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Dublin Apollo House homeless occupiers can stay at Nama-owned building until after Christmas, court rules

By Tim Healy

Occupants of Apollo House can spend Christmas there but have to leave by noon on January 11 next, the Irish High Court has ruled.

The building, located on Tara Street and Townsend Street in Dublin, was taken over last week by activists under the "Home Sweet Home Coalition" and offered as accommodation to the homeless.

On Wednesday, Mr Justice Paul Gilligan granted Tom O'Brien and Simon Coyle of Mazars, who were appointed joint receivers over the building by Nama related company Nalm Ltd, to vacate the property.

The judge noted arguments made on behalf of the coalition, including a sworn statement from Fr Peter McVerry, about the current homeless crisis.

He put a stay on the order to vacate till 12 noon on January 11.

The stay is on terms including that no more than 40 people homeless people stay there per night.

Other requirements of the stay include that access to the building is provided to the receivers and that the occupiers co-operate with the receiver's requests.

In particular, there is to be co-operation between the parties over the building's electricity supply.

The injunctions are to remain in place until the full hearing of the action.

The judge, addressing a packed courtroom, said the "law was clear" in regards to an ongoing trespass.

Lawyers representing four of the activists had sought a six month stay on the order.

However the receiver's lawyers said they favoured a stay measured in days rather than weeks.

Opposing the application Ross Maguire SC,  told the court he was represented four occupiers including musician Glen Hansard, trade unionist Brendan Ogle and activists Aisling Hedderman and Carrie Hennessy who are members of the Irish Housing Network group.

Counsel urged the court to use its discretion and not grant the orders sought, because It would put the 40 homeless people who have been staying in the building back on the streets.

Counsel said claims advanced by the receivers that there is sufficient and suitable accommodation available for homeless people in Dublin City area were disputed by his clients.

Counsel added that as the property was in effect owned by Nama, the Minister for Finance would also be contacted about making some of Nama's property portfolio available for the homeless.

He also said he could not agree with Dublin City Council's assertion that there are sufficient beds available to all residents of Apollo House should it have to close.

In a sworn statement, Aisling Hedderman said the coalition had taken steps to ensure that the building was safe, was being well run and security was being provided a professional firm.

She rejected claims Apollo House was unsuitable for use as accommodation for the homeless.

In his sworn statement, Mr Hansard said and the campaign has the support of entertainment and sporting stars including Jim Sheridan, Andrew Hozier, Kodaline, Saoirse Ronan, John Connors, Christy Moore, Mundy, Damien Dempsey, Lisa Hannigan, Rubberbandits, Liam O Maonlai, Peardar O Riorda, Frances Black, Maverick Sabvre and Philly McMahon.

Rossa Fanning SC, for the receivers, said the application was not about putting people on the street at Christmas or at any other time. They said they had "no choice" other than to take proceedings over the occupation.

The receivers he said are sympathetic to the plight of the homeless but the occupation of the 10 story former office building was illegal and a form of "political protest."

There were also several serious health and safety risks that made the building unsuitable for use as a shelter.

The joint receivers were appointed over the property by Nalm Ltd. It acquired loans advanced by Anglo Irish Bank to the building's owners Cuprum Properties Ltd who had defaulted on borrowing of approximately €357,000,000.

The building forms part of a block due for re-development.

The receivers want to sell the property in order to deliver the best possible return for the taxpayer.

The Receivers to Apollo House welcomed today’s High Court decision and reiterate their commitment to meet and work with representatives of Home Sweet Home so that an orderly vacation of the building can be achieved by January 11.

In a statement the receivers to Apollo House said they "welcomed" the High Court decision.

"We wish to emphasise that these proceedings were never about the eviction of the people currently in Apollo House but were brought in order to address the serious legal and safety issues arising from the present situation.

"We remain very concerned for the health and safety of those occupying Apollo House and are hopeful that Home Sweet Home will work with us to meet the directions of the Court which, in turn, will allow us to work with insurers to try to put in place the necessary insurance to cover the period up to the 11th of January.

"We do not want to see any homeless person currently in Apollo House put out on the streets and since this occupation began we have been actively working to identify a longer term solution for their situation.

"As Dublin City Council told the court today, there is more suitable accommodation available in Dublin City Centre that can provide long term care and support to those seeking shelter. We will continue to work with Home Sweet Home, Dublin City Council and homeless agencies over the next three weeks to assist homeless people in Apollo House move to more appropriate accommodation.  This will ensure they also get the continuous professional care and supports required.

"We hope that Home Sweet Home will work with us and co-operate with Dublin City Council and the other homeless agencies to achieve this."

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