Sales staff were forced to cancel a firesale auction of repossessed properties in Ireland amid allegations they were racially abused with anti-English remarks.
Dozens of demonstrators took over the sales room in Dublin’s luxury Shelbourne Hotel as auctioneers Allsop Space attempted to sell distressed homes and businesses.
A spokesman for the Irish registered company, affiliated to UK auction house Allsop, alleged shouts of “English scum out” and “go back to England” were directed at staff, many of whom are Irish.
“Whatever about a lawful protest, as has happened on some of the 11 previous occasions that this lawful, transparent auction has taken place, this sort of intimidation and racism cannot stand,” he added.
Protest groups have denied the claims, saying its members stick to a code of conduct and that there’s no evidence of racial abuse on video footage they recorded.
As the sale was about to get under way auctioneers and buyers were heckled while one man pleaded with potential buyers not to place a bid.
It is alleged staff were told to “go to hell” and references made to “black and tans”.
Independent TDs Mattie McGrath and Michael Healy Rae and members of People for Economic Justice, Defend Our Homes and Direct Democracy Ireland (DDI) were among those who staged the rally against the sale of more than 120 properties.
Ben Gilroy and Des McCreesh, who are with all three groups, rejected there were racist slurs to staff.
“I never heard anything like that at all,” said Mr McCreesh.
“There was a few people speaking out, asking the audience not to participate in the auction.”
Mr Healy Rae said he could never condone the behaviour of people who intimidated others, but that he was there to stand by those whose family homes had been repossessed.
“The people who were there were there to do a job, I told them that,” the politician said.
“But I have no problem advocating for people who have been aggrieved by lending institutions who were so happy to give them money in the first place.
“I wanted to be there to support people whose properties were being sold because I believe the banks engaged in bullying and did not give them the chance to renegotiate payments.”
Allsop Space said the event was cancelled in the interest of public safety and maintained 40 of the lots on its book were from private sellers.
Organisers believe the recent revelations in the leaked Anglo Irish Bank tapes, recorded in the weeks before the Government bailed out the toxic lender and other Irish banks, sparked the anger.
One seller said there was mayhem inside the auction hall, where up to 400 people – including buyers and protesters – had gathered ahead of the sale.
“It was shocking,” she said. “It got really nasty really quickly.”
The company was also forced to close its Dublin office on Lower Pembroke Street for the day, while gardai stopped its employees from leaving the hotel from the front door for their own safety.
No arrests were made.
Protester Tom O’Reilly staged a demonstration at the hotel last month when a bank put his former factory in Navan on the auction list, but it was withdrawn on the day because of publicity.
“People feel it’s very wrong to have English agents selling Irish properties on behalf of English owned banks,” he said.
“It irks a lot of people this is going on.”
Allsop Space held Ireland’s first distressed multi-lot property auction in Dublin in April 2011, with organisers forced to delay the event as hundreds of people blocked the road outside trying to get in.
Another 1,000 were crammed in the auction hall, overflow room and bar, with some 300 punters watching it live on screens in Doheny and Nesbitts pub nearby