Irish public should not pay for sins of the banks

First published by The Irish Independent on 30/09/2014

http://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/irish-public-should-not-pay-for-sins-of-the-banks-30547742.html

 

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a man in debt for a thousand euro is worried, but that when a man is in debt for a million, then the bank is worried.

Or it used to be like that. Now the odds are that someone has to be in debt for a multiple of that amount before anyone loses any sleep, least of all the banks. Actually, it is least of all the banks – the new rules of capitalism mean that while bank debt is socialised, bank profit is retained for the few.

How very convenient for them but, of course, it was always like that when it came to those too big to fail.

We live in very different world financially and the Irish have been hit the hardest in this recent catastrophe. Sometimes we forget that there is a global financial crisis and we are only a tiny cog in the middle of it.

The sad part is, like the new breed of capitalism, we have also been subject to new rules, sucking up 42pc of the Eurozone banking crisis debt. Given that we are a population of less than five million against 500 million-plus in the rest of the EU, it would seem a disproportionate allocation. Even the Irish can’t party that hard.

But going back to the worry issue. While people argue worrying does no good, it is core to why the ordinary person is suckered into thinking that maybe they did something wrong, especially when they are on the wrong side of the debt issue.

It is a bit like musical chairs, it doesn’t matter how much debt you have until the music stops; then it is just a question of luck (and sometimes brute force) about who is left out in the cold. Ireland Inc lost out to the brute force argument because the big guns in Europe held sway but, even more unfortunately, the little person in Ireland lost out even further when the ethics issue was brought into play.

Unless you are a too-big-to-fail bank or developer. For everyone else, that is the rule. And if you don’t pay it back, then the things that you bought with it are taken away. Again, for that rule please see exceptions under banks, developers, politicians, etc.

There is a very clear cause and effect for ordinary people.

Borrow and repay or lose your toys. Did I mention the uncharted waters we now live in? Or the musical chairs stacked in favour of the banks? Or the two-tier rules that apply to the rich and poor?

Well, add shame into that mix. Yes, shame, something we have come to know a lot about in the recent past.

Just what we need for shame only hangs out in very low places. It doesn’t rise to the top like cream and coat the too-big-to-fail types. Nope, shame lurks in low areas and covers the bottom dwellers in its oily mess. It’s a bit like a certain country-and-western song that we won’t mention here.

This is where language is used, and used with rapier effect, by the banks and the financial institutions.

From the mendacious mouths of banks came the biblical, judgement-laden terms of debt forgiveness, moral hazard and debt cleansing. Why not throw in a rocket or two for good effect, while they are at it?

The net effect is to coat the struggling ordinary person with a film of slimy shame. It is not enough that people cannot pay their debts, they are now condemned with shame, as if somehow their moral compass shifted during the dark night. This would be ironic, except the shifting of the rules actually did happen at the top of the food chain. Which makes it doubly galling for the ordinary person to be accused of moral hazard by the very inventors of the term.

Motes in eyes spring to mind or – to borrow a line from the movie Educating Rita – to land under a falling bank is more than tragic – it is a tragedy for the poor sod involved.

Which is why terms such as greed should be reserved for banks, not people. People are infinitely more diverse and complex than a profit-and-loss sheet.

Which is why terms such as moral hazard should be reserved for the banks, not people. We know from the Anglo tapes the levels of institutionalised dishonesty. And it is why shame should be reserved for the banks, not people. The banks are allowed ride roughshod over ordinary people as long as shame keeps them down.

Shame on you banks, shame on you instead.

Make Good Law the First Time Around  

There are some things that improve with practice and revision; dance routines, manuscripts, driving, piano playing among others but not law. Law when enacted should be the very best it can be. ‘A suck it and see’ approach is not advisable. A ‘let’s start here and see where we end up’ is not advisable.

A ‘this is getting better’ is not a good start or rather it is a good start but not good enough to be put into law. We need law to be as precise and as finished as possible. We know this for it takes a long time to bring in new law. We know this for law has a direct impact on the population. Law is very powerful. It regulates how we live, punishes wrong doers and can dramatically impact the lives of citizens. It needs to be good law the first time around. The very best law we can create because the possible negative impact of bad law has huge ramifications from unfair or unjust rule right the way through to unwieldy and costly law suits for wrongful justice.

Last year as I waited for the new insolvency laws to come into practice I was right at the top of the queue to avail of its rulings. My case was simple. My husband and I had borrowed money on our family home, worth €1.5million. I had then been thrown into divorce and recession. My ex returned to the UK and became bankrupt leaving the entire debt (€800,000) to me and our two children. I tried to sell my home and secured a cash offer of €500,000 (reflective of the new falling price of the home) but the banks refused consent to sell. They preferred to repossess the home and sell it for less than €170,000. I was left with an unsecured loan of €1million (including arrears), no possessions and no income. I queued up to avail of the new Insolvency Service but to my horror I was too broke to even enter the hallowed doors. What kind of crazy thinking was behind the institution of an insolvency service that could not cater for the truly insolvent? Was it simply set up as a gentlemen’s club for the mildly financially incapacitated who could afford to employ expensive financial advisers? It would appear so as we hear weekly court cases where rich individuals argue to maintain their standard of living, their houses, their cars, their private schools and their holiday homes. Last year a certain high profile insolvency expert was castigated in the media for arguing that certain ‘types’ should be allowed stay in their large family homes as it was reflective of their position in society and their profession. Public retractions followed this little storm in a teacup but the truth was out there.

Further investigation of the Insolvency Service showed other obvious flaws. The banks had veto over any potential deals; which fact is reflected in the tiny number of deals done to date. Applicants have to avail of a personal insolvency practioneer, a PIP, and these are all private and can charge whatever they want. The going rate is around €3000 but there is no guarantee a deal will be done – as per the above veto. In fact, I sat next to a man going bankrupt who had paid that sum only to have his deal thrown out; he was then forced into bankruptcy after all. Then all applicants, whether they go through with the process or not, are named and shamed in a public list. When has there ever been a need to publicly know an individual’s credit rating? And finally, an individual has to have money to enter these proceedings. ‘Another fine mess’ as Laurel might say to Hardy.

‘Another fine mess’ as Laurel might say to Hardy.

Only it gets worse. The ISI has now written to the 140 PIPs in Ireland outlining another flaw; this time the existence of another mistake, this time giving greater than intended powers of veto to minor creditors. This mistake is significant and opens the door to potential lawsuits for those who may have been disadvantaged by this error. The PIPs have been advised to delay all proceedings; court or negotiations, until the Dail resumes and this mistake can be fixed.

When I was not able to use the Insolvency Service and was forced into bankruptcy, I discovered many flaws there too. True the punitive twelve year sentence was reduced to three, but I was told forcefully that if I obtained any work up to and including the last day of my sentence, they would slap a further five year judgement against my earnings, in effect creating an eight year punishment and a total disincentive to getting back on my feet again.

I met a friend as I entered my bankruptcy and he tried to comfort me. ‘It’s getting better,’ he said. That’s when I knew getting better was not good enough. It’s time to make good law the first time out.

 

 

Coming out

It is wonderful to see mental health issues being talked about in the open. Last week on television, footballing brothers, Ian and Gary Kinsela, launched 32countyjerseys in memory of their brother Jonathan and in aid of Pieta House. Another Dublin footballer Paul Flynn said talking about mental health was pivotal to dealing with it. If he had a hamstring injury he would go to the doctor, so why not a mental issue?

This is a huge step forward. The TV3  interviewer Aidan Cooney, being a man of a certain age, said that talking about mental health was very much frowned upon when he was growing up.  No one would dare say they felt under the weather or needed a hug. It could be misconstrued in a number of ways, and none of them were welcome.

A couple of years ago, I was involved with a Twitter-based initiative called #Depressionhurts run by the admirable Norah Boran and Alan Lavender and through the programme people shared their stories of mental health issues. It was the first time I came across the term ‘the black dog’ which has since become a keystone in describing depression. I remember vividly one man wrote about the randomness of the black dog, how it might appear and stay for a long time before it went. How no amount of being told ‘to pull himself together’ would have any impact whatsoever on his condition. It was an insight into another world and I am very grateful for the chance to understand. I also believe that as we talk more about mental health issues that the shame and fear associated with identifying them and treating them lessens. It is all about coming out – it is hard for shame to thrive in the daylight.

This week too sees the launch of a very popular, annual men’s rowing calendar in the UK. The Warwick Rowers calendar is a bit of a byword for male eye candy; a male version of the Pirelli bathing suit calendar. Only these rowers don’t wear any clothes at all. They are naked. The first calendar was published in 2009 and the purpose is twofold. The first is to raise awareness of homophobia. This year’s centrefold is quoted as saying through the experience he had met many people of the LGBT community and was honoured to be part of the calendar. The second purpose is to raise money for Sport Allies, a charity aimed at ending discrimination and bullying of homosexuals in the sporting world.

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Normalisation of sexual orientation is to be welcomed. If young people can see role models embracing diversity, especially the Warwick rowers, then the accompanying shame and bullying can be overcome. Coming out and overcoming shame, especially if you are not gay, is brilliant.

Shame can be a force for good – if the actions are worthy of shame. Last month an unrepentant Rolf Harris mocked his victims by showing none. But shame applied unjustly can be much more damaging. The shame applied to mental health issues or to homosexuality for example. Or what about the shame applied to debt?

It is estimated some 300,000 households are in mortgage arrears right now. People brave enough to put their head above the parapet and confess their inability to repay their debt are routinely called greedy. Or in more extreme cases accused of not paying their debts on purpose; which is a form of inverted thieving. As a bankrupt I get a lot of reactions to my condition. One woman, a very well-meaning woman, told me that she was brought up to pay her debts. It was only as I travelled home the enormity of what she had said struck me. She was putting me, and the other 300,000 non performing mortgage holders, into the same boat. We were now people who had been brought up not to pay out debts. How had the moral compass moved not only for me, but for the other 300,000 people in arrears? Had we all somehow morphed into artful dodgers?

The answer is of course that our moral convictions had not changed. We had not somehow put aside the tenets of honesty, truthfulness and responsibility. If one person catches a cold, it may be considered unfortunate, if an entire village is laid low, then it can be called a plague. This is a global financial endemic where banks have become too big to fail and where bank debt is socialised but profits still retained internally. The financial system is broken and history will write a very different account than the current peddling in popular journals.

The shame heaped onto people in debt is misapplied. Debt happens. And then sometimes it happens so much that the person cannot repay it. Fact. It is also a fact that ordinary people will lose things if they cannot repay their debt – their homes, possession and income. But they should not also lose their health and their self-esteem. If you are rich and become bankrupt, the unjust system means you hang on to your lifestyle. If you are ordinary and in debt, you can lose it all. But not your self-esteem please. It is only money after all. Let’s shine a light on shame and with whatever money we have left, let’s all buy the 2015 Warwick Rowers Calendar.

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Dirty Girls and Dirty Debt

There are 800 skeletons of small children found in a septic tank in Tuam, Co Galway. This horrific discovery was first made back in the 1960s by two small boys but nothing was done, no investigation made, not even a graveyard instituted. It was left to a local man Padraig to try and create a small memorial and sadly he passed away last week. It was left to local historian Catherine Corless to try and provide a proper and fitting response.

The babies were looked after in a Bon Secours institution, called ironically The Home, from 1920s to the 1960s The babies were all born to unwed mothers; mothers who were thrown out of their family homes to give birth to their bastard children in an institution. If their babies survived they were often forcibly sold into adoption with suitable parents. The death toll of these children was four times the national average. The girls were often forced to work as indentured slaves as a punishment for their crime of having a child out of wedlock.

Some pregnancies would have been as a result of violence and perhaps rape. Some would have been as a result of ignorance of contraception – and the total lack of same in contraceptive-free Ireland, even married women could not easily avail of contraceptives. Some of the woman probably enjoyed it, probably wanted more, and probably wilfully engaged in sex without any due regard to the consequences of getting caught. Dirty girls. They deserved all they got. They should not have had sex outside of marriage – even if they were forced – and they probably had it more than once. It was all their fault.

As for the offspring? They were bastards, and if lucky to survive, would be taken off the dirty girls. They didn’t deserve anything either.

Does that sound familiar?  There are 300,000 families in mortgage arrears in this country. There are 27,000 families facing eviction this year. There are more than two suicides every day, many of them from financially inspired reasons. Yet, instead of compassion, we hear the same moralistic tones. They were greedy with debt. They wanted more. They probably had it more than once. They couldn’t control themselves. For God’s sake, could they not control themselves. They could not keep their dirty hands out of the bank account. Could they not behave and not borrow. Disgusting people, greedy people, dirty people, and dirty debt.

So while the banks, as the religious institutions before them, blame those in debt, take their possessions, lock them in perpetual servitude, shame them and cause misery onto the innocents – the babes in the homes – we, as a society, look on. We tut tut. It was all their fault we say. They were dirty, debt people. They should have known better. They enjoyed themselves while we stayed home and were miserly. They were greedy, dirty, debt accumulators. Now let them pay the price. As for the children in those homes, where the parents are now dying of debt every day, where there is misery even onto suicide, we do not need to concern ourselves with those children. They are the children of the dirty debt brigade. They are different from our children. We will let them suffer, the little children, even onto the banks’ profits.

There but for the grace of God go I.  And you.

 

 

History is littered with the successes of failures  

I am no longer campaigning

I am no longer a Wicklow county council candidate

I am not longer a European Parliament candidate

I am no longer pressed on all sides for my opinion on topics as diverse as youth, LGBT, energy and age

I no longer get to sign pledges with impressive looking organisations

My phone has stopped beeping every two seconds

Journalists have stopped ringing me

Radio stations no longer want to talk to me

TV is no longer calling

 

I am now officially in a vacuum in which I can draw breathe and relax

 

So while I failed in my attempt to get elected what were my successes?

 

I successfully changed the law on April 16, 2014, and from there launched my European campaign

I was successful in earning 11,500 votes from people across the Ireland South constituency

I was successful in earning 250 votes from local Wicklow people

I was successful in speaking on radio with LE candidates

I was successful in speaking on radio with fellow EP candidates

I was successful in appearing on television with fellow EP candidates

I was successful in appearing in print and online articles across the region

I was successful in meeting many wonderful people and listening to their stories

I was successful in meeting my fellow EP candidates and forming a bond with them

I was successful in running a campaign over ten counties

I was successful in enjoying the experience with every bone in my body

I was successful in keeping the issue of debt front and centre

I was successful in helping to people burdened with debt to feel better

I was successful in making the country talk about Europe and ‘not our debt’

I was successful in surviving and thriving on the experience

 

And I look forward to many more successes from my failures

Thank you!

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Running the Race

Sunday morning, 25 May 2014

I have run the race and am reaching the end. I have yet to cross the line but it is in sight. My legs are sore, my breathing laboured and there are rubs on my feet.  There are many ahead of me; a goodly pack of politicians, first timers, old timers, new seekers, tired thinkers, young ones, old ones and inbetween ones. There are even one or two stragglers behind me. We have all run our race, some with parties, some without, some with zeal, some with polish, some with ideas quite divergent and some with ideas that are as old as the earth we cross.

In this race there were moments when people slipped, were pushed or just fell. Mostly the other runners skipped over or ran around the runner on the ground. It was rare a hand was held out by another runner; it is not that kind of race. But it was common for the spectators to rush forward and pull the runner to his feet, to push water into his hand and to chivvy him on his way. No runner left behind, not until the fat lady sings anyway.

When I first put my name forward for this race, my friend and neighbour Tony said to me: Are you cotton pickin mad?. And I looked him in the eye and said; Yes. But I had it worked out in my head.

It was never about getting elected; it was always about making a difference.

This was the same conversation I had with Deputy Shane Ross; one of the first people I spoke with about running and who subsequently gave me the highest compliment possible; giving me his endorsement along with campaigner Diarmiud O’Flynn with a ringing cry ‘Two noble independent battlers. Both deserve seats. 

I entered this race with the end in mind; the prize I wanted was the race itself. I wanted to use my time to talk about the burning issue at the heart of my personal campaign for the past three years: the unjust treatment of Irish families in debt. I wanted to stop to vilification of people in debt.

I wanted to change the law and language and the bullying.

To me, running was not about winning, it was about making a difference.

Of course, there were times along the way when the voice of pride spoke into my ear; you can win it said softly and sinuously. You can take a seat. You can go to Europe. I listened but shook my head. Winning was never about getting elected, whatever Selfish Pride might say. I knew from the start that my message, while loudspeaker noisy, was unlikely to translate into medals. I was unlikely to be in the ribbons. Still, when I heard my vote from the local count last night I was saddened a little.

Every vote I got was humbling, every vote I didn’t get was equally so.

But Selfish Pride washed no babies, helped no neighbours and gave no hope to a family in distress.

 

So, as I prepare to travel down to Cork to meet my fellow European candidates I do so with the right kind of pride in my heart.

The pride of having run the race to the end, to having treated my fellow candidates with respect.

The pride of helping where I could, and certainly not harming where I was able.

The pride of having stood shoulder to shoulder as we prepared for war; under the lights of the TV cameras, before the microphones in the studio, or caught in the glare of the inquisitor searching for the truth.

To my fellow combatants: I salute you on the race run. I am honoured to have run beside you, behind you and sometimes (in a rare moment) even in front of some of you.

And as I come to end of the race I ran, my wish is that people remember what I stood for and what I will continue to stand for until such time as fairness, justice and truth are the norm.

And now – the fat lady sings. For the hidden pain of debt – I think in hymns. And I thank you for allowing me to run the race.

And I cross the line.

postscript. I continued to Cork where I was amazed and proud to exit the race on 11,5000 votes. Now, my race is run. Thank you.

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Giving Thanks

I want to give thanks for my children, Georgina and Kathryn

I want to give thanks for my mum Mary and my five siblings: Arthur, Ena, Richard, Ann and John

I want to give thanks for my nephews and nieces

I want to give thanks for my friends

I want to give thanks for my neighbours

I want to give thanks for my acquaintances

I want to give thank for strangers who gave me a kind word

I want to give thanks to everyone who helped me along the way

I want to give thanks for every kind wish sent my way

I want to give thanks for everyone who listened to me

I want to give thanks for being alive and well and full of joy

I give thanks

Debt is the single biggest issue of our century – Primetime Monday 19, 2014

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Debt is the single biggest issue facing the Irish people this century both on a national and European stage.  When history comes to be written the issue of debt in our time will be as big an issue as the famine was in the 19th century. And ironically, the misery caused by both – the deaths, suicides, emigration and homelessness – are utterly preventable.

 

We know that we hold 42 percent of the debt from the banking crisis in Europe. We also know this is wrong, that this is an unjust debt, an odious debt.

 

The current government was voted in three years ago with an overwhelming mandate to renegotiate this debt but they did nothing. They did not even ask for a single cent back.

 

This is why I want to go to Europe to right that wrong.
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Why should you send me to Europe? I have personally felt the impact of austerity in a real and painful fashion. Last year the banks repossessed my home, my business failed and bailiffs called to my door. I tried the Insolvency Service but I was too broke. I was forced to go bankrupt. But as I hit rock bottom I started fighting back. As a bankrupt I was not allowed to run for public office so I took a case against the government in the High Court claiming my constitutional rights were being infringed. As soon as I had a trial date, the government backed down and rushed through the law to allow me to run. On April 16, 2014, I changed the law.

 

Now I want to go to Europe to fight the odious debt, the haemorrhaging of billions into Europe that could be used to stop the suffering and misery here.

 

In short, I have the tee-shirt, the experience and the passion to make a difference.

Vote Jill and send me to Europe.

Thank you

Link to Prime Time here – I am first on at minute 33  

 

 

 

Shane Ross endorses Jillian Godsil – with Diarmuid O’Flynn

Deputy Shane Ross has announced he is endorsing my candidacy for Ireland South in the upcoming European European elections. He has also taken the unusual step of endorsing a fellow Independent Candidate Diarmuid O’Flynn, founder of the Ballyhea Protestors. We are both running in Ireland South. The election is on May 23rd.

Last night Shane announced on Twitter:

I will endorse both Jillian Godsil AND Diarmuid O’Flynn for Europe. Two noble independent battlers. Both deserve seats. Sorry decision delay.

Please find his tweet here 

This is an outstanding day for democracy. Irish citizens now have the option to vote for the people of their choice and not be curtailed by party politics. It sends a clear signal to the government that Independents are the new Opposition.

I personally am very honoured to have received Shane’s endorsement. I am also proud to be endorsed alongside Diarmuid O’Flynn whose dedication to Ireland and justice is unrivalled,

 

To be named by one Irish patriot in the company of another is a wonderful day indeed.

I came to prominence over the past three years when I very publicly documented my personal descent into financial misery; divorce and recession combined to force the collapse of my business, the repossession of my home by the banks and finally push me into bankruptcy. But even as I hit rock bottom, I began fighting back for people in similar distress. I am tireless in calling out the injustice of leaving the banks in charge, in the unfit for purpose insolvency laws and the lack of transparency in Ireland. On April 16 I single handedly changed the laws in Ireland, removing the ban on bankrupts to run for public office, and now I have set my sights on Europe – to undo the unjust burden of 42% of the banking debt on the Irish people.

l was once called the brokest woman in Ireland. If voted into Europe, I can wear the title of the brokest woman in Europe for the Insolvency Service has vowed to take any salary off me for the next eight years – to give it to the banks!

Before becoming bankrupt, I had serious international experience having held senior jobs in London, Sydney and Singapore. I am no stranger to international business. I will moreover use my journalist and broadcast skills to shine a light into Europe. My planned regular TV programme has a working title #thegravytrain.

Please vote Independent on May 23rd.

 

thank you

Jillian

Debt is Divisive

Debt is Divisive

If you prefer you can listen to this essay here in part I, part II and part III – in total it takes less than ten minutes to listen to all three recordings.

Let us be very clear about this issue. Debt is divisive. At the risk of being inflammatory, it gets the same level of mixed emotion as the R word. Depending on your perspective, and level of solvency, it can be a very dirty word. Debt is genuinely divisive.

Where the needle turns is when the system breaks down, as it has done on an international basis. We are now living in unchartered waters where the rules have changed and the language is polarised. We need to understand what debt is, how we got into it, how we get out of it – and how we deal with debt when the system is broken. And we need to do this without the rhetoric of hate, shame and scapegoating. Nobody said debt was easy but it doesn’t need to be so hard. And it doesn’t need to cost life – no more please.

Let’s consider debt. In the good ole days, getting into debt was a normal rite of passage for an adult. A person finished education and got a job and moved out of home. In time, they maybe purchased a car which probably would require a motor loan and then in Ireland, they would buy a home, definitely requiring a mortgage unless they were a drug dealer. Acquisition of debt was normal. It was laudable even.  In the good ole days, exiting from debt was fairly straightforward too. As a person aged, they paid off their mortgage and loans, entering retirement with a home in their name (no longer the banks) and a few bob in their pocket. This progression was fairly typical whether the person bought a semi-detached house in Tallaght or a red brick in Ranelagh.  Debt wasn’t an issue. Whether they had a large mortgage on a big house or a modest one on a bungalow, debt was just part of life – a part that people passed through with lots of hard work but without much drama.

Then the financial world changed. We were particularly unlucky here in Ireland in that we had already changed dramatically before the financial crises. The timing for our Celtic Tiger could not have been more unfortunate for it catapulted hundreds of thousands of people into immediate and painful Debt (now spelt with a capital D).

Let’s consider the Celtic Tiger briefly for a moment. When I left Ireland in 1987 I was a very proud Irishwoman. Ireland was seen as a shining example of how a small, modern economy could create great wealth despite a scarcity of natural resources, no manufacturing base and a tiny population. We were doing it again – taking our place on a world stage out of all proportion to our global importance. It was a triumph of spirit over adversity. In fact, it seemed that our very history had somehow conspired to take our difficult path to sovereignty and use it as a lever to leapfrog us to greatness. Since the crash, we have forgotten that it was our natural talents that created the Celtic Tiger, not the property bubble – that came afterwards. The property bubble was the symptom of our success not the engine.

So even as we were creating real wealth, developing new businesses and becoming an intellectual powerhouse in Europe, things were changing and property became the outward symbol of our success and ultimately as we all know, the bubble that ‘did us in.’

 

There are some thoughts on debt that I want to share, thoughts on debt before it became Debt.

When the financial crisis deepened, so too language changed around debt. Terms should as debt forgiveness, debt cleansing and moral hazard began to be part of the conversation, only these terms were being generated by the financial industry and used a weapon against ordinary people. If you were a developer or a banker, you could argue for business negotiation but if you were an individual, you had to ask for debt forgiveness. Not only was the little person the lowly supplicant, the bank held all the cards. Debt forgiveness wasn’t a right, it was a gift at the behest of the banks.  Not only was the language changing, overnight the rules changed. The banks went from the position of throwing money at people with the loosest of terms, to become predatory institutions capable and ready to act in the letter of the law. Once the financial crisis gathered pace, people were set up to fail.

Of course, at this stage, naysayers are all pointing out that people did not have to borrow the money. That is was their choice. That they have nobody to blame but themselves. That people were greedy.

Let me try and give you another perspective. For starters, had we not hit the financial crisis, those ‘greedy’ people might very well have succeeded and their decisions viewed as sound commercial actions and lauded for their success. There is a very fine line when judging someone’s debt. Move the needle on the time dial backwards a few years and the general conversation might be very different.

Then someone’s greed may be another person’s desire to better themselves; to provide a college education for their children, to grow a business or to provide a pension for old age. Human beings are infinite and diverse. Greed alone is too blunt a term to apply to borrowing. However, greed is a very apt word to apply to banks whose sole function is to make money and moreover to make money in the short term.

Language is a very important indicator of what is happening in this debate and despite the soaring levels of anger in this country – against the banks, against the defaulters, against the bondholders, against the government – it is being used most effectively by the establishment.  Language is being used to shame people in Debt. For some reason, Debt has become a moral issue, an ethical issue. Let me state very clearly here that language is a very powerful weapon in the armoury of the banks. Debt is not a moral issue, debt is a business condition.

I met someone recently who said to me: I was brought up to repay my debts. The comment sunk in and I realised the chilling implication was that somehow, as a bankrupt, I had been brought up not to pay my debts. I was shocked. Prior to my financial collapse, I had not so much as a library fine, a parking ticket or an unpaid debt of any kind. I had been brought up to repay my debts in common with the 300,000 Irish families now in mortgage arrears. So what had changed? Had we (as in those of us in financial distress) suddenly changed our moral perspective, our ethics? How had this happened to not just one person but to thousands of people overnight? Of course, the answer is not that people’s ethics had suddenly morphed into those of the artful dodger, but the recession combined with changing rules forced people into untenable positions, positions that can count their cost in blood. Now, that to me is a moral issue – that Debt can be the catalyst for suicide. Now with this understanding, we can rightly use the language of the bible to challenge this condition.

Let us consider why banks can shame people, even onto the ultimate tragedy of suicide, and yet the blame remains with the person. Now, that to me is both a moral and an ethical issue. How can do they do this? By a combination of complicated guile and extreme arrogance is how.

One of the key weapons on the side of the banks is the complete lack of transparency.  IBM sales men of old used the FUD argument to sell their product; fear, uncertainty and doubt. Banks are the ultimate purveyors of such confusion. It allows them to control the rules, change the rules and keep the solvent fighting the insolvent. Consider how you get into debt? It is very easy. There are algorithms based on salary, age, health and the asset you want to buy. Of course, you can shop around but the amount you can borrow is pretty transparent.  So, why can’t the getting out of debt be so simple?

Right now, the new insolvency laws are cumbersome, clumsy and frankly do not work. So far only four people have successfully navigated the Insolvency Service, four in total. The banks have the veto and are in charge. I know for had the banks not vetoed the sale of my home in 2011, I might not be here. I might not bankrupt. I might not be writing articles about debt. I might not be running for Europe and instead be home minding my own business. But history cannot be unwritten and so I was bowled down to the Insolvency Service only to be told I was too broke and as a last resort I was forced to go bankrupt.  I have spoken with PIPs up and down the country and they are all advising their clients NOT to work for the duration of the bankruptcy, for three years. How dysfunctional is that? I am resigned to the fact that I have lost my home, my life savings and all my possessions – but I will fight for the right to work for my future and that of my children’s future.

If we had transparency, then we could see how to get out of debt. Another important point to remember about the banks is that when they lend money they charge interest. This is not a charitable action on their part and the interest is the benefit they get for the risk involved. Only, they are currently safeguarded in the country and have little or no risk. Most of the money they lent has already been paid for in terms of cost. It is an accounting exercise – paid for by the interest they charge. But let us have transparency on how to get out of debt. No more hidden deals, no more who you know and no more how much money you have to pay expensive professionals.  Just transparent laws and steps to exit Debt. It is a business issue you know.

I met another woman on the door step who listened to what I had to say about debt and Debt. I watched her face throughout my monologue and it was unsmiling. At the end, I put out my hand and touched her elbow. ‘You don’t like what I am saying,’ I said. She nodded. She did not agree at all. She had worked hard all her life. She and her husband had made a decision not to have foreign holidays for ten years in order to send their children to college on very modest borrowings. Now she felt angry that people, people such as myself, might be able to escape debt. I nodded and fully understood. I totally got her perspective and empathised with her.

But while I felt for her, I also wanted to talk to her about the society we live in, that our children grow up in. If the banks put people onto the street, aside from the human carnage, it costs the State, and the taxpayer more. If the banks are allowed harass and bully people, then we create an oppressed society where joy and laughter are absent, where children grow up surrounded by silent and shamed parents, where the only answer is emigration, where we put back the progress of our nation by decades.

 

While it takes two to tango, when the music stops, it unfair to only have one chair for the banks.

 

Let’s give ordinary people a fair crack of the whip. Let’s stop vilifying people in Debt; it is only money after all. Let’s recognise that debt is a business issue with a small ‘d’. Let’s introduce fair ways of exiting unsustainable debt (the same rules to apply to the insolvent as well as to the rich), Let’s be kind to one another, stop doing the banks’ work for them, and insist on parity of risk. Let’s be a country that can be proud once more and look our neighbour in the eye once again.

Above all, let’s cherish our people, let’s stand up to Europe, let us be a proud nation once again.

Send me to Europe

I am also making a documentary to explore the hidden story of modern Ireland. Called An Uncomfortable Truth, this is the documentary that they didn’t want made. This is the story they wanted to bury. This is the truth that no one in Europe wanted to admit. This is the story of Modern Ireland.  This is the story of Ireland in Austerity – the real story.

The Ireland that did not rebel, the Ireland that did not overthrow its corrupt leaders, the Ireland that did not eject its politicians – but the Ireland that is suffering daily, the Ireland that has 40 times more debt per capita than any other Euro Nation, the Ireland who has pushed debt on its children’s children and the Ireland that was sold a pup for Europe – holding 42 percent of ALL euro debt. They didn’t want to know but we are going to tell them anyway.

http://fundit.ie/project/funders/an-uncomfortable-truth-the-documentary

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