The government housing policy is a policy of terror
The central point about the attack by Garda and paramilitary thugs on the occupiers of North Frederick Street is that it was deliberate strategy organised at the highest levels of government.
There was absolutely no indication by the occupiers that they would offer any kind of violence so the show of force, the balaclavas, the threats to local residents and the physical attacks on some of the protesters were meant to terrorise and intimidate.
If there was any doubt, the response of the state was to double down in defence of repression. The new Garda Commissioner ignored complaints that the Garda were hiding their identity and arrogantly claimed that the only fault was one of dress code. The guards should have worn helmets as well in order to be even more intimidating. This brings to mind the response of the Commissioner's former force, the RUC, who, in the face of the first civil rights demonstrations, removed their identifying badges so that they would be free to assault the demonstrators. A timid complaint from the Irish Council for Civil Liberties asking that the guards pay more attention to human rights in their activities was contemptuously brushed aside with claims that the Garda were already up to date on rights. Government spokespeople denounced the demonstrators, dismissed complaints and suggested that anyone photographing the guards should be found guilty of a criminal offence - effectively offering carte blanche to the guards to offer further intimidation.
The reason for the uptick in government repression is not far to find. It has come before the announcement of their new housing policy, a Land Development Agency that will take over public land and work with developers on a long-term housing plan. The threadbare attempts to disguise this plan have proved to be failures. It is in fact a massive land grab, the linchpin of a new decade of austerity. In the first austerity decade the workers paid for the crisis through wage cuts (on average workers lost 10% of their wages and these have never been made up), new taxes and the decline of public services so the living standards of the poor fell sharply. This process took place alongside the National Asset Management Agency (NAMA) that took land and property paid for by the workers through public funds in order to save the banks and bondholders and then sold off those assets in a fire sale aimed at the vulture funds and accompanied by endless corruption and bribery. Now we face a second decade of austerity and a new agency is to strip down public land and sell it off in what is essentially a mass privatisation. In case anyone is in any doubt we see a leading figure in NAMA, John Coleman, appointed leader of the new land development agency. At the same time other leading NAMA figures are moving to private developers to help them benefit from the new money fountain. The idea that this will solve the housing crisis is simply laughable. The only thing that developers will bring to the new land agency is capital and as a result every house that is built will be produced at the market rate, a market grossly inflated by the government desire to facilitate vulture capital. All the blather about social housing and affordable housing is meant to disguise what is essentially a giant land grab.
So more blood will be squeezed from the same stone and rents and mortgages will continue to rise as local landlordism and vulture capitalism combine to feed at the trough. The icing on the cake will be further mass privatisations - the most obvious being the mass privatisation of transport which is occurring before our eyes.
This global assault requires a complete rethink by activists and housing campaigners. Anyone who believes that the mass lobbying campaigns of the past, designed to change government policy, or interventions around motions in the Dail today will head off this offensive are living in a dream world.
As a first step spokespeople must stop making half-hearted defences of "Take Over the City". The tactic of occupation must be one of the first steps in any campaign. It is the first line of defence against eviction and these will be occurring at an increasing rate as landlords cash in on rising property prices and those on distressed mortgages find themselves facing the forces of monopoly capital.
We should end all talk of affordable housing. Grandiose housing schemes involving costing, funding and the juggling of government books within the narrow space left by European central bank rules and by payments of the sovereign debt are simply providing a left mirror of existing government policy and allowing the government to justify the mass sell-off of land.
Campaigners must unite around a simple program and the main item on the banner should be; "no evictions". We must stop muttering about the right to protest and unite to fully support occupation. We should sign up in defence of Take Back the City and its tactics. We should mobilise in thousands to assert that right and participate in mass defence of occupied properties. The government has gone on the warpath. The first step in defence is to unite as housing campaigners, political parties, trade union and community groups to assert that defence.
We are all aware, for example, that it is common practice for Dublin City Council to use fire inspections to declare properties unfit and then to stand aside as the speculators empty the property. The same fire regulations could be used to seize the property, carry out repairs, fine the owner and enforce regulations on rent freezes and on the prevention of eviction before ownership is returned. The long-standing capitulation of government and local authorities to the interests of capital and property speculators is well known. We should demand that they change direction and if they are unable or unwilling then we should organise to take action ourselves.
Housing organiser Father Peter McVerry endorses the occupations and fully defend the activists under attack. The housing crisis can leave people on the street, trapped in emergency accommodation, terrified of eviction and living lives of quiet desperation for fear the roof over their heads will be taken from them.
He warns the government that if they do not come up with a solution mass occupations will take place across the land. Those statements make Peter McVerry a genuine radical, far to the left of many posturing on the housing issue.
The time is now for a new conference of housing activists, for a new plan for a unified national housing campaign, for an action plan to enforce housing for all.