Facing eviction from Tathony House: ‘Not-very-militant people have been forced to do militant things’

Since being informed their landlord wanted to sell last October, several Tathony House residents are still occupying flats and protesting the eviction

In October last year the residents of the Tathony House apartment complex in Dublin 8 were informed that their landlord wanted to sell the property and that they would have to leave by June 2nd, 2023. At the time of writing, 13 of the 34 flats are still occupied and many of these tenants are fighting the eviction with Residential Tenancies Board cases, protests and a campaign to get the Dublin City Council (DCC) to purchase the property.

Tathony House is an odd-looking building just next to Bow Bridge in Dublin 8. It has a redbrick facade and stretching back from it, in a sort of V-shape, there are long cream-coloured pebble-dash walls. The windows of one wall look on to an outdoor car park and, beyond it, the river Camac; the other looks over a stepped lane called Cromwell’s Quarters. The words “Tathony House” are spelt out in golden letters above the door. It looks like an old factory. An architect’s planning submission, once made on behalf of another company owned by the landlord, described Tathony House as “a building of little or no architectural merit, which contributes little to the local amenity”.

To enter, tenants have to ring a bell and a porter lets them in. Visitors are asked to sign a visitor book giving their name, time of entry and who they are planning to visit. This is possibly a legacy of its time as a direct provision centre in the 2000s. Internally the apartments are broken up by painted breeze block walls that sometimes bisect windows and the floors are accessed by functional metal stairs.

As soon as they were issued with their notice to leave, Madeleine Johansson and her partner James O’Toole invited their neighbours to join a WhatsApp group to help fight the eviction and to get information about their rights. They started a campaign to draw attention to their plight and encourage the council to buy the property with an approved housing body.


Johansson is a People Before Profit councillor and O’Toole is a community worker. They are the longest standing tenants in the building. “We’ve been here since May 2009, 14 years,” says O’Toole. “When we moved in, people who were former asylum seekers were still living here…There were green, white and orange stripes painted on every wall in the middle of the wall and pictures of Pope John Paul II everywhere.”

Rent was much more affordable then. “I was in college in Inchicore studying acting,” says Johanssen, who is originally from Sweden.

“I was a busker,” says O’Toole. “Rent crept up from €690 at the bottom of the crash in 2009. And it’s crept up to €1,050. The rent outside the block has obviously gone up faster than that.”

He says it has been a decent place to live. He notes how thick the external walls (“factory walls”) are and how good the storage heaters are in winter. They are incredibly anxious about the prospect of eviction but are more inured to protest than most. On their coffee table there are books on socialism and economic policy. This isn’t the case for the other residents, many of whom are also planning to overhold because they can’t find anywhere to rent and they fear moving into overstretched homeless services. If they overhold, says O’Toole, “they’d be doing something that before now, in a different context would be regarded in a militant action. Not-very-militant people have been forced to do militant things”.

In the meantime, six households have taken cases before the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB). The hearings were scheduled for the week of the May 15th, but they were adjourned until June 6th because the landlord submitted evidence that the tenants needed to review. This means an eviction cannot happen on June 2nd but there are still plans for a protest outside Tathony House.

The cases taken by the residents revolve around two points – the fact that not all of the tenants received official printed notices of termination (which they are entitled to) and an amendment to the Residential Tenancies Act. The Tyrrelstown amendment came into existence after multiple households were given notice to quit by a vulture fund in 2016. It forbids mass evictions of more than 10 households at once. The exception to this rule is if a sale with tenants in situ would cause a more than 20 per cent drop in value and that this situation would be “unduly onerous” or cause “undue hardship” to the landlord. The eviction notices sent to tenants last October contended that they were not covered by the law for this very reason.

It’s a little bit painful to me… All I want is a place to lay my head. For the kids especially

—  Alfred Brown

Johansson and O’Toole believe that how this case unfolds will set a precedent for future mass evictions. And it will all depend on what the RTB considers to be “undue hardship”. According to O’Toole, at the initial RTB meeting, the landlord contended that a vacant sale would garner €6 million while with tenants in situ it would sell for €4 million. Financial accounts for Tathony Holdings Ltd show the company had €400,000 in net assets in 2021, up from just under €300,000 the previous year. It paid €69,000 in corporation tax in 2021 down from €99,000 the previous year.

The landlord Ronan McDonnell owned two other companies, either through shares in his name or via the holding company. One of the companies, Whitdale Ltd, reported assets of several million euros in the mid-2000s, when Tathony House was leased to the State to house asylum seekers from 2003 to 2008. The company was paid €3.7 million in this period according to Department of Integration records of historical contracts. In the late 1990s, Whitdale was co-owned by Ronan McDonnell and his father Brendan, but by the 2000s it was solely owned by Ronan McDonnell. That company has since been wound down. In 2006, at the peak of the Celtic Tiger, planning permission was granted to build a five-storey apartment complex on the site of Tathony House, but this development did not proceed. Ronan McDonnell bought a home on Carysfort Avenue, Blackrock, South Dublin, for €820,000 in 2019, according to Land Registry and Property Price Register records. McDonnell did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Even if the residents win the case based on the Tyrrelstown Amendment, they fear that the landlord will reissue eviction notices in smaller batches. So the remaining tenants hope a housing body can buy the property with council funding. Such a sale has been made possible by new rules brought in by Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien. This extends the council’s existing tenant-in-situ scheme, where councils can buy properties with sitting tenants, to include properties with tenants who do not receive social housing support. Some of the residents in Tathony are on the housing list but many are not.

The housing body, the Iveagh Trust, confirmed it is interested in acquiring the property “if the local authority were supportive, subject to all the required due diligence, however, there has been no formal engagement with either the vendor or the council to date”.

Meanwhile, Dublin City Council (DCC) said it contacted the owner of Tathony House five times since the start of this year to query his plans for the building but has not received any response. In a March 10th internal briefing, Coilín O’Reilly, the council’s assistant chief executive with responsibility for housing, said the lack of response from the owner “limits” any action the council could take. The briefing, released to The Irish Times following a Freedom of Information (FOI) Act request, said the state of the property could make buying and refurbishing it “excessively costly”.

Many of the residents are nervous about talking to the press but some agree to be interviewed. Alfred Brown lives across the hallway from O’Toole and Johansson with his wife and three children. In their sittingroom there is a mattress propped against the wall. His six-year-old daughter and four-year-old son are watching a cartoon on TV. The youngest child, a one-year-old, is more interested in staring at the light on The Irish Times’s Dictaphone.

Brown is from Ghana and has been in Ireland since 2006. “The dream is to have a better life and to contribute to the nation,” Brown says. He moved into Tathony House 10 years ago, before he and his wife were married and had children.

The mattress propped against the wall comes down at night and Brown shares it with his son while his daughter and the toddler sleep in the only bedroom with his wife. Brown is a taxi driver, but he can only work part-time. “I have a disability,” he explains, patting his prosthetic left leg.

“My leg is amputated. I had kidney failure and I got a transplant in 2018. When I was on dialysis, I was a little bit depressed... I was trying to look for something that could make me happy,” Brown recalls.

“So that’s when I went to do the exam for taxi driving and fortunately, I passed. And after I passed, I got a transplant. And after the transplant I got a taxi licence. But because of my condition I’m not working full-time.”

That is the nightmare now. Giving us sleepless nights. This is a small place for us. One bed. But at least we are managing this way

—  Alfred Brown

Even before their eviction notice they were hoping to find a bigger flat but Brown quickly realised that doing so was almost impossible. He has been actively searching since they were given notice to leave. He was searching online just before our interview. In all his time searching he has only got to view two places and never got a call back. “They’re all looking for ‘professionals’. I’m not a professional,” he says.

Brown still sees his landlord from time to time. McDonnell has an office in the building and he goes there to collect his mail and rent. Brown has found the whole experience very stressful. “Someone that has been able to provide you accommodation, for many years, and now you and him are going to be in a dispute?” He shakes his head. “It’s a little bit painful to me… All I want is a place to lay my head. For the kids especially.”

Do the children understand what’s happening? “There are neighbours they used to see and they are wondering where those people are. There were kids around before… Now they’re asking where they went and did they get a new house and are we going to get a new house? Are we moving as well? And I don’t know what to tell them because we don’t have anywhere to go. They go, ‘Daddy we need a new house’. It’s really sad.”

Brown and his wife have no other family in Ireland, just a few friends. “If we had family,” he says, “they might be able to help.”

They have nowhere to go if they are evicted, he says. “That is the nightmare now. Giving us sleepless nights. This is a small place for us. One bed. But at least we are managing this way.

“The kids don’t have to sleep outside. Now we don’t have anywhere to go. But if we could lay our heads here until we find a bigger place, I think that would be fine.” He sighs.

“My strength is not there any more… I’m trying to calm myself a little bit now and the children. My GP increased my blood pressure tablets... I have a lot of anxiety. A lot. I won’t lie.”

Gianluca Pollastro, a chef, lives on the floor above in a two-bedroom flat he shares with an IT worker. He sits on a stool in his small kitchen wearing a surgical mask. He explains that he has been in treatment for lung cancer. Pollastro says his chemotherapy finished recently and he’s awaiting blood work and CT scans to assess his progress. He coughs sporadically as he talks.

Pollastro was diagnosed last October the same month he learned he would have to leave the flat. “I was never sick. I’m 42. I never had a problem. I couldn’t believe it when they found out,” Pollastro says.

“They said I was quite lucky because they found out early and it was at the first stage. But it was a shock. It’s cancer. A lot of people die with cancer.”

The landlord told Pollastro’s flatmate that he was planning to sell the building. Pollastro texted the landlord to inquire if this was true. The response reads: “Hi Gianluca, I’m afraid that is the case, I’d have preferred to tell you in person, but you have till June 2nd 2023, kind regards, Ronan.”

Pollastro learned that tenants are entitled to a printed letter of termination, so he texted McDonnell to request this. There’s no reply to that text. Pollastro then went to meet other tenants fighting the eviction. He hadn’t really known many of his neighbours before then.

Pollastro has been a chef for 24 years and he came to Ireland from Italy around 10 years ago. “When I came here it looked like a paradise,” he says. The friendly people. The conditions of the job were better. The money was better.” Over time he even developed an interest in Irish recipes, things like cottage pie and coddle. “That’s my favourite at the moment.” He laughs. “My own version,” he stresses.

Pollastro’s had a very difficult year. He says his treatment was very intensive. He couldn’t work. He couldn’t look for a new place. He couldn’t really do anything, he says, “I was just thrown on my bed, vomiting.”

He has just started a part-time cheffing job. Does he think he’s ready for that? “I had to lie down for a long time. I had to do something.”

Pollastro says he will overhold if the landlord wins the case. He feels he has no choice. He has looked to see what accommodation is available. “There’s nothing around,” he says. “And if there is something, it’s crazy expensive… I cannot afford it.”

He is still unwell. Pollastro can’t stop thinking about what homelessness would be like while he’s feeling so ill. “Can you imagine it? Thinking you’re going to go on the streets like a homeless person. Or go back to Italy with my mother again. I’m away from home 25 years.” He shakes his head. “Back with my mum at 42 years of age.”