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Strokestown opposition to eviction

"Justice" is class justice, class revenge

John McAnulty

4 August 2023

Defendants David Lawlor, Martin O'Toole, Paul Beirne and Patrick Sweeney.

Recently a group of men who overpowered security guards and recovered a repossessed home in Strokestown, Co Roscommon in December 2018 were sentenced for their role in the repossession.

Judge Martina Baxtler applied savage sentences. 59-year-old Martin O'Toole , 58-year-old Patrick Sweeney and 57-year-old Paul Beirne were convicted on 15 of the 17 charges they faced.

They were awarded 15 years each for the false imprisonment of one of the security guards and 14 years each for the false imprisonment of three other men.

A 13-year term was given for the count of aggravated burglary, with ten years in respect of the counts of violent disorder and arson.

This is what is known as "throwing the book" at defendants. Any law that could apply was applied to the maximum extent, dwarfing the tariff for many major violent crimes committed recently. The defendants will be old men if the sentences stand.

The judge let loose the full anger of Irelandís landlord class. The crimes were indescribably evil. Worse than that, there was a lack of remorse and no mitigation for the evil deeds.

Is this really the case?

The repossessed house was alone in the countryside and yet was occupied by a security squad. Why? The eviction by the bank was locally seen as unjust and the squad were to prevent the return of the victims. They would clearly use force to do this. Many of these security agencies use former British army members and loyalist paramilitaries to intimidate tenants. Any repossession group would need to counter this.

Immediately after the Strokestown case a "Sex for rent " scandal emerged. Young women were being offered low or zero rent if they had sex with the landlord. The Garda and courts say they are unable to act because legislation to deal with the issue has not yet been framed, despite being in the Dail legislative process for several years.

So, in the case of the Strokestown group, very many laws apply to their activity but the state and the courts can find nothing to apply to very obvious cases of sexual intimidation? What is this but class rule? Protection for the landlords and zero rights for tenants?

Handwringing by the state doesn't stop with sexual intimidation.

Latest figures from the Department of Housing show a total of 12,600 people were in emergency accommodation in June and a new record number of 1,804 families in emergency accommodation.

The numbers follow a government decision to end the no-fault eviction ban at the end of March. In the background the government has accumulated tens of billions in revenue because of the inflow of capital determined to benefit from the continued low tax regime.

Tánaiste Micheál Martin defended the lifting of the no-fault eviction ban. He said rising homelessness numbers were "not satisfactory", but that the answer to the problem was housing supply. If the eviction ban had remained in place as it would have affected the supply of properties for rent. The rental market needed "a degree of certainty and clarity into the future" and that he hoped this could be addressed in the Budget.

A Sinn Féin member recently posted an historic cartoon of a famine eviction, for which the party subsequently apologised. It showed the family and the bailiffs, with the Garda added on in support of the bailiffs. The image caused outrage, but it was perfectly typical of eviction scenes across the country. A new image would have to include the government, courts and justices to represent the ring of steel around landlordism in Ireland.

The Dublin government has billions in spare cash. It could provide a mass programme of public housing, but it will not. The function of housing policy is to provide local and foreign capital with a guaranteed income of over 4%. The ideology is of supply and demand, and with enough subsidy there will be housing for all. In reality a drop in the housing costs would mean less profit and a fall in capital investment.

The government has already held a pre-budget advisory group in July to consult with trade unions, employers, charities and NGOS. It plans to lock away a lot of income in a sovereign fund for future emergencies. What is spent will be in the nature of one off payments that will aid the government in the election but will not permanently change the conditions of the working class. The hint is of further cash for landlords in the hope that the private market will expand.

The overall problem is that the housing policy is a partnership issue. The government are spending billions, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions has signed up to the programme and the socialist groups talk about affordable housing rather than public housing.

In this context we defend the Strokestown activists. Their action took place in an environment where landlordism was supreme and tenant rights non-existent. However, we are critical of physical force movements. Force may be involved in opposition to this grinding oppression of tenants but force cannot substitute for winning over the working class, mobilising against the capitalists and challenging those collaborators within the working class.

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