The hidden history of squatting in Ireland (1976-1996)

TWENTY YEARS ago Dublin Corporation was forced to give tenancies of hundreds of squatters. Those people got themselves housed, not by pleading with politicians, but through direct action. Alan MacSimoin, who was one of the organisers of Dublin Squatters Association, remembers how they did it.

In 1976 there were several hundred families squatting in local authority flats in the Corporation area. Waiting lists were long and increasing numbers were housing themselves in flats which had become vacant or were due for rehabilitation work.

Evictions were common, with most being put out within a few months of squatting. Nobody was jailed or even prosecuted under the Forcible Entry and Occupation Act as this would have been politically embarrassing for local councillors. In the private sector, however, there had been jailings. So what usually happened was that after being evicted families would squat another flat. And this process would repeat itself again and again.

The Williams family in Dolphin House, a large south inner city complex, were served with an eviction order. The offer made by the Housing Department was the Legion of Mary hostel for the wife and child, nothing for the husband. They decided to resist.

An information picket was held outside the local rent office and we also went door-to-door in Dolphin House, where there are 400 flats, asking people to help. On the morning of the eviction we went around with a megaphone asking the locals to stand with the Williams family. By the time the sheriff, his bailiffs and the cops turned up we had 400 locals blocking the landing, stairwell and courtyard. It was amazing.

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