By Manus Lenihan
“Over 7,000 households face eviction within next three months” (Irish Independent, April 4th).
“Couple in 80s cannot find place to live” (Westmeath Independent, April 4th).
Anyone with a heart will be angered by the daily headlines showing the crisis that looms as the government lifts the eviction ban. But establishment politicians and journalists are angry about something completely different: a painting.
Evictions then and now
Artist Mála Spíosraí (Spicebag) has channelled popular anger with a painting about evictions. It’s a notorious scene from Irish history: a hungry family being thrown out onto the roadside by a rich landlord. Only in this updated version, the cottage is surrounded by private security guards and the yellow high-vis jackets of An Garda Síochána.
The artwork has been met with a chorus of rage from ministers and journalists. Sinn Féin TD Eoin O’Broin backtracked after sharing the image online and apologised to the Gardaí, an indication of his party’s eagerness not to offend the status quo. Minister Simon Harris got up on his high horse: “I think the image shared is an awful attempt to try and compare the Garda to perhaps some sort of colonial force of the past.”
That ‘colonial force of the past’ was the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC). It, too, was supposed to be apolitical and neutral, and to attend evictions merely ‘to prevent a breach of the peace.’ Also, we can be 100% certain that back in the day there were artworks that showed the RIC doing bad things, and establishment figures getting angry about such awful disrespect.
Naturally, Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Greens would rather we didn’t see the similarity between the cruelty of British landlords back then and the equal or worse cruelty of the big investment funds today — the funds which Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Greens favour with their housing policy.
Are the Garda neutral?
Establishment politicians and media figures are trying to establish a rule that we all have to tiptoe around the Guards and be careful not to ‘disrespect’ them in any way. Under this rule, we all have to pretend that the Gardaí are neutral and that they never do bad things. Deviate from this party line, say by pointing out that Gardaí facilitate evictions, and they will regard you as a threat to democracy.
This attitude was on display when journalist Fionnan Sheahan lectured and barracked Mála Spíosraí on a TV debate panel. The most striking thing was Sheahan’s apparent conviction that Mála Spíosraí is a bad and sinister person because of his belief that the Gardaí are not neutral. But in working-class communities, this is not a controversial opinion.
The image of Gardaí and private security is drawn from a famous eviction in Dublin City Centre in 2018. Most of us are angry that this happened; our capitalist establishment is merely angry that it’s being depicted in art.
With the end of the eviction ban, people are being made homeless because they can’t pay the insane rents the government has allowed their property-portfolio-owning mates to charge, and because the government won’t build public housing. So those who are angry about some painting are just trying to change the subject. Most people are not angry about a painting, but about the brutal reality it depicts.