Anti-capitalist protesters who have occupied a disused bank in Belfast city centre have vowed to stay until the building is opened up for use.
As part of a worldwide protest against corporate greed, Occupy Belfast first set up camp in Writers Square, opposite St Anne’s Cathedral, last October.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph from inside the building, protester Jack White said that around a dozen people gained access to the Belfast city centre property on Sunday night via an unlocked door.
He said: «We shouldn’t be held to ransom by property developers and bankers while our city centre streets are full of empty buildings. We will remain here peacefully until the building is opened up and used again.»
Mr White added the protesters have an electricity supply and plenty of food, drinks and bedding. A legal notice of the group’s intention to remain in the building was posted on the front door and a statement released on Twitter yesterday.
It said: «Occupy Belfast have taken control of the Bank of Ireland on Royal Avenue in opposition to soaring homelessness, lack of affordable social housing and home repossessions.
«We hope today’s announcement will serve to initiate the building of a housing campaign. Building such a campaign will not be easy. To do so we need to begin to organise as workers, students and the unemployed in a real and meaningful way in our communities – to become involved in discussing, agreeing on and organising the tactics necessary to build resistance and a better society for all.
«No politician will do it for us. We hope the seizure of the Bank of Ireland will be the place to begin. Banks take our houses so we take their buildings. This is a repossession for the community.»
There was a police presence for much of yesterday outside the building and the owner of the building, understood to be a local businessman, is aware of the protest.
A PSNI spokesman said the police helicopter in the sky over the building for a time was carrying out routine duties, which included the monitoring of the Occupy Belfast protest.
A Fire Service spokesman added: «We were asked to attend an incident in Royal Avenue by the PSNI. We sent three fire appliances but didn’t take any action as there was no threat of fire and it was a peaceful protest.»
Last night Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland said he would encourage anyone who thinks they may be at risk of losing their home because of debt to take action and call the dedicated helpline on 0300 323 0310.
He added: «I am very aware of the pressure the current financial and economic situation is putting on families across Northern Ireland.
«My department provides funding through the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) homelessness budget for the Welcome Centre street outreach and drop-in centre of £360,000 per year.»
The Housing Executive is currently preparing its next Homelessness Strategy which will be published in the spring. A spokesman said the strategic aim is to reduce long-term homelessness and to end rough sleeping, focusing on preventative measures for the most vulnerable. The Bank of Ireland was rescued from collapse by billions of euros from the Republic’s taxpayers.