At the end of January, the newly minted Unlock NAMA campaign opened up a property on Great Strand Street with a series of talks on the secretive agency that’s mortgaging away our futures. Rashers Tierney caught up with two of the trouble makers involved.
Hello.So, you guys are relatively new on the scene – can you fill us in on what Unlock NAMA is all about and what you’ve done so far?
Mark Hoskins: The main thing people know about is the Great Strand Street occupation back in January. A huge amount of research went into making sure the building itself was actually in NAMA. Once that was sorted it was all about what we’d do when we got in there and what needed to be done logistically to make all that happen. Since then we’ve been working hard on future actions. We’ve had a very successful fundraiser and there’s a public meeting in the offing, but that’s probably as much as I can say right now.
Moira Murphy: The idea was to get a group together that could challenge NAMA in a number of ways, namely through research, education and direct action which, when combined, would form a dynamic campaign that could take on the agency from all angles.
Can you explain to me in some sort of regular talk what you’d consider a social dividend from NAMA?
Mark Hoskins: I guess in the unlockNAMA context it means not so much distributing profits generated by NAMA among residents of the state but allowing communities to realise the use value of buildings held by NAMA. For me that’s allowing them to be democratically controlled by communities and not by bureaucrats allocating those resources as they see fit.
Is NAMA not doing something right with the way its selling fore closed homes to new charities and agencies? I’m thinking of the Cluid Housing Association out in Beacon Court.
Mark Hoskins: Well I think the answer is in the question. It shouldn’t be selling anything. There used to be a placard down at Occupy Dame Street that read “people without houses, houses without people – Make the connection”. It’s obscene that people are losing their homes, others have no hope of ever buying a house, there’s a deficit of social housing and yet we have all these empty houses. They should be turned over to homeless people and families on housing lists not sold off. I think that relates to the social dividend question too.
Have you formed any sort of fruitful relationship with organisations like The Complex, an art space in Smithfield that is facing eviction by NAMA?
Moira Murphy: The Complex was evicted in mid-July. NAMA really threw the book at them and it has been the clearest example so far that the ‘social dividend’ often spoken about is a bit of a myth. We would have fairly regular contact with them and certainly there is mutual support between us.
The grapevine tells us that Unlock Nama started out of frustration with the relatively directionless pantomime that Occupy Dame Street turned into. Is this true or vicious hearsay?
Moira Murphy: Not exactly, although ODS quickly became the meeting point for lots of activists who didn’t regularly meet before looking to put their energy into something more coherent and tangible. Some had been involved in a previous failed campaign to get a NAMA building and others had been informally looking into NAMA for a while. NAMA seemed to be on the tips of everyones tongues, I recall people speaking at ODS assemblies frequently expressing the need for people to ‘occupy empty NAMA buildings’, but unfortunately I think the camp itself was not capable of providing the space it needed to foster serious political campaigns, so no action on NAMA came from ODS.
You guys weren’t set up long when you scored a major own goal. Namely wheat pasting over that wonderful angel paste up on South William St. I mean great posters, but that was pretty stupid wasn’t it?
Mark Hoskins: I don’t know who did that but they obviously should have thought twice. I don’t know if I’d consider it a major own goal but it’s something that’s come up since and I think people are a bit more aware that it shouldn’t have happened.
Wheat-pasting’s great, it makes the city actually look like it has something more to offer than Diageo products. Do you think we should roll back the harsh litter laws that forbid it?
Mark Hoskins: I think we should just do it. I’m not really interested in lobbying to roll back laws. I think the thing to do with harsh or unjust laws is for people just to disobey them until they become unenforceable. That’s a form of direct action right there and it’s far more empowering than writing to your local councilor or T.D. and asking them to do something about it. Please Sir, can we have some wheatpaste?
What’s this about Martin Ferris contacting the cops and looking for them to turf you out of the Great Strand St occupation? He’s a convicted ‘RA- head for god sake… Mark Hoskins: Ha. Yeah. That was the first thing that crossed my mind when I heard the name, but obviously, it wasn’t that Martin Ferris. I was delegated to talk to the cops on the day and I made that joke to the undercover who was first on the scene. He didn’t appreciate it for some reason. No love lost and all that. But this guy was the receiver. There were all kinds of claims made that he was the building owner, but our research team had identified him as the receiver before we went into the building, so they weren’t able to trick us that way. It was nice to get his notice though. Showed we’d done something right.
If you actually intended to take over the Great Strand St building, why did you leave when the pigs arrived? I can’t help but feel you are leading people up a garden path of stunts and lobbying, convince me other wise…
Moira Murphy: We always knew the campaign wasn’t about taking one singular building, so this one fitted in perfectly for the launch. We publicised it as a one day event, due to end at 6pm. So, when the pigs asked us to leave half way through the day we were in a situation where it was us, the organisers, and the general public – including children – stuck in a building wondering if they’d get arrested. At that point we felt we were not in a strong enough position to have a stand off – we were just getting started.
Challenging debt seems fairly central to your message. Okay, debt’s nasty – it hangs around with a bad smell and means you can’t have pints with your mates. But what are you going to replace it with?
Mark Hoskins: Well I suppose the first thing people have to realise is that it’s not our debt. It created by these banks and property speculators that are getting bailed out by NAMA. A lot of them are now bondholders so they’re going to make a killing out of this if we let them. It’s kind of like someone throwing their pint in your face and telling you you owe them two thirds of yours. And it’s not as if we don’t know who these people are.
What do ye intend to do with this building when you get it? Is there not plenty more deserving people and organisations that could do with a building?
Mark Hoskins: that’s kind of the point. We’re not out to liberate buildings really. We can’t as a group unlock every NAMA building. But we want to set an example and get people thinking about how they can do it for themselves and what they’d use these buildings for. We’re not the A-Team.