Sinn Féin spokesperson for Housing Eoin Ó Broin was on the receiving end of an establishment backlash last weekend after he tweeted out an artist’s impression of Gardaí overseeing an eviction. Eoghan Ó Ceannabháin explains how this is part of a larger effort to discipline Sinn Féin and soften their politics, at a time when we need to do the opposite.
The furore over Eoin Ó Broin tweeting out an artist’s depiction of Gardaí overseeing an eviction is the latest manifestation of the widespread panic in the establishment about the prospect of a Sinn Féin-led Government. The fact that the images were based on real images of Gardaí overseeing evictions is apparently irrelevant. Drawing the comparison between famine-time evictions and the modern day is being portrayed as a gross insult to the Gardaí and has provoked feelings of “very real disgust” among the great and the good in our society.
The disgust, of course, arises not from the thought of people losing their homes, but from the unseemly way in which the artist drew attention to the role of the Gardaí in all of this. Indeed, many of those who were up in arms – the likes of Simon Harris, Neale Richmond, Alan Farrell, Regina Doherty and Aodhán Ó Ríordáin – are, or have been, part of Governments that have created the current housing disaster.
Yes, the Gardaí Oversee Evictions
The fact that the Gardaí oversee evictions – assist them, even – will not be news to anyone who knows anything about how evictions have been carried out in the recent past. Mála Spíosraí’s piece is based partly on the North Frederick Street eviction of Take Back the City activists in 2018. The Public Order unit, wearing balaclavas, violently guarded the property from protesters while a private security team entered the building by force to forcibly drag out the activists.
Those who were offended by Ó Broin’s tweet showed little outrage over Frederick Street. Nor was there an outcry when a Garda told tenants who were being illegally evicted in Phibsborough in 2020, “It’s not my responsibility if you’re homeless”. It appeared to be their responsibility, however, to ensure the smooth passing of that illegal eviction.
Disciplining Sinn Féin
There is a point to all of this moral outrage: to discipline Sinn Féin and ensure they are sufficiently tamed before they take power. Issues like this become a mini-battleground in how we view the state and its role in protecting the interests of private property and the wealthy. The pearl-clutching goes into overdrive in an effort to get them to back down, or at the very least, to paint them as an “extreme” or “dangerous” party. All the better that they have the spineless sycophants in the Labour Party on hand as the “sensible opposition” to call for an apology.
It’s not the first time Eoin Ó Broin has been on the receiving end of these kinds of attacks. Last October he came under fire for saying the chief economist in the Department of Finance ought to be sacked. Any left-winger familiar with John McCarthy’s neoliberal outlook shouldn’t bat an eyelid about this kind of statement. But of course, this was a Sinn Féin TD going after the sacred cow of the supposedly neutral state. After a media barrage, Ó Broin unfortunately apologised.
Softening Their Stance?
There is undoubtedly a tension between Sinn Féin’s talk about taking decisive action on housing and the cost of living crisis, and their moves to present themselves as a safe pair of hands to the establishment. Various reassurances have been made that multinationals have “nothing to fear” from Sinn Féin, or that Sinn Féin “won’t go after” big business. The softening of their stance on the Special Criminal Court is part of a signal to the establishment that Sinn Féin will not rock the boat too much. Sinn Féin also responded to recent news that their finance director illegally converted an office into a “wholly substandard” apartment by saying this was “entirely a private matter for him”. This should be a worrying sign for anyone who expects radical action from Sinn Féin on the housing crisis.
On the other hand, Sinn Féin have been involved in building the Cost of Living Coalition and supported the “Evict This Government” protest last weekend. For his part, Eoin Ó Broin has this time stuck to his guns and refused to apologise for tweeting the image of the Gardaí overseeing an eviction. And while he couched his stance by saying he was opposing Government policy and not the Gardaí (we should do both), he was right not to back down and apologise.
The Challenge Ahead
We are facing a massive wave of evictions over the coming weeks and months. These will be resisted by tenants, communities and organisations like CATU and People Before Profit. Among the people resisting evictions and taking the fight to this Government will also be Sinn Féin activists, many of whom have long played a decent role in the fight for housing.
If the attack on Ó Broin’s tweet with a piece of art about evictions was bad, it’s nothing to what we’ll see when the evictions actually begin to ramp up and people begin resisting them.
And when it comes to it – to hell with the pearl clutching of Fine Gaelers and the “sensible”, parliamentary opposition of the Labour Party. People have a right to resist being made homeless. People should absolutely shout about who is causing this: The Government that makes the laws; the landlords that evict people; the bailiffs that throw people out of their homes; and the Gardaí that back them up under the guise of “keeping the peace”.
People should be ready to overhold and keep paying their rent instead of going into homelessness. We should be ready to organise support networks around those facing eviction. If people overhold, they cannot legally be removed from their homes without a court injunction. Nevertheless, we have also seen illegal evictions happen, and we must be ready to mobilise communities and oppose these wherever they happen.
It would also be a major boost in confidence for people facing evictions if the Sinn Féin leadership came out and advised people about how to go about overholding instead of being made homeless, as People Before Profit have done. The discipline we need now is not the kind of parliamentary discipline the establishment wants to impose on Sinn Féin, but rather a total commitment to organise and fight for one another.
It’s time to take the fight to this Government. And to hell with the decorum.