Jim Sheridan: Apollo House was about "showing up the system"

The Oscar-winning director spoke to Newstalk Breakfast about his involvement

Jim Sheridan: Apollo House was about "showing up the system"

Activists outside Dublin's Apollo House | Image: Sean Defoe

A special documentary on Apollo House airs tomorrow night on Irish television.

‘Inside Apollo House’ tells the story of how a group of people took over a NAMA-controlled office block and turned it into a shelter for the homeless.

Using behind the scenes footage, the programme provides a unique insight and asks whether it actually achieved anything in the end.

 

The documentary features interviews from Home Sweet Home's leading campaigners, including Oscar-winning director Jim Sheridan and musician Glen Hansard.

 

Speaking to Newstalk Breakfast, director Jim Sheridan outlined his involvement in the campaign.

 

"I could give you an answer that I'd been watching the homeless on the street and I was really upset about it all, and that would be a lie," he said. "I was like the ordinary guy. You want to distant yourself from it because it seems so difficult to solve."

 

Fellow activist Dean Scurry called Sheridan to a meeting about the movement. What followed was what Sheridan called a month of "fear, terror and no sleep".

 

"Once you get the homeless in there, you're dealing with nitro-glycerin - you don't know when it's going to go off. You need an awful lot of resources around it. We weren't used to that [...] We had to become the authority figures very quickly."

 

"It's almost like punk rock"

 

It became abundantly clear to the Brooklyn director that it wasn't as simple as putting people into a house and putting up a Christmas tree.

 

"We weren't about that," he said. "It's almost like punk rock. We were about showing up the system."

 

Despite this mentality, Sheridan did have fears about his involvement - fears which he later expressed to Minister for Housing Simon Coveney at a meeting during the campaign.

 

"There's not one person in Ireland that feels in possession of NAMA. It seems like an unaccountable, huge business that you can't get your head around."

 

So what's changed?

 

Since the last occupant left Apollo House on January 5th, Sheridan welcomed newly-engaged Apollo House residents Mark Seenan and Cheryl Murphy to his first movie set in Ireland in 20 years on Saturday.

The residents attended the special screening of 'The Secret Scripture' as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival.

The biggest change following the movement? According to Sheridan, it's society's perception of the homeless. And while he acknowledges the criticism leveled at the high-profile activists as solely getting involved for the exposure, Sheridan believes their intentions were inherently good.

"I think it was motivated - especially with people like Glen Hansard - from a position of real care and love. They really went into it to help.

"You've got the problem that the state organisations - Focus Ireland, [The] Peter McVerry trust - all of them are doing great jobs. But they can't bite the hand that feeds them."

What's next?

A conference from Home Sweet Home is planned for March, according to Sheridan. He also highlights the shift away from political parties and towards direct action.

"Capitalism has become divorced from capital," he said. "Once you do that, you put the onus back on the people to pay for the rich people, and everyone loses faith in the system. So you've got to rebuild the system from the ground up.

"Apollo House is an attempt [...] to create another system that can have hope and give some people hope and opportunity and a different way of looking at the world."

'Inside Apollo House' airs on TV3 tomorrow night at 10pm.