Sunnyvale residents vow to “rebuild” after attempted eviction

What happened on Prussia Street earlier this week, and why

In the early hours of Wednesday morning (October 27), a number of private security personnel entered 23 Prussia Street in Stoneybatter and forcibly removed the building’s occupants. The property was ransacked; the toilet, shower and other appliances were smashed, people’s personal belongings and bedding were covered with engine oil, the roof was sawed through, and the caravans in the yard at the back of the building had their windows smashed in. Pictures of the damage were posted on social media.

23 Prussia Street had, up until this year, lain vacant for a number of years. For the past three months, it has served as a home to a number of people who transformed the large yard next to the property into a community centre. That Social Centre, also known as Sunnyvale, used the space to run bike fixing workshops as well as folk gigs and a community garden. A statement on Sunnyvale’s Twitter from September 18 read: “We have occupied an empty corner of Stoneybatter. Houses, warehouses, caravans, buddleia, and wide open space. What more could you want? It’s time once again to take a space that has been left to rot by profiteers, and turn it into a place of energy, community and resistance!”

The statement continued to say: “We want to make the space as open as possible. And would like to encourage its use by groups working towards radical change, members of the local community, and projects that have a social function.”

The same social media page alerted followers to the eviction which took place in the early hours of October 27. “Illegal eviction taking place in Sunnyvale. People beaten up, heavies inside. Need as many people as possible to put pressure on them,” the post read. Later in the day, the Sunnyvale page asked supporters to attend a rally at 6pm, which coincided with the occupants re-entering the property.

The demonstration was attended by over one hundred people on Wednesday evening, despite the torrential rain. A sound system set up in the property played Boys on the Dole by TPM, and Kneecap’s Get Your Brits Out to the street amidst chants of “homes for people, not for profit” and “all Gards are bastards”.

By the time the occupants reclaimed the property, Garda presence was minimal. However, during the eviction there was heavy police presence, including dozens of officers, several vehicles and a helicopter. Garda activity came under scrutiny and criticism for their role in facilitating the eviction, and the heavy-handed way in which they attempted to disperse Sunnyvale occupants and protestors. Gardaí were captured on video bodily shoving people who stood in the way of the evictors’ vans, while private security personnel wielded weapons such as baseball bats while throwing occupants out of the building, destroying their personal belongings and vandalising the property.

During the eviction, Community Action Tenants Union (CATU) Fairview-Marino-Clontarf branch reported on the events via social media. “A barrage of bricks being thrown and multiple ladders mounted on the building, the remaining occupant has been dragged off the roof, almost killed in the process. Guards standing by doing nothing,” one tweet read. The page also alleged that private security personnel responsible for the destruction of the property and eviction of the residents “don’t carry ID” and “broke in before the sun came up and made sure no one could see the van they arrived in.”

CATU Stoneybatter-Grangegorman issued a statement which read: “The centre, which was previously empty and derelict…provided community services such as gardening and bike workshops…Most importantly, it was used as housing by several occupants who are now homeless. The developers of the centre have lodged planning permission for 160 build-to-let apartments (previously planning permission was for coliving units).”

The statement continued to say “In a city full of unaffordable properties, with 8000+ homeless people and 60,000+ people on the housing list, it should be clear by now that private developer led build-to-rent and co-living units are not a sustainable solution to the housing crisis that we are experiencing.”

The developers in question, McGrath Group Properties, according to their website, aim to “create high quality sustainable buildings that people love to live/work/play in. We believe our developments not only improve the lives of the occupiers but also the receiving communities and wider environment.” McGrath Group claims it is currently in the “advanced planning stages” for 170 build-to-rent apartments in Prussia Street, which is adjoined to Grangegorman DIT College facilities. The firm also operates in England and Germany.

The Ditch reported that PJ McGrath, the Group’s managing director and one of the three members of the family involved in the company, avoided prison time in 1996 after he defrauded the ESB out of £40,000. During the case he received a character witness from Garda Sergeant Pauline Gallagher. McGrath is also a Fianna Fáil donor.

The company has a history of issues with the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB), as recently as April of this year. In September of last year, the developer appeared before the RTB, and was found to have misled tenants into believing they were not in a rent pressure zone and overcharging them by €690 per month. The McGrath Group was then ordered to pay the tenants back the €11,000 they had been unlawfully charged over a period of 16 months. The developer was also found by the RTB to have illegally evicted tenants on six occasions, spanning from 2017 to April of this year. The Business Post reported that the company recorded just under €5 million in profit in their most recent accounts.

Following the eviction on October 27, the McGrath Group released a statement which included a number of claims about the events in question which appeared to be directly contradicted by images and video posted on social media. The statement also took time to mention that the occupants of the building “all” had “foreign accents”. Trinity News contacted the company but had not received a response at time of publication.

A joint statement from CATU and Sunnyvale residents after the fact gave their account of the eviction. “Ten to thirteen men entered the premises on Wednesday morning. Electricity was turned off and residents were dragged from their beds out of the property. Members of An Garda Siochana watched on as the heavies demolished the inside of the centre.” The statement continued to say that police “assisted the private security by allowing them to access and exit property and by removing peaceful protestors from the front of the building so that the window shutter could be pulled down, blocking the action of the heavies from the public.” Videos posted online showed attending officers shoving protestors out of the way.

A statement from a first-hand witness said “The residents consisted of young trans people in their early twenties and migrant people sleeping in mobile homes and vans…When I arrived at the scene at 7.30am I saw one of the residents with blood pouring down his forehead, and a woman dragged from her bed who was unable to see out of one of her eyes. Within minutes of my arrival, the armed thugs charged at the small group gathering outside to support, beating people with hurls and bats and punching people. A man twice my size and age punched me in the head multiple times before I even had a chance to comprehend what was happening.” The witness then called Bridewell Garda station, which sent officers, who then “spoke to armed thugs who claimed to have a High Court order to secure the property.”

Other witnesses said that, at its peak, the Garda presence at the eviction included as many as seven road vehicles and a helicopter. Trinity News contacted the Garda Press Office to ask about the rationale for such a large police presence and for the physical force used by officers against protestors. The Office said: “the incident was responded to in accordance with our stated policy,” but did not give specific answers to those questions, or to requests to substantiate some of the claims made in the McGrath Group statement.

Following the events inside the property, witnesses said that “[private security] fled over the back of the site. At this point people re-occupied the roof of 23 Prussia Street while the community gathered outside to support…The property was taken back by the community and Gardaí began to leave the scene.”

A recent post from the Sunnyvale centre’s social media reads that one occupant was “badly beaten,” and “recovering from a bad head injury, and injuries to his knee which now make it hard for him to walk and impossible to drive. He is unable to go to work due to his injuries, which is causing him great distress.” The Garda Press Office said that “no arrests were made at the scene, and there was [sic] no reports of any injuries.”

A case reference from An Bord Pleanala relating to the site, lodged on 14 May asked for the “demolition of existing structures onsite including No. 23” and the construction of 166 build-to-rent apartments. As of July 26, the decision “requires further consideration/amendment.” Numbers 24 and 25 Prussia Street, but not 23, are on the Derelict Registry, which means Dublin City Council can charge owners a 7% tax.

Sunnyvale is hosting a clean-up and “rebuild” session tomorrow, October 31, and activists have appealed for assistance from supporters, as well as for donations which will go towards refurbishing the property and replacing occupants’ belongings.

Grace Gageby

Grace Gageby is the current Assistant Editor of Trinity News. She studies English and Philosophy and was previously Deputy Comment Editor.