What Apollo House tells us about Ireland

Bláithín Sheil explores the context behind Apollo house and what it says about Irish society

Illustration: Daniel Tatlow


“No, Apollo House is not enough. It is like putting a plaster on the wound, dealing with the symptom but not with the cause”

Moving into Apollo House was not an appropriate response to the housing crisis, said Owen Keegan, Chief Executive of Dublin City Council. Well then Owen, what would be an appropriate response? We could start with any sort of response. Anything at all. That would be a good start indeed.

He finds it difficult to comprehend that an organised group of civil disobedients would feel the need to house people in sub-standard accommodation, when there are apparently enough beds in proper shelters. This is highly ironic because the problem stems directly from bad administration, and contrary to his statement, there are still hundreds of homeless people.

Perhaps the action is being taken because there are in fact not enough beds around, and perhaps this action is part of a larger expression of public discontent at the general situation. There should not be a need for such significant emergency accomodation, I wonder why this is happening, then? Eirigí, Home Sweet Home, and this movement in general is about more than housing 40 people until the 11th of January.

This problem has gone on for so long; every Christmas the usual videos and articles about helping the homeless come out. The fact that this is expected and anticipated shows how dire the situation actually is. It is unfair to accuse people who have celebrity status of being opportunists. Owen Keegan stated in an interview to Pat Kenny on Newstalk that “Irish people are suckers for celebrity endorsement”. So what if they are? So what if they look good by helping? Surely the results achieved in gaining the full attention of the media and actually housing some people, albeit for a short period of time, outweigh the potential selfish interests they may or may not have in gaining good publicity? The pre-existing public campaign has expanded as a result of the occupation of Apollo House.

It seems these days nobody can do anything charitable out of the goodness of their heart without automatically being pinned as being in it for themselves. Society is so individualistic that even public officers can’t see beyond their own noses and realise that not everybody is as selfish as they may be. Individualism is promoted so much that we are now sceptical of altruism, we automatically assume that everyone is in it for themselves, to the point where good acts are criticised. When did we start thinking like this?

We are individualistic because of life’s current options: get rich or get lost. The alternative is sleeping on the street, paying huge rent for a mediocre house, paying social security but getting nothing in return from the health system. Anyone with a few quid to their name has private health insurance, even if just the most basic level. There is no other option.

The greed baffles me. For others, this is not a surprise, but a sign of late-stage capitalism. I hear of some people offering accommodation at a modest rent rather than outrageous prices for little flats of 10 people. One person can see the bigger picture and give a student a reasonable place to stay so that she doesn’t have to commute from Gorey, Wexford to UCD on a daily basis. Meanwhile others think putting eight people in a 3 bed house with one bathroom is acceptable.

The homeless population now consists of working people and families; people who had good jobs, who are capable of budgeting and paying monthly rent, who have everything going for them in life. The homeless are just those who struggled a bit too much.

Ireland used to be the place where migrants came searching for a better life. In the celtic tiger we had a huge influx of Eastern European immigrants. Now even they are leaving. A head chef in a reputable restaurant in Howth, on a good salary — educated, skilled, running a business and managing budgets —  cannot afford the rent in North County Dublin, so he is going back to the Czech Republic. The greener pastures were actually barren. This makes me sad. But it also puts the fear of God in me. I had better choose quickly what way to go. I would like to buy a house close to my parents and brothers, beside the sea with a park for my children. Can I do this if I don’t sell out and get rich? What happened to living a modest and comfortable life?

“It is very rich for State officials to criticise public action in an area that is a consequence of, among many things, bad administration”

In recent years the working class used to be able to make it work. Now they can’t. The working class are now pushed into poverty by a once again spiralling rental market that not even qualified chefs can afford. Students who in most cases come from families able to support them, who previously knew not what economic struggle was, are paying 700 euro a month for a mediocre and small flat.

On the one hand we see the benefits of developing Dublin City Centre as a centre for international companies, given that it employs so many of our people and attracts more investment. But the purposeful reshaping of the city with high-end luxury accommodation and office spaces pushes rent prices up and creates a safe space for towers of money. Housing has been relegated to lower priority status.

No, Apollo House is not enough. It is like putting a plaster on the wound, dealing with the symptom but not with the cause. We need to see the bigger picture. But what is being done about it, and why is it taking organised acts of civil disobedience to give some people a shelter? I thought we had moved past the days of minority groups taking extreme measures to be heard; I thought democracy and elections and equal rights and morality meant that we now have other pathways to be heard. Obviously not.

It is very rich for State officials to criticise public action in an area that is a consequence of, among many things, bad administration. At the very least they should acknowledge that there is an issue here, and feed us the usual lines that they are “seeking to resolve the issue as soon as possible”.

We should be outraged that people are living in an abandoned office with no heating. Apollo House is not a cause for celebration — it is a last resort. This is late stage capitalism, and it is only going to get worse. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. It is no surprise that so many sell out and go corporate, despite having more moral views on the world. If you don’t look after yourself, the alternative is so much worse.

Bláithín Sheil

Bláithín Sheil is a final year Law and French student. After a year abroad in Strasbourg, she feels more French than Irish. Loves to run. She is the Deputy Comment Editor of Trinity News.