'It's more than a movement to highlight homelessness, it’s civil disobedience against Nama'
HOME Sweet Home is the most refreshing campaign staged in Ireland for many years, but not for the reasons the activists themselves think.
It’s more than a movement to highlight homelessness, it’s civil disobedience against Nama — a toxic institution dressed in a cloak of secrecy that’s come out in a rash of scandal.
The campaigners have achieved one major success for the homeless: they’ve contrasted the plight of those who cannot house themselves against the ironic slew of empty buildings in possession of the State.
Buildings that are being sold off at bargain prices to vulture funds. Buildings that are moved on at enormous profits for these grotesque soul-swilling corporations who pay unforgivably minuscule taxes.
All of this happens with the blessing of Michael Noonan’s Department of Finance.
It holds the key to solving the homeless crisis rather than Simon Coveney’s Housing and Planning ministry.
HSH has focused the spotlight on Finance for the first time and its relationship with Nama and vulture funds.
That’s an achievement worth celebrating.
It has been a sorry mystery why we have not risen up against Nama before.
It is only accountable to the Minister for Finance and trying to get answers from Noonan about it is like attempting to crack a hazelnut with tweezers.
In many ways Nama is much worse than the financial crisis it was created to clean up because when it was established we ought to have known better.
When Noonan entered Finance in 2011, he ordered a fire sale of assets to get any money in as quickly as possible to take the edge off his first few austerity budgets.
It was a plan with some merit.
The State had to sell off assets it controlled from distressed loans dirt-cheap just to get a market going.
Vulture funds swooped and did extremely well, while the State got a few bob also.
But the fire-sale continued apace and no one, not Noonan or Nama, shouted stop.
IBRC, previously Anglo Irish Bank, was forced to join the mad auction and huge write-offs ensued, creating astonishing deals for corporations at the expense of taxpayers.
Fine Gael knew full well how troublesome Nama was long before Project Eagle and other controversies erupted because when they were in Opposition, the party opposed its creation.
They complained about the risk of wrongdoing from a “secretive, politically directed . . . process for 1,500 property developers”.
The problem with stirring public interest in Nama has been the complexity of its workings.
It is only when you put the greed and insatiability of vultures side by side with the homeless plight that you capture citizens’ imaginations.
Apollo House, which was occupied by campaigners, is to be torn down and replaced with another office tower.
Probably for companies who could do so much more to help solve our housing crisis.
Despite all the construction in Dublin right now, there’s no room for social housing. Unfortunately for HSH, their housing initiative is a short-term solution which will probably add to the taxpayers’ long-term Nama bill.
They will be evicted in January when the country is preoccupied with another news story.
This means more time in court for Nama’s lawyers and an increase in security around empty sites across the country to prevent more occupations — all at taxpayers’ expense.
The evictions themselves will also add to the cost.
Charities who have done less than HSH with far more money will continue to receive inordinate State funds that would be better spent if the NGOs agreed to merge into one big operation.
This might be why few of the 75 homeless charities here offered them their support.
The happy-clappy notoriety aspect to the occupation also masks the complex issues around homelessness in Ireland.
Take the death of Jonathan Corrie in a freezing doorway metres from Leinster House two years ago this month, which caused a greater focus on housing.
It seemed to encapsulate the unfairness of austerity. How cutbacks put people on the street where they died.
The inquest showed Corrie did not die from State neglect but from a drugs overdose. He came from a middle-class home and went to a fee-paying school before he fell into drugs.
His family bought him two houses and he sold them to feed his habit. He refused constant offers of help.
The Royal College of Surgeons found drug use among the homeless they surveyed was as high as 60 per cent and over half reported alcohol problems.
Those caught in the poverty trap and the housing crisis have complex needs, and short-term successes like HSH will ultimately not solve them.
But HSH deserve praise for their audacious voluntary effort. They’re the underdogs and have more support than most citizens can publicly demonstrate.
Let’s hope they occupy more sites and keep the pressure on Nama until the Dail finally demands a crackdown on this secret society operating at the heart of our State.
The world according to me: Dobbo's Dollop
AH yes, the Christmas holidays are upon us and we can look forward to a week of horrible news reviews on the television.
Back in February, the General Election wasn’t the election we needed, it was the shambles we deserved.
Fine Gael achieved the impossible by doing such a bad job of governing they made Fianna Fail popular again! Even Bertie might be coming back.
Meanwhile, for the 1916 centenary, Labour proved they’re still the party of James Connolly — by remorselessly pursuing water charges, and then campaigning with Fine Gael, thereby getting themselves wiped off the electoral map.
Still, it could be worse, they could be Sinn Fein, who, despite being up against three disgraced, unpopular, right-wing parties, still managed to miss out on getting into government.
Meanwhile, America — the greatest democracy in the world — held an election where Robot Hillary Clinton beat Clownface Donald Trump by three million votes.
But thanks to the omniclustershamblehames of American democracy . . . somehow The Donald still ended up in the White House.
The billionaire reality TV plutocrat was voted in by the poor and the middle class.
It proves that not only will turkeys vote for Christmas, they will even make the slaughterhouse foreman their god-king.
I’ve had enough of 2016. Turn off the news, hug your loved ones and tell them it’s almost over.Congratulations, you survived it all!
Now, go in peace to love and serve lots of wine, until you and your senses do part…
EirGrid shocker before Crimbo
HAPPY Christmas counties Monaghan, Cavan and Meath!
An Bord Pleanala has just approved 299 giant pylons to be built there as part of a North-South interconnector deal.
It follows years of campaigning against EirGrid’s plans for the construction.
One section will draw a line of pylons right down Monaghan’s entirety.
Nobody wants to live near pylons but we all want the lights to come on.
EirGrid could have opted to put most of them underground but that would have cost more and taken longer.
The electromagnetic fields around pylons have prompted claims that they cause illnesses, like childhood leukaemia.
EirGrid says there is no evidence but campaigners insist that legitimate fears should not be ignored simply because the problem has not yet been discovered.
EirGrid aims to up- grade the country’s network and a way to do that must be found. We live in a post-truth world and either side will believe what they want to.
Just like the Corrib Gas Pipeline and the Glen of the Downs road build protests, campaigners can delay projects but ultimately fail to stop them.
If there are genuine health defects they’ll only be known years later. Would it have hurt An Bord Pleanala to have kept this ‘merry’ news until after Christmas?
Our sad history proved a seller
FINALLY, some cheerful news after a really miserable year.
Tourism figures have shown Ireland had its best ever season with over nine million visits.
This means the Blarney Stone has been scored more times than an off-duty nurse.
And Temple Bar, top, has seen more vomit than an on-duty nurse.
The 1916 centenary proved to be a more spectacular draw than The Gathering in 2013.
Not least because of all that fiddle-playing and eyes being thrown up to Heaven as though President Michael D Higgins was speechifying again.
I’ve no doubt all those emotive 1916 videos were responsible for much of our positive advertising.
There is no grim, hopeless and depressing bit of Irish history that doesn’t sound so much better when told through a Liam Neeson voiceover.
Most of our visitors were from Great Britain. And that was probably just the ones applying for passports after Brexit.
Our Tourism Minister is Shane Ross, which is rather fitting. He sounds like a toff from London who’s permanently on holidays.
At least he’s probably helping to keep our restaurants busy.
The famous teetotaller makes up for what he loses us in not ordering pints with purchases of roast swan.