THIS ARTICLE IS THE FRUIT OF AN INTERVIEW WITH A SQUATTER IN CORK CITY AND IS INSPIRED BY CONSEQUENT CONVERSATIONS THE WRITER HAS HAD WITH THE YOUNG MAN.
Would you exchange the comfort of living at your family home with residing at a derelict property with no electricity merely to highlight a social emergency? A group of four young men in Cork city have.
Alex and three of his friends (whom he likes to refer to as comrades) have been squatting an empty property near University College Cork (UCC) since winter.
The squatters are all young and consider themselves members of the ‘Cork branch’ of Connolly Youth Movement (CYM).
Named after the Irish Republican James Connolly – who led a small citizen army against the British to help liberate Ireland from British rule – CYM’s name is wildly associated with communism: a political doctrine on the rise partly due to the 2012 economic downturn and its consequent housing crisis. Communism is a socialistic ideal that aspires to economic equality and equal distribution of property within communities.
The 24-year-old Alex reads Marx – father of communism– religiously. He is quite calm unless you start to bother him by questioning his political convictions, then he would be keen to win the argument. Rarely smiling, the young man is looked up to by the rest of CYM members in Cork as the leader.
Last winter, a visit from two detectives to the squat compelled Alex to contact reporters. The owner of the derelict property had summoned the guards in an attempt to remove Alex and his ‘comrades’ from his property.
Alex says their electricity was cut off without any warning. “Nobody asked our side to the story,” he says.
The squatters shelter Cork city’s homeless men and women from time to time.
“I am glad we were able to help people dealing with tough conditions get into the house and put them in slightly better conditions,” Alex says.
Squatting or the ‘adverse possession of a property’ is deemed unlawful under Irish law. However, the law grants so-called ‘squatter’s rights’ to a third party occupier of land, to avail of which the occupier needs to make an official claim to the Property Registration Authority. For such claim to be successful, the claimant must have been the sole occupier of the property for over 12 years; this timeframe extends to 30 years for state-owned land.
A successful squatter’s rights claim would register the squatter as the legal proprietor of the land. The law advises landowners to frequently inspect their unsupervised properties to ensure that no unauthorised person is squatting on their lands. Otherwise, they must prove that they have not abandoned their property within a 12-year timeframe.
Alex is adamant that squatting is part of a ‘political struggle’ they have to go through until the housing crisis is lifted from the country. “The squat is a good reminder of what I am fighting for,” he says.
Since the Irish economic collapse for which deregulated banks are wildly blamed, socialist ideology is slowly gaining popularity in the Irish political landscape. Parties such as Solidarity (formerly known as People before Profit) have started to draw the public’s attention by regularly criticising Fine Gael’s approach toward issues such as the housing crisis, abortion, and even medicinal marijuana. In 2017, Solidarity Party watched its popularity slightly grow.
The socialist fascination has been universal. In Britain, Jeremy Corbyn’s policies represent a ‘perfect’ alternative to the capitalist system, while Bernie Sanders in the US is still regarded as the ultimate saviour of America by the young American demographic.
Communism and its association with The Soviet Union and countries such as North Korea make it a taboo subject in the Irish political scene. That, however, does not stop it from gaining momentum among young Irish demographic. A recent American survey found that half of the millennials thought Joseph Stalin was a hero: a result Jarrett Stepman of The Daily Signal described as ‘a wake-up call’ for politicians. There is a consensus among political commentators and historians that Stalin was a dictator.
Alex and the rest of CYM members sacrifice their free time to attract new followers. He had studied Politics and History in UCC: a course Alex says ‘a mixture of reasons’ did not let him finish. One reason, in particular, was his disagreement with his lecturers’ point of views. “Academic circles in UCC are very hostile to opinions outside of established western academia, “he says.
Alex insists that his interest in Marxism does not stem from the economic collapse. A statement further conversations about his poverty-stricken childhood life confirms.
“I also got a lot of political mentoring from the Communist Party,” he says.
The Marxist paradigm has fascinated Alex and his comrades to the degree that the word revolution has become a keyword in their speech – young Sanders supporters use the phrase quite often as well.
Isn’t communism a utopian notion that only works on paper?
Alex repeats my question, somewhat surprised. To him, it is not. Instead, it is a practical concept that would take a long time to be adopted by society.
“The reality is that we think about how can we make short-term victories and transform them into long-term victories maybe not in my lifetime we would see communism in Ireland, but we are laying the ground for it,” he says.
For now, we [journalists] do not talk about communism in Ireland. Alex and his comrades still take cold showers in the squat, even in freezing temperatures, although they have made the place as homely as they could – The Connolly Barracks they call it.
He was quite ill the last time we had a conversation, calling his ailment ‘a first-world problem’, Alex was complaining that it was stopping him from ‘reading and writing’. We haven’t spoken much since, but I get to see pictures from the squat on my social media feed from time to time daunted by one question every time: is our disinclination to grant coverage to small groups similar to our lack of appetite for printing economists’ warnings about the recession?