24 June 1999 Edition

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Tenants fight to stay put

By Michael Pierse

As areas throughout working-class Dublin are cleared to provide space for extensive private residential developments, four tenants in St Ultan's flat complex in the south inner city have taken a stand against the callous opportunism of property speculators.

Essie Keeling (76), who has lived in the Charlemont Street complex for the past 40 years, is a veteran of the struggle for tenants' rights. Speaking to An Phoblacht, she explained how the current landlord's attitude runs contrary to the ethos which led to the foundation of the St Ultan's development in the 1930s. Kathleen Lynn, a republican revolutionary of the 1916 Easter Rising had originally founded Teach Ultáin, the first infants' hospital in Europe, in 1934. St Ultan's apartments were constructed to provide accommodation for those of Dublin's poor who had been displaced from their tenements as a result of the hospital being built. However, the apartments were sold in the 1970s to private ownership, after which Rackman tactics were used to intimidate residents and a bitter eight-year rent strike ensued, in which the tenants were successful. Essie's struggle during this strike garnered her the lifetime lease now frustrating the powerful landlords and developers. Tom McFeely, the builder, whom she describes as a ``rough merchant'', has visited several times attempting to convince her to accept their alternative offer of accommodation. Speaking briefly and bluntly to An Phoblacht, McFeely's side of the story was encapsulated in the line: ``See yous ones, its none of your f***ing business''.

Karl Byrne, who lives next-door to Essie and is a valued neighbour and friend, says he is not prepared to join the homeless list to facilitate the demands of McFeely's business. ``You are not treated like a human being,'' he said of the services, or lack thereof, currently available for homeless people. He did although ``take it as a victory'' that the Corporation is now mooting more positive signs, although he finds it frustrating that many local authority residences in the area are left derelict or unoccupied for protracted periods of time.

What has been encouraging is the widespread support for the tenants' campaign. Residents in the adjacent Corporation-owned Charlemont Street complex have weighed in heavily behind their neighbours. Lorraine Paul, of the Charlemont Residents' Committee, said that this was a case of ``the community being robbed of more character'' and greedy profiteering at ``the expense of long-term residents''. South Inner City Sinn Féin representative Daithí Doolan attached a wider significance to the protest:

``Throughout Dublin, whole communities are being divested of their character while developers scramble for profit. What we need is a social conscience from developers and comprehensive constraints from the Corporation, ensuring that the community's welfare is at the heart of all future developments.''

A Sinn Féin motion urging the Corporation to purchase St Ultan's, was put forward by the party's four newly elected Councillors and passed unanimously at an inaugural meeting last Monday. Campaigners hope that St Ultan's can be restored to its former strength, and that other city dwellers will take courage from their stand.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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