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The occupation of vacant, Nama-owned Apollo House by Home Sweet Home in early December shone a light on Ireland’s ever growing homelessness crisis.
Volunteers from Home Sweet Home and the Irish Housing Network took over the building in early December and began moving people in through referrals by the Irish Housing Network, the Home Sweet Home Outreach Team and other existing agencies and shelters. Over the past month, we’ve seen Apollo House transformed from a vacant office building into a safe and welcoming space for those with nowhere else to go through donations from the public, celebrity endorsements, and the work of 100s of volunteers.
Over the past few years there has been a rise in this kind of people power; from the work of Home Sweet Home, to the long fought road to marriage equality, to the Repeal the 8th campaign. Citizens who are not satisfied with the Irish government are finally taking things into their own hands.
The economic crash forced the Irish public through austerity, redundancy and cuts creating a rising sense of discontent with the political establishment. The Irish Water fiasco saw many take to the streets in protest of water charges. The emergence of political parties such as the Anti-Austerity Alliance and People Before Profit – both of which championed the Right2Water movement – presented an alternative for those disillusioned with other political parties.
In 2015, Ireland was the first country to make same sex marriage legal by popular vote. This followed years of active campaigning that began in in 1970s through the Campaign for Sexual Law Reform led by David Norris.
September last year saw the largest ever turnout for the annual March for Choice held by the Abortion Rights Campaign. The march allowed thousands of people from a diverse range of backgrounds to become united in a common cause,and to fight for what the women of Ireland deserve – the legalisation of abortion.
In the past many movements were very city centered, usually taking place of college campuses or within academic or political circles. With the power of social media this is no longer the case, making causes and access to relevant information more accessible regardless of a person’s location, and making local branches of campaigns possible. Apollo House collected most of its donations through GoFundMe, called for volunteers through Twitter, and gave insight into their operation through Facebook.
Rooted in the 1970s with the Campaign for Sexual Law Reform led by David Norris, and the first Pride held in the early 1980s in protest of the death of Declan Flynn, one movement that has left a lasting legacy in Irish society is the LGBT+ one. The Hirschfeld Centre – the first dedicated to the LGBT+ community – led Temple Bar to become what it is today. Not to mention the work of GLEN, TENI, and other LGBT+ organizations. In 2015, after years of campaigning, Ireland became the first country to legalise same sex marriage through public vote; unequivocal proof of all that a grassroots movement can achieve. But by no means, is the work over.
The aim of Home Sweet Home is clear – to end homelessness in Ireland. This may seem very simplistic but the essence of the work that they are doing is so important. People are being providing a safe place to sleep, a roof over their heads, access to support, and being treated with the dignity and respect that they deserve.
There has been a shift in the psych of the Irish people. We are not passive or complacent in the face of injustice. The attitude of “what’s the point?” is not as strong as it was before. We have all been through some really difficult times and we are not willing to be played again.
We are being listened to by increasing pressure on the government. That is how Apollo House got a meeting with Housing Minister Simon Coveney. It is how the Criminal Fraud (Sexual Offences) Bill was passed in 1993. It is how we will repeal the 8th amendment and finally let Irish women choose what is right for them. An Irish Times poll has already shown that 75% of people would like to see a referendum on the 8th held. We can’t wait any longer.
Apollo House residents left on Thursday, January 12th after the High Court refused to add an extension to their stay. Home Sweet Home have done incredible work, and their legacy will further encourage the movement calling for an end to the homelessness crisis in Ireland.
While watching a livestream of the Home Sweet Home march, an image that struck me was a banner that read: “You won’t hear us but you can see us.” That passion, endurance and empathy that activists, campaigners, and ordinary working people have shown is what will drive Irish people forward. To make themselves seen even if they cannot be heard.