The Salvation Army has regained possession of Lefroy House in Dublin city centre in the early hours of Thursday morning after 80 Garda removed two persons who had been illegally occupying the building.
The two men, Sean Doyle and Caoimhin O'Dhubhghaille - aka Kevin Doyle -, appeared before the High Court on Thursday afternoon on foot of their failure to comply with a court order to vacate the building.
The court granted the Salvation Army an injunction requiring all persons who had been occupying the property on Eden Quay to vacate the property, which the Salvation Army intends to use as accommodation for Ukrainian refugees.
The court had given the occupiers, who claimed to be members of a Republican Socialist group calling itself Revolutionary Workers Union, until the morning of June 2nd to leave the building.
However, the order was not complied with and following an operation which passed off peacefully, members of the Garda entered the building, arrested the two occupants, and ensured that the building was returned to the Salvation Army.
Garda Sergeant David Moulton told the court that 80 gardaí were involved in the operation because the gardaí had no idea in advance of entering what is a large-sized building how many people would be present inside a building where barriers had been erected.
Up to 35 people had previously been observed at protests in support of the occupation, the court also heard. When gardaí entered the building only two persons were present, both of whom were arrested and had co-operated.
The defendants were brought before Mr Justice Siobhan Phelan in the early afternoon.
However, while neither man was prepared to give an undertaking not to further trespass at or interfere with the property the judge declined to commit them for prison.
Sean Doyle in refusing to give an undertaking to comply with the order to vacate said that his defence to the action was the 10,000 homeless people, 3000 of which are children in the state.
In reply to the judge said that even if half of Ireland's vacant properties were requisitioned it would be more than enough to deal with the homeless crisis.
He criticised the states response to the homeless situation, adding that he was not prepared to give any undertaking not to requestion any vacant property.
Mr Doyle added that when it was decided to occupy the building, which they have renamed James Connolly House, it was not known that the building was to be used to house Ukrainian refugees.
Mr Doyle, who stood in the 2014 local elections in Wicklow for the socialist republican Éirígí party, added that no matter what property was occupied, the owner would come up with some excuse as to why it should be used to deal with the homeless situation.
Mr O'Dhubhghaille said he supported everything that Mr Doyle had said.
When asked by the judge if he accepted that the Salvation Army's intention was to use the building for refugees, he replied: "I will believe it when I see it."
The judge after considering submissions from said she was satisfied that the defendants were in wilful and deliberate contempt of orders and was satisfied that the court had the power to commit them to prison.
The court's power to jail persons for contempt should be used sparingly, the judge said. After listening to their submissions, despite the refusal to give undertakings, the judge said she was not going to make an order committing them to prison.
However, the judge, who was interrupted when giving her decision by a woman who claimed to be the owner of the property, warned that if either defendant, or anybody else interfered with the property in the future the court would have no choice other than have them committed to prison.
Contempt of court
The judge adjourned the matter, which she said is to be reviewed by the court, to a date later this month.
If there was any further interference the Salvation Army would have to come back to court, she added.
Barrister Padraic Lyons Bl for the Salvation Army had told the court that his client was neutral regarding what action the court wished to take against the defendants over the contempt of court motion.
Counsel said his client which has been working to help the homeless situation had brought the action as last resort, as the Salvation Army wanted to continue works on the property so it can be used to house the Ukrainians.
Counsel added that his client, whose agents have now secured the building, did have concerns that given the refusal to give undertakings the two defendants and others who had been involved in the occupation may in the future interfere with the efforts to fit out the building.
Following the conclusion of Thursday's hearing both men were released from Garda custody and walked free from the Four Courts with a small group of supporters and well-wishers.
In May the Salvation Army, which holds a long lease in relation to the building, secured an injunction requiring persons to vacate and cease trespassing at the property.
The building had been operated as emergency accommodation for minors in crisis for many years until its closure early last year when funding ceased.
Renovation plans were scuppered after the building was allegedly broken into and occupied on May 1st by the group, which the Salvation Army claimed had no right to be there.