Grangegorman squatters set to resist eviction

Credit: Aura McMenamin

The squatters of Lower Grangegorman will resist eviction in six week’s time.

A High Court injunction granted last week will be sustained until May 4th, but residents have called the site their home.

“I won’t be vacating. From day one, I’ve considered this to be a political occupation. I will not leave and we will do everything we can to stop people from re entering.”

Stephen Bedford was one of the three residents representing themselves in the High Court last week. Although the date for the trial was Thursday 26th, Justice Paul Gilligan gave them 24 hours to seek legal advice.

“The judge’s opinion was decided for him before the court had begun. There was no way a judge in the current political climate would have ruled in favour of a project like this.”

The ‘project’ is a vast lot that has been converted into a home for about 30 people. It holds three residential houses with running water, five warehouses and a large yard. The warehouses are scattered with artwork, furniture and clothes. The place is partly heated by a process called biomass heating. This involves burning trees in a small contained space, and the resulting steam is carried in tubes.

The site was occupied in August 2013 and the residents claim that their presence has benefitted the community. Some of their work includes: ‘Words in Warehouse’, a semi-regular, spoken-word, music and poetry night in the warehouse; Headspace, an art and music studio as well as a drug free area, with a juggling and circus practice space.

However, they claim there is a more serious undertone to preserving the site. In a statement released following an eviction attempt by NAMA, the squatters state that their occupation is an answer to the housing crisis, which has seen rent rise by 16 per cent this year.

“When we came here, our priority was to get a house, not a huge space. Our priority was to get a home and a roof over our heads,” said one of the founders, Julie.

Speaking with a French lilt, Julie is adamant that the state won’t provide for them: “We’re in the middle of a housing crisis. You can’t get rid of the problem by just evicting squatters or any other homeless people and just think that they’re gonna disappear”.

The inner-city Northside space lies five minutes from Smithfield luas stop. According to the young lads in tracksuits who were helping the squatters clean on Wednesday, it used to be a site for drug use.

The property is under the receivership of Luke Charleton of the accountancy firm Ernst and Young.

Charleton now manages the site following Pascal Conroy’s debt of €21 million arising from AIB loans. Charleton’s agents initiated the High Court case to evict about 30 people from the site. His employment of LAS Security group led to the violent eviction attempt two weeks ago.

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Although LAS men drilled external gates during the attempted eviction, the residents have reinforced them to keep security out.

“They came on Monday morning. We were all asleep at six o’clock. I heard my house mate knocking on the doors. I knew immediately that something was wrong and I jumped out of bed, ” Julie recounted.”They had temporary fences and security guards blocking off spaces. I talked to Devlin and I refused to give my name to him.”

“He told me that they tried to settle this problem outside of the court with the help of the Garda Siochana, explaining that the had meetings with the Garda before they actually went to court. This is completely unlawful.”

Bobby, a former squatter who now rents an apartment, has thrown his support to his friends. Sitting with Julie in her bedroom, he explains why Gardai should not have assisted.

“This is a civil case. What were the police doing here all day, occupying the space? LAS, not one of them gave their badge numbers, which is a €5,000 fine and a loss of license. Gardaí were laughing when I mentioned this, and making snide remarks like ‘I can’t wait to evict you tonight’.”

The residents and security found themselves in a Mexican stand-off as security vans could not get past protestors. They eventually had to leave the premise as the squatters negotiated with the crowds to disperse.

“We negotiated with the superintendent as the Garda helicopter and three riot vans, full of riot cops were outside. We negotiated a climb down, because it was bullshit. But many people were injured.The workers that were trapped inside started attacking people on the gate. One resident, Jason, had his foot run over when a van drove through the crowd, as a Facebook video shows.”

“They ran over my foot but it’s wrapped up and it’s not too bad,” he said as he demonstrated how to juggle with cabbages.

Online reactions to the occupation have been mixed, with many people condemning the squatters for not paying rent. However, there has also been condemnation to the awry property developers involved.

In a letter to ‘The Occupants’, dated the day of eviction, Charleton ordered the occupants to vacate No. 7 and No. 8 Grangegorman or he would issue the court order. The letter also states that 8A Lower Grangegorman would soon become the property of Kynman Developments Limited, which would also employ LAS. Kynman’s director is Antoin Conroy, brother of the indebted Pascal.

“Please be aware that Kynman has given authorisation to Mr. Aidan Devlin to act as agent on its behalf in respect of No. 8a.”

Although initially appearing to support the squatters, Lord Mayor and anti-homelessness campaigner Christie Burke backtracked in the interest of impartiality: “I didn’t want anybody to see heavy handily escorted off the premises. They were doing it out of desperation and if they were doing it for a roof over their head, they have my support.”

“I won’t go out and support because the Lord Mayor remains impartial. The Lord Mayor will remain impartial because he represents the city, not one particular group.”

He acknowledged the bleak reality of homelessness services: “Like everyone else, they must report to homeless services in Parquet street. That’s the only gig in town, unfortunately. If they contact me I’ll guide them through.”

One night, the residents sit around drinking beers. When the subject of homelessness is brought up, one resident Dwayne insists that they show solidarity with people sleeping rough: “We need to open the homes for the other homeless.”

Bobby disagrees: “These people are beyond help. They need to drink every night. They’re addicts. We don’t want to get them in trouble.”

A local lad stops by to chat, and asks Bobby if there’s E to score. “We’re trying to keep drugs out”, he replies.

Julie acknowledges that the community spirit they have makes them different: “People almost see squatting as being better than homeless. Unfortunately, those people on the street don’t have the support we do. They’re alone.”

Voice breaking, Stephen Bedford said they were overwhelmed by local support.”That’s the greatest gift we could have been given. NAMA, with their actions and their violent thugs who came into our home have done us the biggest favour, ever.It’s been stressful and there’s been time where there was a lot of aggression from them…but it’s also brought people from outside the
community.”

Aura McMenamin

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