Friday 15 December 2017

Andrew Lynch: New Land League is a far cry from Davitt's vision

Brian and Mary O'Donnell
Brian and Mary O'Donnell

Michael Davitt must be spinning in his grave. The founder of Ireland's first Land League in 1879 was a one-armed Fenian revolutionary, dedicated to saving penniless tenant farmers from being thrown out of their tiny hovels.

It is hard to imagine Davitt having much sympathy for a 21st century solicitor and property investor , threatened with eviction from his luxury €7m mansion on one of the most exclusive roads in Europe.

The New Land League, however, is clearly a very different organisation. It has been at the heart of this week's bizarre events outside Gorse Hill, blocking the entrance with cars, removing a court order from the gate and sparring with journalists trying to make contact with the beleaguered owner Brian O'Donnell.

So who exactly are these would-be inheritors of Michael Davitt's legacy - and can they really prevent the avalanche of house evictions threatening to descend on Ireland later this year?

The New Land League's leading light is Jerry Beades, a colourful builder from Fairview who was once part of Bertie Ahern's notorious 'Drumcondra Mafia'. He also served on Fianna Fail's national executive, where he showed an amazing flair for self-publicity.

At the party's 2009 Ard Fheis he unveiled 30 life-size cardboard cut-outs of the US President bearing the slogan: 'Obama Says Vote Jerry Beades'.

In recent years, however, Beades has been reinventing himself as a much more anti-establishment figure. He has been involved in several legal disputes with banks over his commercial loans, one of which resulted in Ulster Bank being awarded a €3.5m judgment against him. He is chair of a lobby group called Friends of banking Ireland, representing people who feel that financial institutions have given them a raw deal.

According to Beades, the New Land League came about largely by accident. In July 2013 he was part of a group on its way to protest outside the headquarters of Anglo Irish Bank, but stopped off at an Allsop auction of distressed properties in the Shelbourne Hotel.

Jerry read out an anti-landlord speech by Charles Stewart Parnell, his followers sang Amhran na bhFiann and the event was cancelled.


Since then the New Land League has been a regular fixture at evictions and auctions around the country. One estate agency, Knight Frank, has even applied for an injunction order against them.

Last week around 30 members held a vigil outside the Meath home of Fine Gael TD Ray Butler, terrifying his wife and young children.

When asked if the New Land League had lost the run of itself by defending a neighbour of Bono's, Beades made reference to Holocaust hero Oskar Schindler. "We help big and small," he claimed. "We are not compiling a Schindler's list of who stays and who goes."

While the New Land League obviously has a great welcome for itself, some of its cheerleaders could do with a history lesson. "Constant Markiewicz gave up his life to enable us to eradicate suppression," one protester told a TV interviewer.

In fact Constance Markiewicz never had a sex change and died peacefully in bed, but otherwise the man was completely right.

"It's wild out there at the moment," Jerry Beades declared outside Gorse Hill this week. With the New Land League around, it looks as if Ireland's mortgage arrears crisis is set to become even wilder.

Promoted articles

Entertainment News