogle or the "mainstream musicians, famous faces and 'celebrity activists'" Clarke associates with him, were "pulling the strings" of the Apollo House action shows a lack of understanding of the kind of collective effort required to operate Apollo House, for which neither the Union or Artists groups had the necessary skills or experience.


I'm A Celebrity - Get Me Into There

Clarke opens by repeating the false accusation about HSH avoiding demanding social housing, and ascribing that to the supposed malign influence of the artists group. He then goes on to allege of the artists group "some present were certainly tax dodgers", without any names or evidence.

The unspecified shade thrown on the artists (and the mention of Mattress Mick's property portfolio), then gets blown up to HSH having "dalliances with landlords, property developers and business magnates". Again who these shadowy figures actually are is not explained.

What we can say is the IHN's participation in Home Sweet Home is dependent on this not violating any of our principles. Principle 6 states; "6. No member of the housing network can profit financially from those affected by the housing crisis.". So if Clarke or anyone else can bring forward information identifying anyone involved in Home Sweet Home who is profiting financially from the housing crisis - whether as a developer, landlord or other business interest, we would treat that information seriously. But as it stands, it’s a groundless smear.

Clarke moves on to asserting that through his experience and studies he has come to the conclusion that homelessness is "a very complex subject", which mirrors a line commonly trotted out by the charities in the homelessness industry. In the latter case, the same charities who get more funding the more homeless people are committed to their care, have a very clear material incentive to promote the idea that homelessness is too messy and too complex for ordinary people to do anything about and should be left to them, the professionals. Clarke obviously doesn't have the same motives for advancing that position, but he does echo the basic idea that caring for the homeless should be left to the professionals.

In fact one of the motivations of many of the people who volunteered for Apollo House, professionals included, was precisely to create an example of an alternative new model of how hostels could be run in a more humane and effective manner than the ones they had been forced to work in up until now. It was a chance to run a hostel in a way the current top managers of the "professional" charities of the homeless industry will not allow them to do in their paying jobs. Apollo House was an example of how workers can run their workplace in way better suited to the needs of the community when freed from the command and strictures of the bosses, charity bosses included.

We then get the bizarre statement from Clarke that:

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.

Considering that most of the world understands that homelessness and housing problems are inseparably linked, this statement is counter-intuitive, to say the least. Yet Clarke provides no further explanation, so we are left in the dark as to what his point is. Instead we get the next two sentences:

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 problem here is the blanket dismissal of "these people" as one monolithic undifferentiated mass of ‘others’ whose complex needs Clarke reduces to: "Addiction - mainly to Heroin and Alcohol - mental illness, habitual criminality and a myriad of other factors influence those who end up on the streets"

Without dismissing the role of addiction, mental health and other issues, the undercurrent of disdain here is a serious barrier to working with homeless people in a spirit of solidarity. Homeless people needed to be treated first of all as people, that is individuals with individual needs and problems. Not every homeless person is a heroin addict.

The huge ballooning of homelessness in Dublin and around the country is not due to some new escalation in addiction, etc, but the result of the housing crisis which is inseparable from the crisis of homelessness we are facing. To suggest the two issues can not only be dealt with in isolation to each other, but are in some way "mutually exclusive" defies all logic and common sense.

For the record, the strategy of the IHN is based on recognising that housing as an issue and the housing crisis, affects people differently, depending on their economic, social and property-related status, and that this creates a hierarchy of need and insecurity. The strategy of aiming to improve the security of those at the very bottom of this ladder of precariousness, is to put a floor under the whole edifice so that everyone affected, at whatever level, is less vulnerable to being terrorised by the threat of falling into homelessness. By fighting to end homelessness we aim to bolster the confidence of every person affected by the housing crisis, this strategy sees the struggle against homelessness as a vital support for the struggle to end the housing crisis and in no way mutually exclusive.

Before wrapping up, Clarke makes an unprovoked swipe at the IHN as "a core junta made up mainly of - some might say without sounding too disparaging - your typical hyper-Liberal finding themselves student types". Again I would be very surprised that anyone who has met any of the activists of the groups in the IHN would recognise this description.


Not The Housing Campaign We Hoped For

The first part of Clarke's final installment comments on the rumours that Ogle intends to set up a new political party on the back of the Apollo House action. Personally, as an anarchist, I don't really care for electoralism. But obviously the opinions of the rest of the Apollo House volunteers or the IHN may well differ from mine. However the IHN's principles cover our relation with political parties in this way:
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 according to the needs and wishes of their respective party or organisation. In short, political allegiances are left at the door.
Therefore, so long as the IHN are a part of Home Sweet Home it is not going to be transformed into a new political party.

Clarke then goes on to recycle the RTE smear regarding the empty Unite property. That’s already been since dealt with in the media, by Focus’ evidence, for e.g. But more to the point, Clarke simply ignores the central demands of the campaign about using NAMA properties to end homelessness.

Clarke then ends his piece with the conclusion that this is not the housing campaign himself and others have been waiting for, and he'll have to wait for one that does fit his particular vision to appear on the horizon.

As a take-away piece of advice for readers ‘better wait until something better comes along’ seems unacceptably passive for a self-declared community activist. Even if you decide that the strategy of the IHN and Home Sweet Home is not for you, you would still be well advised to start building the model of the housing campaign you want to see, rather than just sit and wait for somebody else to do it for you. Because otherwise you could be waiting a long time.

In the next section I will review the possible root causes of the differences between Clarke’s perspective and my own on the significance and achievements of the Apollo House action.

7 comments :

James Quigley said...

I think Mr Bowman is trying to be too clever and has missed Clarke's very good points. As far as I recall Clarke never disparaged the volunteers. In fact he praised them. I just can't get over the issue of using homeless people for political gain, aim or whatever or to use them amid the emotional time of xmas, maximum effect. But as Mr Ogle said the issue was not about homeless it was "NAMA, NAMA, NAMA".

As far as Unite and their empty property goes, I don't think it has been settled. It was like pulling a rabbit out of a bag and one wonders about close relationships. Also it came a day after Mr Kelly, Unite's General Secretary was quoted in the Irish Times who wrote when asked why the building, which has been vacant for three years, had not been put to use for housing or a homeless hostel, Mr Kelly said the issue “never arose”.

AM said...

Denis Finegan says


James Quigley, you have taken out of context the comment made by Brendan Ogle, about NAMA, in his response detailing the events surrounding the news report by John Kilraine about the former Unite offices.

When Brendan Ogle made reference to Nama, he was suggesting that John Kilraine had missed the point about the utilisation of Apollo House, in the Home Sweet Home initiative.

John Kilraine had made contact with Brendan Ogle of Unite and Dave Gibney of Mandate, on a Saturday, asking why the former Unite office was not being used as a homeless shelter type accommodation.

Considering the query was made on a Saturday, John Kilraine was asked by Jimmy Kelly of Unite, to wait till the following Tuesday, so as he could obtain, from his colleagues in Unite, the relevant paperwork and documents, with the detail that would confirm the status of the former Unite office.

But the report by John Kilraine was broadcast on the Monday.

It turned out that the former Unite offices had been offered to Focus Ireland for its use, but that the building - which was far smaller than Apollo House - was deemed unsuitable for homeless shelter type accommodation

Here is the paragraph to which you are referring but you left out the detail in the paragraph which explains Brendan Ogle's reference to NAMA:


"Last Saturday afternoon I was with my Children on an important family weekend and John Kilraine started texting me. I couldn’t deal with it so Dave Gibney rang him. When Dave told me what he wanted later I wasn’t shocked. Nothing about the dishonest, sneaky agenda setting of this shameful entity that used to pass for an impartial public service broadcast station surprises me after the water campaign and the events set out above".

"Why didn’t we put up homeless people in an empty Unite building on Merrion Square? He knew the answer well. He knew a Trade Union, or Jim Sheridan’s house, or Mattress Mick’s warehouse, or Glen Hansards wardrobe was not the point".

"NAMA! NAMA! NAMA!".

"We the people already owned NAMA and that was the point of Apollo House. And it was massive. It held 40 people with the Judge’s say so, and could have help up to 100 in total. But that is not the point".

The point is sabotage of a campaign that has the state and it’s mouthpieces like Kilraine very worried".

James Quigley said...

Mr Finnegan's quote was pretty much word for word the statement from Unite which blitzed the media 4 days after the RTE exposé. Interestingly one of Mr Ogle's responses was published on http://www.broadsheet.ie/tag/brendan-ogle/ Whether my use of 'NAMA, NAMA NAMA' was out of context or in, I don't think mattered, my point being, it was used on it's own as a pretext for Unite's actions, a sort of subliminal message. Was it the reason for Unite's action? Of course homelessness (in small script) was also given. My view is neither excuse was the real motive of Unite and Mandate. The reason was to get back their mojo lost as a cosequence of their antics in R2C.

The use of capitalisation 'NAMA NAMA NAMA', in modern parlance of electronic media, is referred to as 'Shouting'. Now that is a form of intimidation that Mr Ogle is very adept at. Besides 'Shouting', he also well briefed in directing opperations, hogging the limelight, manipulation and publicity stunts as part of his employment status. In fact. he is also partial to a little lie or two as demonstrated by his actions during the R2C conference in Dublin where he orchestrated the expulsion of the AAA thus setting in motion the collapse of a united front, resulting in what we have at the present day total control by Unite and Mandate and Sinn Fein of the R2W Ireland movement. To my eternal chagrin not many on the left or the TDs signed up R2C members, stood up to or against this manipulation or take over. Not only that, the so called freedom fighter use the R2C logo in their CVs. Yes I am sceptical about Mr Ogle's, Gibney's and their respective trade unions motives and modus operandi. With their clout and trade union credentials they usurp popular movement for their own ends, pretending a bottom up approach but secretly hatching a top down controlled agenda.


The 'Merrion Square' is incident is beside the point but to me it is a standalone issue that questions integrity. In my view it is very believable that this incredible issue was overlooked in the rush up to xmas. It is a poor argument about state forces including RTE out to get Unite. It was a story that should have been aired and should have been answered with resorting to some great conspiracy.

Mr Finnegan never mentioned the statement by Jimmy Kelly, Unite's general secretary which was in the Irish Times, January 17th edition 'Unite not seeking to block use of Merrion Square site for social housing', talking about the subject of Merrion Sq being used as a hostel said "never arose". On the same day in the evening thejournal.ie reported Mr Kelly's ' fresh statement' http://www.thejournal.ie/ogle-union-unite-3191486-Jan2017/. Mr Kelly is the man responsible for Unite's property portfolio, Merrion Sq being worth what? multiples of millions/billions and does not know whether the subject arose. As for the January 18th Unite statement about Focus, I read that and it is interesting what Mr Ogle says or does not say on the subject in the above broadsheet article. I am far from convinced about this evidence obtained from someone pretty close to trade unions. However, this is quite easily solved by producing written evidence of contact with and offers to NGOs including Focus.

Denis Finegan said...

James Quigley,

Brendan Ogle used the phrase about Nama, in capital letters, in response to the RTE news item by John Kilraine. I don’t really see how you can accuse him of intimidating anyone on this issue.

I think that Brendan Ogle made this point about Nama, in response to the RTE news item. I think that the people involved in the Home Sweet Home initiative, are making the point that there seems to be very little scrutiny in national media, of the government departments, who are responsible for housing provision. An example of this is at the press conference held by Home Sweet Home, where this issue of Dublin City Council turning down Nama buildings, being made available to it, by Nama, for social housing.

https://www.facebook.com/HomeSweetHomeIRL/videos/1621210248174138/

At the press conference, Brendan Ogle questioned the various news reporters present, as to why they are not scrutinising why Dublin City Council is not using the Nama properties, for social housing.

I think the representatives of Home Sweet Home felt that the media present seemed more concerned with trying to quiz the Home Sweet Home initiative, than considering the responsibility of the relevant government departments.

There were a few questions from news reporters present, suggesting that the Home Sweet Home initiative was undermining other homeless charity agencies, but David Gibney of Mandate responded by emphasising that Home Sweet Home is co-operating with these agencies, and not undermining them.

Here, I think, is an example where the volunteers of Home Sweet Home were being criticised, rather than the government departments, who are more responsible in the area of housing provision.

I think Brendan Ogle’s facebook post, in response to John Kilraine’s news report, was emphasising, with reference to Nama, that it is the government, City Council and County Council departments, that are tasked with making available housing provision - the departments with the most responsibility.

I think that is why there was dissatisfaction with the news report by RTE. The report had a tone of what about-ery, about it, as in why is Unite not making available its own building, rather than Apollo House. I think it took the focus away from the government departments, which have the duty to make available housing provision.

I hear the same type of criticism being made of people who march against water charges, where people will criticise other people who march, saying ‘sure the protestors are probably paying more money going to Dublin and marching rather than just paying the charge’. This argument completely misses the point of the water protests, which is the serious possibility of water privatisation.

As a result we see news articles, and radio phone in shows with people who have their own wells, saying ‘sure why are they marching against water charges, I have a well that I have to pay for, why don’t these other people pay for water as well’, which takes the focus away from the point of the water protests, the issue of water privatisation being a government policy, a policy which has not been denied by government politicians.

This Irish Times article includes a statement from Focus Ireland indicating that Focus Ireland and other charities were contacted by Unite, with an offer to make the Unite office available.

http://www.irishtimes.com/news/social-affairs/unite-s-former-hq-offered-up-for-social-housing-three-years-ago-1.2940761.

Brendan Ogle also outlined his response to this RTE news item on Today FM, where he argued that the RTE news item missed the point that Apollo House was symbolic because it is a Nama building.

http://www.todayfm.com/player/podcasts/The_Last_Word_with_Matt_Cooper/The_Last_Word_with_Matt_Cooper/65687/0/brendan_ogle_sets_the_record_straight

Denis Finegan said...

here is the link to the Home Sweet Home press conference to which I referred in my post above

https://www.facebook.com/HomeSweetHomeIRL/videos/1619839951644501/

AM said...

@ 8:30 AM, February 10, 2017 Denis Finegan 1/2 says


James Quigley,

Brendan Ogle used the phrase about Nama, in capital letters, in response to the RTE news item by John Kilraine. I don’t really see how you can accuse him of intimidating anyone on this issue.

I think that Brendan Ogle made this point about Nama, in response to the RTE news item. I think that the people involved in the Home Sweet Home initiative, are making the point that there seems to be very little scrutiny in national media, of the government departments, who are responsible for housing provision. An example of this is at the press conference held by Home Sweet Home, where this issue of Dublin City Council turning down Nama buildings, being made available to it, by Nama, for social housing.

https://www.facebook.com/HomeSweetHomeIRL/videos/1621210248174138/

At the press conference, Brendan Ogle questioned the various news reporters present, as to why they are not scrutinising why Dublin City Council is not using the Nama properties, for social housing.

The media present seemed more concerned with trying to quiz the Home Sweet Home initiative, than questioning the relevant government departments.
There were a few questions from news reporters present, suggesting that the Home Sweet Home initiative was undermining other homeless charity agencies, but David Gibney of Mandate responded by emphasising that Home Sweet Home is co-operating with these agencies, and not undermining them.

Here, I think, is an example where the volunteers of Home Sweet Home were being criticised, rather than the government departments, who are more responsible in the area of housing provision.

I think Brendan Ogle’s facebook post, in response to John Kilraine’s news report, was emphasising, with reference to Nama, that it is the government, City Council and County Council departments, that are tasked with making available housing provision - the departments with the most responsibility.

AM said...

@ 8:30 AM, February 10, 2017 Denis Finegan 1/2 says

I think that is why there was dissatisfaction with the news report by RTE. The report had a tone of what about-ery, about it, as in why is Unite not making available its own building, rather than Apollo House. I think it took the focus away from the government departments, which have the duty to make available housing provision.

I hear the same type of criticism being made of people who march against water charges, where people will criticise other people who march, saying ‘sure the protestors are probably paying more money going to Dublin and marching rather than just paying the charge’. This argument completely misses the point of the water protests, which is the serious possibility of water privatisation.

As a result we see news articles, and radio phone in shows with people who have their own wells, saying ‘sure why are they marching against water charges, I have a well that I have to pay for, why don’t these other people pay for water as well’, which takes the focus away from the point of the water protests, the issue of water privatisation being a government policy, a policy which has not been denied by government politicians.

This Irish Times article includes a statement from Focus Ireland indicating that Focus Ireland and other charities were contacted by Unite, with an offer to make the Unite office available.

http://l.facebook.com/l.php?u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.irishtimes.com%2Fnews%2Fsocial-affairs%2Funite-s-former-hq-offered-up-for-social-housing-three-years-ago-1.2940761&h=ATOAX3E6l6IgW1Jf30OD-4CXYE0AmWpz5DyFDBo63abkww6Nwk7ZK_1FbQACWBpXcj9imF-nGo4KRffZquBhjupIXIqFA2qmVpO10I4c8ZVantrJODQK-7oyi25uDI7VijeHxjZrz4143i4KTzFAUILEIocH.
It states:

"On Tuesday night, Mr Kelly said he had reviewed the relevant documentation and found that the union had offered the building to a number of organisations for social housing three years ago. However, the groups did not consider the building to be suitable.

“I can confirm that, when Unite vacated the former offices three years ago, we contacted a number of NGOs working in the area of emergency housing provision and invited them to inspect the premises and assess their suitability,” he said".

“The offer was for a three-year period. One of the organisations who took up our invitation, Focus Ireland, came to the conclusion that the Merrion Square building was completely unsuitable for their needs as it stood. ”"

"A spokesman for Focus Ireland confirmed the offer. “Unite asked Focus Ireland (and other organisations) at the time would our organisation be interested in possible use of the building for a period of a maximum of three years while the union was developing its own plans for future use of the premises,” he said".
Brendan Ogle also outlined his response to this RTE news item on Today FM, where he argued that the RTE news item missed the point that Apollo House was symbolic because it is a Nama building.

http://l.facebook.com/l.php?u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.todayfm.com%2Fplayer%2Fpodcasts%2FThe_Last_Word_with_Matt_Cooper%2FThe_Last_Word_with_Matt_Cooper%2F65687%2F0%2Fbrendan_ogle_sets_the_record_straight&h=ATO4Uv2FiPQ5J8drZtw6ZY8-geZn9fsZewFknBEILyv8X0qfbIvsxE8MhDT-mV2h5KFk6ahOUR9b6pwTpXsLJOuM2tOjm2lZC2MToVwHgEi9dURkaJCV521NyvhvlgNylfDcb6hvupkDFQcFwHfwU0lbznQn