By Sally Hayden
LONDON, Jan 11 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A group of Irish homeless people on Wednesday defied a High Court order to vacate an unused office building in central Dublin in a standoff that has focused attention on the country's growing homelessness crisis.
Up to 40 homeless people and activists were told to leave Apollo House, a commercial building on one of Dublin's best-known streets, by midday on Wednesday. The group, which took over the building in December, aimed to turn it into long-term accommodation for the homeless.
"We want no more people sleeping or dying on our streets," activist Rosie Leonard told the Thomson Reuters Foundation from Dublin.
Leonard said the group would not leave the office block until acceptable accommodation was found for its occupants, with national figures showing a growing problem of rough sleeping on the streets and ever more homeless families seeking shelter.
An official snapshot of Dublin's homeless in November showed an increase of 35 percent on the year before.
HIGH COURT HEARING
Leonard, a volunteer with campaign group the Irish Housing Network, said the government must find safe long-term housing for the homeless and low earners and introduce measures to protect vulnerable tenants.
A hearing is scheduled for the High Court on Thursday when a decision is likely on whether activists will face civil or criminal charges for the occupation.
The property formed part of a portfolio of loans which were taken over by the state-owned National Asset Management Agency (NAMA) in the wake of the financial crash that forced Dublin into an 85 billion euro ($89.11 billion) bailout.
NAMA was established in 2009 in a bid to bolster local banks exposed by thousands of risky loans issued before the collapse of the Irish property market.
It has now generated potential profits of more than 2 billion euros ($2.10 billion), drawing the ire of many Irish citizens who feel they have been left behind by the economic recovery.
The occupation has drawn high-profile support from well known Irish musicians, including Hozier, Glen Hansard and the band Kodaline, who performed outside Apollo House last month. It has also highlighted divisions among housing campaigners as some established charities did not back the occupation action.
The housing minister was not available for comment but last month acknowledged concern about the shortage of housing and promised extra help.
His statement said there has been a 40 percent increase in homeless funding from 70 million euros ($73.38 million) in 2016 to 98 million euros($102.73 million) in 2017. ($1 = 0.9539 euros)
(Reporting by Sally Hayden @sallyhayd, Editing by Paola Totaro and Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)