AN ACCOUNT OF PROPERTY “DEVELOPMENT” AND RESISTANCE WHICH MAY ILLUMINATE THE DISCUSSION AROUND MOORE STREET, DUBLIN
Currently, a property speculator, Chartered Land, wants to build a new shopping mall in Dublin’s city centre. The plan envisages construction from O’Connell Street (including site of the old Carlton Cinema) through to Moore St and the demolition of a number of houses in the parade in Moore Street. How Chartered Land saw off another developer with a much more modest plan, acquired a number of surrounding sites and came to a privileged arrangement with Dublin City Council has been the subject as far back as 2012 of a TV documentary by an investigative programme of TG4 Iniúchadh Oidhreacht na Cásca https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cx0Kah7dE80#t=469.
Campaigners have been resisting Chartered Land’s plan from a number of viewpoints: historical (conservation of a 1916 Rising battleground and last HQ of the Rising); architectural conservation; defending small businesses and traditional street market; opposition to yet another mall and thoughtless planning. The latest move was the expulsion by Chartered Land of the successful small business Paris Bakery, occupying two of the houses which the campaigners wish to save.
A campaign fought in a town on the eastern outskirts of London has, I believe, some lessons for people resisting Chartered Land and other property speculators. In 1968 in the outer London borough of Redbridge, the Ilford Town Council had a plan for a ring road and car parks which required the demolition of many houses. Whatever financial benefits were to be accrued from the plan and to whomsoever they would be going is not known to me but one would assume there were some from the events to be outlined. While they were applying for approval to the Dept. of the Environment AND BEFORE THEY RECEIVED APPROVAL, the Council served compulsory purchase orders on the houses in question and then forced the occupants to leave. The two-storey houses with gardens stood empty.
The Ilford Squatters’ Association, a broad group of different political parties and groups and independents, occupied some of the houses and moved homeless families into them (some of the families and some of the helpers, by the way, were Irish, including from Dublin). The campaign’s position was that they were against the “development” plan but that in any case, even if it went ahead, homeless families could and should be accommodated in houses in the meantime.
The council went to civil court and sought eviction orders which, at that time, had to name the individuals and the property in question. When the orders were granted, the squatters swapped the families at the address and moved the named one to another address.
Then the Council started vandalising the houses still empty, ripping out the stairs, smashing sinks and toilets and knocking holes through walls, ripping up floorboards. The Squatters had many volunteers and some of them had building experience; they repaired/ replaced toilets and sinks, rebuilt stairs and relaid floor boards.
The Council hired a firm of private detectives (i.e. thugs, some of them with National Front badges), and attacked two houses in what amounted to an illegal eviction. In one of them they smashed the jaw of a helper in two places and threw a child with scarlet fever out of her bed on to the floor in a bid to get the family to leave. The police stood by until a doctor arrived at a rush and said the child could not be moved; only then did the police ask the bailiffs to leave.
In another house, the bailiffs came through the street door with a battering ram to discover, as they fell through the joists, that in this house, the floorboards had not been replaced. A medieval-type battle then took place as they tried to climb up ladders on the outside and on the inside too (for the stairs had not been replaced either). Frustrated and battered, they then set fire to the ground floor. At this point, the police had to intervene, as the houses on each side were occupied (a Salvation Army officer on one side and a GP on the other). The bailiffs left and the Fire Brigade arrived to put out the fire.
Eventually the Council did some kind of a deal with the leadership of the Squatters’ Association and with a few remaining families and the campaign was over. By that time numerous helpers had been to civil and criminal courts and to jail on remand and some had accumulated “criminal” convictions. But the ring road was not approved for years afterwards (perhaps never) and nor was the car park.
There are two lessons from the account above, I think, for Moore St. campaigners:
1) Property speculators (“developers”) will do ANYTHING THEY CAN GET AWAY WITH to pursue their objectives
2) They will try and present the regulators with a fait accomplit, that is an accomplished fact. In the Moore St case, that means letting the named national monument buildings go to rack and ruin (as they did before) and getting rid of successful small businesses (as with Paris Bakery) and by making an ugly eyesore of Moore St. (derelict buildings, boarded up businesses, hoardings …) in the hope that opposition will crumble and people will be glad of any change to the area.
The resistance in Moore Street should continue to be holistic and every threatened part and interest should support the others.