Barricade Inn - Trials and Tribulations

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Two weeks ago, at the judge’s discretion, the high court issued an injunction to make the occupation of the Barricade Inn illegal, coming into effect from tomorrow. It seems this may bring an end to one of the most ambitious projects the anarchist squatter movement has yet attempted. A radical, anti-capitalist social centre in the heart of Dublin, open to the public and right next to one of the city's main thoroughfares. A valuable resource for activists to organise and engage with the public. A focal point for outreach, with the hope of spreading the dreams and ideals of anarchism that were its inspiration.

A cold but dry March night in 2015 was the first night we spent in the building. This was also our first chance to explore it properly. Along with chest-high piles of debris and rubble, a few rodent corpses, and at least a decade's worth of dust, the place was also very obviously full of potential. Many of the rooms were pretty much functionally self-selecting, so suited were they to some of the projects we wanted to run.

There was the front room, which had been a bar when the building was Neary’s hotel, well suited to operate as a cafe; a room at the back with a large floor area and a stage, which would make a good gig space; a bare concrete-floored room that seemed almost to be crying out to be turned into an indoor bike workshop; and the central room that connected them all would be perfect for the Bad Books library and general hang out space. The rooms on the first floor were less obvious but they eventually resolved themselves into a computer lab, a free shop, an arts and crafts room, a meeting room, and the multi-function ballroom - which, along with being another socialising space and smoking area, served as a cinema, a larger meeting space, and a rehearsal and performance space.

A huge amount of work was needed before the space could function as a working social centre, and it began in earnest over the next few days. Rubble and rubbish was removed or hauled down to the basement, walls and floors were scrubbed and cleaned and painted, furniture and equipment was moved in, and a couple of structural problems were taken care of. The progress was pretty amazing considering the amount of effort needed, thankfully there were a lot of people willing to help, and workdays were well attended.

Before long we were ready to start hosting gigs and other events, and within another few weeks, with our online presence pretty well established, we felt secure and ready enough to begin opening to the public three times a week. With our Barricade Inn sandwich board pointing the way in we stood at the door handing out fliers to passers-by with some info about the space, often accompanied outside by friends playing music, juggling, dancing, hula-hooping, or sometimes having tea over a game of chess, we definitely made ourselves noticeable and began attracting people into the space.

Lots of people wanted to get involved helping out and hanging out, and the Barricade Inn became a hive of activity. People were coming to sit and read books, chat, or listen to music, perhaps over a tasty vegan meal, the bike workshop was running every Wednesday, the kitchen crew were putting on the vegan cafe once or twice a week, WSM and housing action organisations and other groups began having meetings and talks, other regular events were yoga, capoeira, language and dance classes; experimental music workshops; chess club; game nights; skill shares; political talks and discussions; banner making and screen printing sessions; and squatter info evenings. We also had lots of music, poetry, spoken word, and comedy gigs; and dramatic rehearsals and performances; quiz nights; and I feel sure there were other events I’m forgetting about. And everything was free, donations of course always being welcome, towards running costs or for fund-raisers.

It was a lot of work and at times very stressful, but we had created something we thought was important and successful. Lots of people expressed respect and admiration for what we were doing, and some healthy criticism, which was also important for surely no social project can thrive without critical feedback. Here was a city centre venue where people could go to be entertained, or participate in something fun and/or educational, or just hang out and drink tea and chats, without being expected to fork over money just to be there. There were even clothes, shoes and other random bits and pieces for free. This was an important aspect of our challenge to the capitalist mode of operating social spaces, almost everywhere else you can socialise in the city you are expected to pay for the privilege. Even in Seomra Spraoi - the Barricade Inn’s ideological predecessor - we hadn’t been able to be that free, since rent had to be paid each month.

As well as being a social centre the Barricade Inn was also a residence. Somewhere around 30 people have called it home, or at least a temporary dwelling, since its inception. This was another important part of the Barricade Inn’s, and the wider squatting movement’s, challenge to capitalism. Why should habitable buildings be left empty and decaying in a city (and indeed country) suffering a severe homeless crisis? With thousands homeless, tens of thousands more in acute danger of being so, and homes being repossessed at a rate of about 60 per week, the government’s response has been far less than tepid. In Dublin in 2013, they constructed just 29 homes for social housing purposes, and their main strategy appears to be building prefabs!

Squatting is by its nature temporary and, though some of us held the mad hope that we could make it a really long term project, the more experienced squatters seemed confident that the court proceedings that were surely forthcoming would not go in our favour, despite the complexity of the ownership/title claim. The stress and strain of running such an active social space, and (for the residents) living there as well, had already begun to take its toll on our collective of Barricadians, at times seeming to threaten the life of the project, but receiving the court papers informing us of the intention to seek an injunction seemed very much like the first note of the death knell.

Fearing the possibility of a short- or no-notice eviction we began moving some of the more important items out of the Barricade Inn, in particular the bike workshop equipment, the books and zines, and the kitchen equipment. This was so much of what made the space social and useful so that it almost immediately ceased being capable of being run as a social centre. Added to this fact was that it was now so bare, where once there had been so much. It instantly made the building a less enlivening and more depressing place to be. What had once seemed, in the best of times, to almost be a shimmering glimpse of what an anarchist utopia might be like, now seemed to be heading back to being the near-dystopia that had greeted us upon entering the building. Except now the hope and promise of potential was all but drained.

We knew from very early on that the ownership situation was complicated: the previous owner, Ellen McGuill, had passed away back in 2002. Her will was to leave her entire estate to the Catholic Bishop of Argyll & the Isles, in Scotland, however this will was never executed. The lawyers were supposed to be doing that but with no living relatives apparent there was no oversight to prevent these lawyers creaming a decade (and counting) of legal fees out of the estate while letting Ellen McGuill's former home and business fall into ruin.

At the time of our occupation there hadn't even been a Bishop of Argyll for about two years, the previous bishop having been transferred. A number of phone conversations were held, first with the Bishop's office – who seemed to know nothing about the will leaving them the building – and later with the newly appointed Bishop. The new Bishop asked for time to make a decision about what to do, as he had been appointed but had yet to take office. Judge Gilligan was told this, but naturally chose to use his discretion to ignore the will of the person the building was supposed to be granted to over a decade ago, and ignore the life and lives that we had instilled it with in the meantime.

For all the disregard he has for the poor and those who he politically disagrees with, Judge Gilligan did find himself stuck when it emerged that the company that technically held the ownership deeds to most of the building didn't even exist any more. It had been hastily brought back into existence with the assistance of the court and state bureaucrats – for raising a company back from the dead is a small problem when capital is at risk – however it still had no-one legally running it. The lawyers had been claiming to act for this company without the proper authorization papers! And so the court was bound by its own arbitrary rules, for once.

Adjournment after adjournment was granted, weeks running into months, with Judge Gilligan getting angrier and angrier at his erstwhile plaintiffs for not getting it together enough for him to be able to grant the eviction order he wanted. If only he hadn't admitted in open court that it was necessary to rectify this issue, thinking it would only take a week, and so we held him to it and demanded that they act 'legally' if not morally or rationally. Quite a turnaround of role; Gilligan at one point quipping “Yes, well I'm sure that *everyone* here would prefer it if the law were followed to the letter” - emphasis surely his.

Could we allow ourselves to dream that the unbelievable could happen, that the judge might not be able to grant the injunction? I personally allowed myself to hope. But of course, eventually, this hope was soundly dashed. The lawyers found some obscure company law that allowed the court to appoint new shareholders to a company at any time “if the court felt it was expedient to do so” and a second law allowing the company to legally act, even without any directors, if these newly appointed shareholders were in vaguely defined “exceptional circumstances.” So Justice Gilligan breathed a sigh of relief and declared himself satisfied that they were entitled to the injunction, pending a full hearing of the matter - and I’d be willing to give pretty long odds on the chances of that full hearing ever taking place.

The legal system has been set up and honed, down through history, to favour the rich, the powerful, and the propertied. Courts will ultimately decide in favour of those who can establish even a dubious or tenuous link with the title of the property on paper. This is the home ground advantage of the capitalist establishment. Squatting is a slice of direct action which aims at heart of many issues, housing and society being two. One the one hand there are the Speculators who leave buildings abandoned in the hope of bettering the deal, on the other we have people who wish to use buildings for shelter and for inspiring others to action. The courts choose the speculators, disappointingly but predictably.

So what now is to become of 77 Parnell St? Will it become a footnote in the social history of anarchism and squatting? Will it sit idly for more years, a space being wasted and a building being left to rot? Can we entertain the crazy hope that once the ownership passes to the bishop of Argyll (if that ever actually happens) he will allow it to once again be used as a centre with the hope and promise of sparking people into action? Or - perhaps an even more insane hope - will the coming eviction be resisted by the people of Dublin who visited the Barricade Inn and found it a place worth saving from the ravages of capitalist greed? Might we in fact be at such a revolutionary moment in our history, for that is surely what such a resistance would signify? The heart hopes so much for one of the latter two outcomes but the head doesn't think we're there, not yet.

In the coming days and weeks if you happen to find yourself passing no. 77 Parnell Street, an otherwise nondescript piece of the local architecture, perhaps you’ll glance up at it, and (for a short while at least) see the Barricade Inn motif painted onto its exterior. If so, know that this is not just a building you are looking at. This building in particular, became a battleground for the soul of our capital city. Do we wish to leave fine old buildings fall dilapidated for years whilst in the hands of invisible dead companies who hold them as pieces on a monopoly board, or do we want a city to serve the interests of its people, providing places to live, to organise, to fix, to meet, to spread ideas, and to challenge and change the way the system is stacked towards the propertied and privileged? Shall we fill our soul with hopes and dreams (mad and unattainable as they may seem), or shall we leave it empty, dilapidated and rotting? Or will we seek to fill our soul on a new project in a new location? The answers to these questions are as much up to you as they are to anyone else. For, we the people, the masses, we set the limits of how corrupt or benevolent the system we live in becomes. Collective direct action is the only thing that can stand against the power of money. We need spaces to organise, to decide together what we want, and how to directly act to bring our collective will to bear. For all our sakes, let’s not allow the Barricade Inn to be the last, or even the best, example of such a space with such wonderful potential for positive change.

WORDS: John Roche

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