Authorities shut down social centre - temporarily
Seomra Spraoi is a large and vibrant social centre, just off Capel St in Dublin. It is used by small campaign and informal groups for meetings, workshops and is also a place where arts, crafts and children's activities take place.
For a community of people engaged in seeking positive social change, it is a point of contact, a source of resources and information and a base for skills and knowledge sharing. Recently, the gardai have succeeded in having the place temporarily shut down, presenting the collective that runs the centre with a complex legal and bureaucratic situation. Maybe you can be of some assistance.
The Seomra Spraoi collective was started three years ago with the explicit intention of setting up an autonomous social centre. It was agreed from the start that we would be strictly non-commercial/non-profit and would organise non-hierarchically. Everyone involved in the collective and in running the social centre has an equal say. Those who work and organise in the space make a voluntary contribution of time and energy. Rent and other running costs are funded entirely from voluntary contributions made by individuals and groups who use the space or support the project.
Since our humble beginnings, hosting activities at the St. Nicolas of Myra community hall on Francis St, we have occupied three different spaces of our own, each bigger than the previous one. Our move to 4 Mary’s Abbey in July 2007 saw a huge surge in activity and an expansion of the collective. The two-storey rented space boasts eight rooms, which are used for meetings, workshops, benefit evenings and meals, a library, internet access, craft activities, bicycle workshops, self-defence training, table tennis and pool: the list goes on.
The collective is now highly organised, with a pool of around 30 people managing the social centre, via working groups, and a weekly open meeting of the collective.
Why we bother
The project was a reaction to a city more and more dominated by commerce, capitalism and cars; a city with less and less community space, fewer places for young people to go, fewer non-commercial spaces; a city with a growing number expensive cafes and bars and vast shopping centres in which the favoured activity is spending money. Ultimately, we hoped to rebuild some of the things that have been lost to us in the age of neoliberalism: a sense of community, an atmosphere of tolerance and respect, a positive environment.
Our aims were not only to find a space in which to establish a social centre, but also to be a working example of, and support for, the idea of more non-commercial and non-hierarchical spaces in the city. We strive to raise awareness of related issues, such as property speculation and profit-driven development resulting in millions of square feet of disused buildings and a reduction of community spaces. Ultimately our goal is to inspire communities, groups and people all over Dublin and beyond to set up their own autonomous spaces. We believe that it is empowering and positive to step outside the culture of consumerism and dependency in which we are socialised and to realise that we don't have to wait for governments, employers, or commercial interests to provide facilities for us.
We're having a hard time
On Friday the 23rd of November, we hosted a party. Too many people showed up after pub closing time. Concerned about the situation, we decided to call the party off, we turned down the music, the lights went on, and we started to empty the building. At about 2:50 am, 25-30 Garda found their way into the social centre. We explained to them what the situation was, who and what we were, and agreed that we would all leave the building. Whilst all this happened, the members of an Garda Siochana had a chance to wander around the space and take some nice photographs of the welcoming area, the zine library, posters for the Justice for Terence Wheelock campaign and Shell to Sea, and a few other bits and pieces. They seemed impressed...
In the days that followed we learned that the Garda had submitted a report to the Dublin City Council Planning Authority describing us as some sort of an illegal night club. We are ready to take responsibility for what actually happened on that Friday night, but we strongly deny these accusations. We are all too aware that a DIY project like ours represents an anomaly in this town. Perhaps the authorities are finding it hard to define us, maybe they just can’t understand why people would ever invest their time and energy in something that does not generate profit. But these things happen!
Eight days later, on the evening of Saturday, December 1st, the building was shut down without warning by gardai and fire inspectors on fire safety grounds. We did not oppose this in any way, as it is our priority to ensure that the space is safe. We operate on the basis of a very clear ‘positive and safer space policy’ and believe that all necessary measures should be taken to ensure the safety of all users of the space. However, we find the timing and nature of this operation to be highly unorthodox (three or four fire officers, accompanied by around 10 gardai, arrived without warning on a Saturday evening - no event was taking place at the time). We would have been happy to discuss with the authorities any health and safety issue concerning the building at any time, but rather than contacting us or clarifying their concerns, they stormed into the space and shut us down.
We have begun an in-depth analysis of fire safety issues. Every effort is being made to ensure the building is safe and in line with safety regulations. We have sought professional advice and are in contact with the landlord, the Dublin Planning Authority, the Fire Brigade, and the Garda. We are willing to cooperate in any form necessary to ensure that the premises is safe. We have taken the first steps following consultation with a fire safety consultant. The current status of the building is somewhat unclear, no fire notice seems to have been issued (we were refused a copy of such notification on the basis that there is no one person in charge to give it to). However, the Garda warned us that if we re-entered the building we would be arrested. Since then we have received contradictory information on this point.
We are finding it difficult to work our way through the complex web of bureaucracy, without employing expensive professionals to liaise on our behalf. This exposes a common gap which prevents communities from organising themselves and creating community spaces without state authority or private funding, in other words, without support from the powerful and the rich. We are also experiencing barriers in communication with the Garda and other authorities because of the way in which we organise as a collective. There is a continual pressure upon us to nominate a leader, and our refusal to subvert our egalitarian structure and democratic principals has left us in a position of disadvantage. The problems we now face highlight certain inadequacies in our state system and society – inadequacies that Seomra Spraoi initially set out to challenge. It is a paradox that in a city like Dublin, which is apparently enjoying great economic prosperity, not-for-profit and community-oriented groups must struggle every day to survive.
Watch Indymedia for further developments.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
• Send us messages of support to: seomraspraoo [AT] gmail.com . If you are writing this on behalf of an organisation, you might want to do it on headed paper and send it to your postal address below.
• If you or your organisation has knowledge, information, skills or resources in the relevant areas (legal, fire regulations etc.), please contact us. Seomra Spraoi is seeking access to free or affordable legal advice or representation.
• Meeting spaces: if you have a room in which we can hold meetings, either for free or a small fee, let us know.
• Donate money:
- You can donate online using PayPal. See the link from our blog at: http://seomraspraoi.blogspot.com
- Cheques can be made payable to "Seomra Spraoi" and sent to our postal address below.
- You can set up a standing order to make regular contributions into our credit union account. There is a printable version of our standing order form here:
• Organise a fundraiser on our behalf.
• Come to a meeting of the collective. Our meetings are open and happen on Thursdays at 7.30pm. Currently we have no fixed meeting place: for meeting details, check our blog or www.indymedia.ie/events
• Finally, please forward this Call For Support to other relevant groups or individuals.
• In general, Seomra Spraoi is keen to work more closely with other collectives, community groups, NGOs etc.
• Contact details:
Tel: 086 2001039
Address: Seomra Spraoi, 4 Mary's Abbey, Dublin 7