At lunchtime on Monday, January 16, protestors associated with the Occupy Belfast movement entered and occupied the former Bank of Ireland building in the centre of the city. The occupiers have reclaimed the space in a statement against growing unemployment, homelessness and home repossessions while there is no shortage of properties that are allowed to lie empty.
The Bank of Ireland building had went unused for years and is one of countless buildings throughout Belfast and indeed Ireland that lie in the hands of property speculators whose only interest is in one day turning a profit on these sites. Below we carry a statement from the occupiers published yesterday evening.
The Bank of Ireland Building on Royal Avenue has now been liberated for 36 hours. We are continuing to protest in the face of police harassment. We will not be deterred by police attempts to evict our legitimate protest. We are not breaking the law.
Today we have heard that twenty six thousand jobs will be lost from the public sector in the next five years. We currently have a youth unemployment rate that has increased by 155% in the past five years, so that now over 20% of young people are out of work. This, coupled with the imminent increase in tuition fees, amounts to nothing less than the destruction of our future. We refuse to allow this to happen.
As unemployment skyrockets, so too does homelessness. The possibility of owning a home has become nothing less than a pipe dream for increasing numbers of people throughout the country. For those who still own a home, the strains of keeping up payments are becoming unbearable and the future becomes ever more uncertain. When the banks foreclose, property ‘developers’ swoop in.
Premises, just like this one, will be left vacant until market forces and speculators decide that a sufficient profit can be made. This cannot be allowed to happen. These very buildings were built by our parents and grandparents who still had work to go to. We are left with no other choice but to take these buildings back.
In response to this social crisis our local politicians have proven themselves to be unprepared, unwilling, incapable or all of the above. Housing executive houses lie empty as people are evicted daily. There is no other option but to take action ourselves. By our actions we have transformed this space from a private milch cow into a community resource.
The cycle of lending, repossession and speculation must end. We have launched the beginning of that end and we encourage others to join in this struggle. This affects us all. We must reclaim the future. Join us. Solidarity is strength!
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