THE Coordinator of Justice 4 Grenfell Yvette Williams demanded yesterday, ‘Where were the bell-tolls for Grenfell?’
She contrased the bell tolls and the rush of billionaires to pledge billions of francs to rebuild the Notre Dame Cathedral to the way that the Grenfell fire had been treated.
‘The fire at Notre Dame Cathedral this week,’ she stressed, ‘has been devastating to watch. Thankfully there was no loss of life, the 18th century organ “survived”, and at least one of the famous rose windows remains intact.
‘Deputy Interior Minister Laurent Nunez said “the structure was in good condition overall”, and it is predicted that the building will be restored in five years. Yet donations totalling over 1 billion have poured in.
‘I know I’m not the first to say this, but I have to look back to 14 June 2017 and the fire at Grenfell Tower. The burnt husk which still stands on the London skyline as a reflection to society of the ultimate price we pay when we value lives cheaply.
‘Seventy-two beautiful people lost their lives and hundreds were left homeless.
‘The “structure” is not in good condition, there were no famous windows and most families were unable to retrieve any of their valuables or memoirs.
‘For Notre Dame, Prime Minister Theresa May has made a statement saying the UK will help with the rebuild “however we can” and organised for the bells at Westminster Abbey to ring in solidarity.
‘In contrast, on her first visit to Grenfell, she didn’t even speak to the community who had to organise their own disaster response. Where were the bell-tolls for Grenfell?
‘A handful of wealthy individuals gave money, but nowhere near the sum raised for Notre Dame. And even then, a vast amount of donations came from the hard-working British public, who have been pummelled by austerity.
‘Money was a central issue in what happened at Grenfell. Cost-cutting and cheap, unsafe materials for refurbishments while the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea sat on millions in its reserves are testament to this.
‘To me, it reads that the former residents of the tower were viewed as undeserving of a safe and decent home.
‘And nothing seems to have changed. This week we have seen that a family who survived Grenfell and were living in temporary accommodation were facing removal from their flat – something the council has said will not happen now.
‘The council has said that the survivors are their primary focus, but when will they learn that housing is a right, and not a privilege?
‘I do not begrudge people showing empathy for the devastation of Notre Dame – billionaires can spend their money on whatever they like.
‘Yet, when our government shows more value and respect for a historic building in France than to its own citizens and bereaved families, something is seriously wrong.
‘If this situation is to change, justice must be delivered in each and every instance.’
- Indignation from the gilets jaunes and trade unionists quickly followed as donations poured into the Notre Dame restoration fund. And Philippe Martinez, head of the CGT trade union federation, said: ‘In one click, 200 million, 100 million. That shows the inequality which we regularly denounce in this country.
‘If they can give tens of millions to rebuild Notre-Dame, then they should stop telling us there is no money to help with the social emergency (in France).’