We traveled to Messines for an emotional celebration of the 1914 Christmas Truce. The Waterford-Omagh Peace officially changed its name to the Island of Ireland Peace Choir
Here we are singing in Iveagh House with President Emeritus Mary McAleese and in the Independent the next day
And we were also featured on Nationwide on December 19, 2014
How do you make the medicine go down? With a spoon full of sugar of course.
Last year when I found myself speaking into a vacuum about debt and austerity in Ireland, I decided to use the one weapon at my disposal, the one thing the banks could not take from me – namely my pen – and I wrote a trilogy that has at its core the harsh human cost of our economic tragedy. And I say tragedy because most of what has happened to Ireland was so unnecessary. I can guarantee that in all the reviews of 50shades there is not one mention of the collapse of the American banking system. Whereas in the reviews of my humble trilogy there are loads of references to the social and economic landscape that is Ireland today.
So, if you fancy the idea of reading about Ireland in recession, spiced up with some very naughty bits (for people cannot live by recession alone) then I think it would be a very good thing to buy and read my books. Telling the truth through fiction (and naughty bits) seems like an honourable thing to do. And reading about Ireland in Austerity is also an honourable pastime.
Here is me talking at the Women’s Inspired Network in Wexford to explain how I came to mix my genres.
The Cougar Diaries – thinking women’s erotica – Also read by men (and students of modern Irish history)
I met a new friend last year. He once had a good job in the private sector but fell into trouble, lost his job and put his home in jeopardy. His new found interest in debt propelled him into a filmic project to talk about the impact of financial ruin on individuals. He asked me, as the then poster girl for debt, to talk about my experiences. And he said something that had a huge impact on me. His words went as follows – I used to be an asshole but I’m okay now. I didn’t have to ask him to explain. As someone who had crossed over to the other side of the debt fence, I knew exactly what he meant. Applying the pejorative noun to myself, it wasn’t that I had literally been such an insensitive person, but I little knew the privations of everyday poverty while still gainfully employed. And that is the kind of privation that wears you down. It’s not the big things, although God knows that can be tough too, but the financial destitution that leaves you with no money in your wallet at the end of the week, or even worse, nearer the start, is the kind of soul destroying existence that breaks you down. And it is not until you cross that line that you can even begin to comprehend the fragility of your soul. An extra egg for your tea may not have added a gloss to your soul, but staring at the empty cup can pare it away, sliver by tiny sliver.
To be honest, I am good without possessions. I have to be since I have either lost them, was dispossessed of them or in happier moments, managed to flog them. I am, however, in possession of a very fine collection of shoes, all costing in the range of €10, in the size of 8 and with tottering high heels. I may never wear the half of them as they gather dust on my book shelves (where else would rogue shoes retire to) but they served a purpose over the recent years as my buying powers diminished to the point of necessity. Shoes are never a necessity, not matter what the infamous Mrs Marcos may have argued. My dust laden bargains sing to me still. It was my own swan song of commercialism.
So having established my impecunious state, let me try and tell you what it feels like to be the part of the new class, the genteel poor. This is where the coping classes meet the severely downtrodden and out-of-all-luck classes. It is akin to ironing the front of your shirt, but leaving the remaining, and unseen cloth, creased. I thought it was only a passing phase, one to be shaken off with a new job offer and reinstatement of financial comfort. They say it is better to have loved and lost, then never to have loved at all, but I might argue it is easier never to have to have loved. It’s the losing that is the trouble, the chink too wide that fosters the loss of self.
The first I knew of my new genteel state was the change in grocery shopping. Not only was the weekly filled-to-the-brim basket a distant memory, my choice of shops and what I bought altered fundamentally. Once, at the start of my slide into genteel poverty, I arrived at a till with insufficient cash to pay for my food. I had to leave the trolley, grunting ‘I’d be back’ in a poor Arnie imitation. I was, once I recovered my rainy-day notes hidden down the back of the sofa, but not without embarrassing my teenage daughter to the point of mortification. I didn’t like to tell her, but it was to get worse. I began shopping in the different discount stores to create a full shop. I stopped buying anything in bulk, including obvious items such as toilet rolls. I literally didn’t have the money to purchase more than a week’s supply. So any possible bargains that I might have availed of, as a broke person, were beyond my means. The irony was not lost on me. They say that people waste as much as a quarter of the food they buy, having to dump it uneaten. I would argue that mostly happens in households where food is bought in bulk. When you buy vegetables for the week, they are unlikely to be chucked out. Our portion size goes down too. When I purchase those popular ‘three for a tenner’ deals in one of our homegrown multiples and where the fish portions are calculated on the basis of leprechaun appetites, we manage to divide the two tiny fillets between three. It can be very tasty but I did not expect nouveau cuisine to be so popular in Ireland in 2014.
Then there is the discount shelf in the more expensive multiples. There is a technique to purchasing off the discount shelf as the actual shelf is tiny – a bare two feet wide and two unrelated shoppers would find it difficult to stand shoulder to shoulder and view the items. A gradual crawl around the aisle is first needed to make sure no one else is looking at the food on offer. If someone is already there, then a detour to another aisle is necessary until you can get in line. Once there, you can view the very mixed range of food stuffs – from meat to fish to funny cast-offs – which are labelled with their mark down.
On one occasion, my daughters and I saw steak on the shelf but it was not marked down. We hesitated. Then I decided to be a grownup about the situation. I grabbed the package and marched over to the butcher’s counter. A sign said that Mike was on duty, but he wasn’t. It was Tony or something similar. He looked at me and then at the steak before informing me that particular steak didn’t get marked down until 4pm – which was about forty minutes from that time. I wanted to remonstrate with him about responsible and accurate price marking and what would have happened had I tried to pay for it before 4pm. Even as I felt the familiar indignation wind up in my brain about such poor labelling, I deflated it immediately. It would have been hard to take the high moral ground when looking for discounted foods. I thanked him, returned the meat to the shelf and left without buying it. Outside in the car, I started to cry but my girls just laughed, not unkindly, at me. They loved getting a bargain, they said. I loved getting a bargain, they reminded me. But all I could think was while I loved getting a bargain, I hated being reliant on one.
The necessity continues with that other staple of country life, the car. I am now the proud possessor of a thirteen year old Opel Corsa which is very cheap to run. And the annual car tax is only €180 – so how come I could only afford to tax it for six months? It is the same with my petrol consumption. Do you realise that the optimum speed to run a car of that age and make is at 40 mph? Well, if you are ever stuck behind me on a country road or overtake me on the motorway, you’ll know the reason why.
Welcome to the brave new world!
This article first ran in the Sunday Independent on Sunday 30 November, 2014
Never since the glory days of gladiators has there been so much interest in hand-to-hand combat. It hasn’t happened overnight, it is rare that an overnight sensation actually happens overnight, but Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) has passed the point of being a niche sport and is now officially the fastest growing sport on the planet. 21 years ago the first ever UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) fight was staged in Denver, US, on a limited pay-as-you-view channel. The beauty of the new sport was its diversity, linking as it does the different disciplines of martial arts into a hotchpotch of a sport – a fascinating, visceral, ambitious, primeval spectacle. Taking the highly structured moves from each martial art and then putting them together created an explosive combination. In the first televised competition in 1993, in which there 8 fighters, the expression was coined – two men enter, one man leaves – to hype up the fights. But as local MMA coach and legend John Kavanagh adds. ‘Followed by the other man leaving shortly afterwards.’ And that is why this sport is different. Being a young sport it was humorous, cross culture, highly addictive and making up the rules as it went.
First a disclaimer. In the 21 years of UFC being played and fought, there have been two broken legs. Period. While comparisons are odious, it is worth noting despite the ferocity of the strikes, this is a relatively safe sport, as contact sports go. At professional level the risks are higher, as with all sports, but the danger is in direct inverse proportion to the visual excitement. It is, again as Kavanagh points out, a sport where defence is as important, if not more, than attack.
Kavanagh, owner of one of the fastest growing MMA gyms in Ireland and coach to Irish UFC hero Conor McGregor, didn’t watch the original competition. He had been involved in Karate from the age of four, experimented with different forms of martial arts and was intending heading off to college to become a teacher. He had signed up for mechanical engineering in Bolton Street and was in his first year when an act of unintentional larceny changed the course of his life. In his local video rental store he took out a VHS video of that first UFC competition. In the course of the competition, the triumphant winner emerges as a skinny Brazilian called Royce Gracie. Using Brazilian Jujitsu, (BJJ) this insignificant looking man emerged victorious against the plethora of buff Americans and even sumo wrestlers. In a single sitting, Kavanagh was hooked and the video never returned.
Throughout his four years in college, Kavanagh became obsessed with the sport. He and his friends started experimenting, throwing armlocks into traditional set pieces. There was no UFC in Ireland. There was no UFC in the UK. There was no UFC in Europe. It took him almost six years to learn by trial and error what his professional trainers can impart after six months now. On that journey Kavanagh earned his electrical engineer degree before going on to open his first gym. He worked security at night to pay the bills and during the day he worked with young fighters. His first inclination had been to teach, and if coaching had not worked out, then he would have become a maths teacher, which was his mother’s preferred choice.
‘I could not in all honesty turn my back on MMA,’ says Kavanagh. ‘Even though I knew my obsession and dream was similar to being an artist, or a rockstar with the same levels of job security, I had to pursue it. My fallback position was that I had my degree. I could do a hDip and teach if this did not work out.’
Kavanagh got his black belt in Brazilian Jujitsu and fought and won MMA fights at Irish and British levels. He is a believer in the coach having the experience of his subject. ‘I wouldn’t like to be the dry-land swimming coach,’ he says. From the beginning, he was always the teacher and today fosters a spirit of comraderie in his gym. ‘Martial arts is as much about discipline as fighting,’ he says. ‘The young people learn to fight in a very structured way. There is respect and discipline in the gym. Sometimes the public gets confused with ‘trash talking’ before a professional fight. That is the entertainment side of things and bears little resemblance to actual sport.’
Just last weekend, Kavanagh returned from South Africa where it was almost a case of deja vu. His own professional career took off when he began competing abroad and thirteen years ago he made his way to Johannesburg to fight. It was a successful trip earning him a title, prizemoney and a friend in the form of Matt Thorton. Thorton was to be very influential in Kavanagh’s fighting and business, fostering as he does the principle of ‘aliveness’ in the gym which also encourages athletes and non-athletes to train side by side. Thirteen years ago Kavanagh’s professional career was founded and he went onto hold various titles including a gold in the European Brazilian Jujitsu Championship in 2006; indeed he was the first Irishman to attain a black belt in BJJ as well as the first Irish MMA sportsman to compete in the Cage.
His friendship with Thorton continues today with Kavangh earning a glowing recommendation from the Oregon based innovator. Thorton says of Kavanagh: “Anyone that has rolled with John knows that his own personal BJJ game is phenomenal. He is a world-class BJJ athlete, and his skill at the fundamentals of each position in BJJ, are top notch. In the dozen years or so I have had to Coach BJJ athletes I have yet to work with anyone that matched John’s level of technical finesse.”
Kavanagh travelled last weekend to Capetown where he cornered for one of his professional fighters Peter Queally. At 29 years of age, Queally is at his fittest. A dedicated athlete, Queally had been invited to take part in the ESC championship, which is the foremost MMA organisation in Africa. Queally was the first non-African to take part in this prestigious league. Appearing in front of a huge crowd and an undefeated opponent, the odds were not good. When asked who won, a nonchalant Kavanagh replied: ‘Peter of course.’ History was repeating itself in a good way. For the rest of the weekend, Queally was feted as a hero and he will most definitely be back. While the prizemoney may have been nominal, Queally is now well on his way to success and in time, Kavanagh hopes, an invitation to join the UFC.
Kavanagh’s boy wonder and now seasoned UFC fighter, Conor McGregor, wandered through the doors of his gym a callow of youth of seventeen. Although here Kavanagh pauses. ‘Actually Conor never moves without purpose. He didn’t wander in. He was young, loud, obnoxious and funny. And he worked bloody hard.’
When asked what differentiates Conor from other potential fighters, Kavanagh puts his finger on the point directly. ‘Conor loves this sport. Other young men or women may join the gym keen as mustard but months and years of training can takes its toll. But Conor has never faltered. He has never seen training as a job or something to be done. He thrives on passion. He is a once off, a genius. He is the only other person with a key to my gym and sometimes he is there at 2am in the morning. That takes some passion; day after day passion.’
Other attributes which mark McGregor as different from his peers is his competitiveness – he’d want to win at tiddlewinks according to Kavanagh. He points to Conor’s cleverness, his savvy approach and his keen interest in marketing his own brand. Kavanagh does not mention the hair but it is an implicit part of the package.
But the beauty of Kavanagh is that he does not focus on one fighter. A true coach, his attention travels across a wide swathe of fighters and athletes. He is also ferocious in his desire to see the young fighters continue in their education. ‘It is not mutually exclusive,’ says Kavanagh. ‘Peter is a teacher, Cathal (Pendred) has a degree in analytic science and I have a degree in electrical engineering. I keep on telling the young kids they need something to fall back on.
‘There is nothing wrong in having a dream. Or hoping that Simon Cowell will pick you out of the casting audition, but everyone needs a fall back plan. For me, it is important the kids finish their education and it is something they can certainly balance.’
Kavangh recently opened a new gym, Straight Blast Gym, on the Naas road. His membership has jumped from 100 clients to more than 400 in the past six months. He acknowledges the fortunate combination of the success of his professional fighters and the new interest in the sport. He is finally making money from this business but it has been a long, hard slog. ‘Over the years I have had many young fighters sleeping on my coach,’ he says. With the forebearance of a tolerant fiancé, he has moved bunk beds into the spare room to continue this tradition. However, for every wannabe fighter, there are 99 people who just want to get fit or try a new sport.
‘I get messages from people who say training in MMA has literally changed their lives,’ says Kavanagh. ‘They get fit, they get confidence and they also find a supportive circle of friends.’ The Gym is more of a club with social activities on a regular basis – with an emphasis on family friendly fun. ‘More women are joining too,’ says Kavanagh. ‘For all new members we organise a private session so that people know what to expect. It can be daunting to try a new sport and we want to make it as painless as possible.’ With that in mind, Kavanagh is constantly challenging himself. Recently he togged out in a rugby club to try it out. He too felt the nerves that come with starting something new.
Kavanagh, despite his quiet spoken manner is passionate about more than just his fighters. He believes all kids should get an education – and often quotes Cathal’s degree in Analytical Science from DCU while training professionally. And he believes that kids (actually everyone) should do sport, it doesn’t matter what as long as they do it. ‘Some of the young seven year olds who start training here are puffed after ten minutes,’ says Kavanagh. ‘What is that all about? Kids need to get off their phones and into sport. Otherwise we are going to end up an obese nation.’
MMA is a funny sport. The original rules of engagement are predicated on respect, discipline and control. But the resulting mix in the ring can be frighteningly violent, leading journalists to sometimes question the sport and even link it, in one recent, well-documented interview, to bar room brawls. This is a quixotic jump to make, as front row rugby players are rarely asked if their scrum and ruck skills contribute to fracases in Temple Bar. And as if to further point up the absurdity of comparisons, Pendred made front page headlines in his native Clare when he rescued a baby dolphin at Doonbeg with his girlfriend before releasing it back into the sea. Not the obvious activity expected of a professional fighter.
And as for the Irish in UFC, Kavanagh likes to quote his prodigy McGregor. ‘We are not taking part in UFC, we are taking over.’
For immediate release: Friday 24 October, 2011
The inaugural Women’s Inspire Network (WIN) formed by Twitter-Goddess Samantha Kelly kicks off its 2014 programme with a conference to inspire women in Wexford. The lineup includes Victoria Mary Clarke, Carmel Harrington and Jillian Godsil. The venue is The Talbot Hotel, Wexford, on Wednesday 29th October from 9am until 1pm, when lunch and networking will take place. The theme is Surviving in a Recession.
Samantha Kelly, better known as @TweetingGoddess, is well known for her successful appearance on Dragon’s Den, the online group IrishBizParty and Goddess Hour on RadioActive. She formed IrishBizParty as a networking group and that has now grown to more than 2000 active members. She formed the WIN group this year in response to her experience at formal networking groups. As she explains: ‘I found most traditional networking groups to be intimidating. They tend to be suit-dominated and very male in their orientation. Often, the timing too was geared towards people who either do not have children or who have a spouse at home to mind them. I felt we needed a fresh channel where women in particular could come together to share experiences, link up and network in a non-threatening fashion – especially where women have multiple roles of mother, worker, wife, carer as well as business person. This forum is intended to inspire women and we have some amazing women gathered to share their stories and insights.’ Samantha recently was nominated for The Bank of Ireland Startupawards – in the Hero Startup category for her work in helping fellow startup businesses and SMEs.
Leading the charge is Victoria Mary Clarke who is a bestselling author, (‘A Drink With Shane Mac Gowan’ and ‘Angel In Disguise’) internationally successful journalist, television presenter, radio broadcaster, motivational speaker, yoga teacher and angel channeller. She has spent more than 20 years studying meditation, yoga and different holistic therapies, with a particular interest in energy healing techniques and nutrition.
Victoria Mary says: ‘I am fascinated by exploring the different ways in which we can help ourselves to feel amazing….to feel full of enthusiasm and energy, magnetic, creative and charismatic, and in this talk I will be sharing my top ten tricks for optimising your energy for success!’
Carmel Harrington is an award winning and bestselling author who sprang to fame last year when her self-published debut novel, Beyond Grace’s Rainbow secured her a three-book deal with publishing giants Harper Collins. She then went on to win both Kindle Book of the Year and Romantic eBook of the year in 2013. Her second bestselling novel, The Life You Left was published in July 2014. Carmel lives in Wexford, where she juggles being a wife and mother with writing her third book – The Road Back Home. She is generous in sharing her time supporting aspiring writers through her online writing group Imagine, Write, Inspire and is also one of the founding members of Focal – Wexford’s Literary Festival.
She says, ‘There is no doubt that writing in the current market is both tough and daunting as you try to compete with established authors. But it’s not impossible. By working hard and at all times maintaining a positive attitude, I believe that anything is possible. Three years ago I decided to follow a lifelong ambition to be a writer. I’ve never worked as hard or been as scared. But you know what? I’ve never been as happy either.’
The final speaker on the day is Jillian Godsil, whose claim to fame is to be the brokest woman in Ireland – which is some feat given the state of the nation. Her business failed, her home was repossessed and she was forced into bankruptcy, and is indeed the first female bankrupt under the new insolvency laws. However, she did not take these crushing failures lying down. As a bankrupt she was not allowed run for public office, so she took the Irish government to the High Court for the infringement of her constitutional rights. She won and subsequently ran for Europe, winning 11,500 votes in four weeks, on a null budget and with no party. She is now reinventing herself as writer, speaker and student. She says: ‘Surviving is not enough. We have to live even as we survive. And then we aspire to thrive.’
For tickets for the event, please visit http://www.eventbrite.ie/e/the-womens-inspire-network-be-inspired-tickets-12429728653
First published by The Irish Independent on 30/09/2014
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.