Humans of Dublin

“I exited bankruptcy in July 2016 and was questioned on RTE news about what would now change. ‘Nothing’ I said and it was true at the time. If anything I was in a harder place than when the banks repossessed my home and my business collapsed six years ago. I was heart-broken and good for nothing. I wrote an article about homelessness in the Irish Times and the next day a friend offered me a cottage to rent. One year later it feels like home. My tiny cottage sits snugly in the hills overlooking the pretty village of Shillelagh. I have work in PR and as a freelance journalist. I pay my bills. I even go out to dinner on occasion. I have never been happier. My children live nearby and they are amazing young women. I get up each morning with gratitude in my heart. I have put the survival mode behind me and I am shining now. Every human being deserves to shine and this time is mine.”

LINK

I call it ‘couchsurfing’, but really I’m homeless

In the Irish Times Weekend Magazine August 6, 2016 

Facing homelessness for the second time, Jillian Godsil explores how this social issue has become a middle-class problem

 

irish times

 

 

 

 

 

I’m trying to think of a word to sum up how I feel. I think there must be one out there but I can’t put my finger on it. I know what it feels like, a funny ache that lives mostly in the pit of my belly but sometimes it crawls up to lodge in the back of my throat.

I am homeless, for the second time in my adult life, and – though each person’s situation is unique and many are worse than mine – I am part of the great sickening statistic that haunts this land.

The first time I became homeless, the banks repossessed my fine home and sold it for a pittance. There were so many wrongs I hardly know where to start.

But I was stoic then. Gracious almost. Leavetaking suited me, liberated me or so I told myself. I embraced the continental way of living. Let us rent instead. I threw the words out carelessly as if they cost me nothing. I was a new woman to whom possessions were as naught. It is easy to be flippant about possessions when none are left.

I swaggered around as if being divested of things was easy. But this was a façade, and I was dreadfully hurt by the absence of things – notably my security. And more notably still, my children’s security.

Here you may want to stop me, to rail against me and deliver a lecture. Like a pregnant woman who gathers advice thick and fast from well-meaning, if censorious, others, a woman re-entering the state of homelessness tends to get lectured.

The first time I lost my home it happened in a flurry of newspaper clippings. I was among the first to have a home repossessed by the banks. Not the first but a public first (I was in the already in the public eye after I had tried to sell the house on YouTube). As the eviction unfolded, I felt the weight of injustice push down on me from all sides, and I welcomed the media spotlight upon my situation.

Now I am facing into the maelstrom of homelessness again. I am not alone. There are hundreds of families being evicted every month and moving into emergency accommodation. Tens of thousands more sit on the social housing list. For every vocal Erica Fleming, who told her story of homelessness and single motherhood through RTÉ and other media, there are hundreds of silent witnesses.

This time I am lacking any of the securities I felt before. There’s no sense of karma. I smile in all the right places, laugh as loud as the next person and perform daily tasks with astonishing ease. There, look, I am dressed and functioning. Offering words and busily attending to matters.

Last August we were told we must leave. Plenty of time to find a little cottage and a few acres you’d think. But then perhaps you have not been listening to the news or reading the papers.

The freight train of our own personal eviction notice has paid no attention to months, weeks and days in its relentless pursuit of its deadline. It has slammed through all time, steel wheels slicing through our emotive pleas for clemency.

God’s grace descended on us at the final hour but it separated us too. I managed to find my children, now young adults, lodgings in a pretty cottage with just three rooms. There they have sequestered themselves with their belongings and dog and cat. They are creating a new home and I am proud of their independence while all the time there is a tearing in my belly at our forced, untimely separation.

I am residing in a friend’s house. I call it “couch surfing” to sound modern. I am surrounded on all sides by boxes and rails and the sad paraphernalia of a rented life; nothing more sturdy than a chair or lamp. This is temporary: even friendship has an expiry date when accompanied by suitcases.

I wake up this morning, my first morning in my current lodging and look around at my life. To cheer myself up, I am calling it an adventure. This morning I have a new, if temporary, view outside my bedroom window. I am surrounded by fields in turn populated by horses, cows and sheep. It is very peaceful and pastoral.

I’m sure homeless people all over Ireland are trying to convince themselves or their chlidren that their situation is not as awful as it feels. But I do it anyway.

Tick Tock

Tick tock

Listen here 

Tick tock

The clock
Stopped

 

The hopes and fears
Of all the years
Were met in Greece tonight

 

Arears Arears
The bankers cheers
And blood crept down the wall

 

A people poised
The choices posed
Not even Solomon could call

 

Under the orb of a constant eye
That counts in coins alone
The ancient cradle of polls and votes
Was backed into corners by suited louts

 

Spotlight of world rights
Erased its autonomy
Off with its head –
Give it a frontal lobotomy
The queen of hearts could not have been as cruel
Please may I have some more – Achtung give it gruel

 

And blood seeped through the ancient stones
As booted bankers stepped over bones
Cracking and crunching the feeble sticks.
And cheering acolytes called them by name
Praised their virtue, passed on the blame
To a faceless race where bewilderment ticks

 

What match is flesh for filthy lucre
What match is right for coins and notes
What match is humanity for the pounds, shillings and pence
Of a world that is not right in the head
Of a world that denies the existence of the heart
Of a world that throws other peoples’ children to the wolves
-Always other peoples until your time is come-
All In the name of filthy lucre.

 

And we cheering the passing of right
Turn a cheek
A blind eye
Cos we’re next to take it up the bum.
Just wait, our time will come.
And who will call our name?

 

@Jillian Godsil

01 July 2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Please Sir, can I have some less?

cat lady

On February 17, 2014 I became the first female bankrupt under the new Insolvency laws in Ireland. I didn’t arrive at this point lightly. It had been a very torturous six years leading up to my finally appearing in the High Court and standing up briefly while I was adjudicated bankrupt by the judge. Along the way I had lost my husband to divorce, my home to repossession and my business to bailiffs. I had accumulated debt in the same way an elderly lady accumulates cats. At first there was only one or two to feed, and then before I knew it, I had a house full of the meowing buggers. No one was more puzzled than I about the straitened circumstances in which I found myself. And no one is more puzzled than I about my inability to extract myself from the same mess. I have been playing a waiting game, with a timetable set by the government and at a cost that goes beyond my €200 per week job seekers allowance.

 

I should like to first say now that which I wanted to say to the Judge. I didn’t ask to be bankrupt. I hadn’t been reckless. I hadn’t even borrowed more than 40percent of the value of my assets. Truth be told, I hadn’t even been the primary borrower leaving that to my would-be developer husband, before he vacated the country, his family and the debt through the one year system in the UK. And that is where the rub lies. Not with my ex, for I cannot blame anyone for that choice but me, but with the system.

Bankruptcy is not for the ridding of debt. Bankruptcy is for the means of recovery.

Let that thought sink in. Anyone who looks bankruptcy in the eye will understand me perfectly – and indeed some 448 other poor unfortunates travelled this path last year, the first year of the new, so-called progressive Irish Insolvency Laws. By the time the Russian roulette option of bankruptcy is on the table, the debt is almost immaterial. The cupboard is bare, the possessions pawned, sold or lost and the stones beaten for non-existent blood. It is the personal financial cliff from which we are about to the thrown. The debt left behind is the least of our worries; it is the crashing waves below that occupy 100 percent of our attention; we want to survive the fall and swim again, perhaps even, DV, to safety.

When I became bankrupt last year I had a meeting with The Insolvency Service. I was in the almost pre-euphoric state before the jump (or push). It was only afterwards that the cold reality of my situation sunk in. Whatever debts I had accumulated prior to that date, February 17, were erased. Whatever debts I might accumulate in the coming years were all my own. These two pillars of reason seemed balanced and fair. Then crash, I hit the cold water, whatever assets I might accumulate would be taken off me and given to my creditors. And not only would they be taken over the three years of my sentence, if I was successful in gaining employment again, the Insolvency Service could and indeed would (they stressed this point) get a judgement against future earnings for the next five years. So, I was looking into eight years bobbing around in the cold water, if bobbing was the action that might describe my sorry state.

I have spoken with PIPs up and down the country since this time. They all, to a professional, advise their clients not to get any work during this enforced sentence. So, in one fell swoop not only are people denied the real object of bankruptcy – that of recovery – the country is also penalised as many entrepreneurs idle away some of the prime earning years of their life. There is another consideration. When I became bankrupt, I was too broke to avail of the Insolvency Service, I was below the agreed government subsistence allowance. So, any degree of tiny, meagre measure of success on my part would be taken from me.

I hit a significant birthday last month. I’d like to say it was forty but I have to say it was the new forty, ie fifty. I’d like to think I have a good few earning years left in my career but instead I am looking in retirement with no ballast behind me, I shall remain in the pauper stakes. I want to work. I want to earn. I want to put right the financial circumstances of my life but the option of recovery is so far removed from me as to make it a fiction.

Bankrupts need to be allowed to recover. And that can only happen when the Irish Government replicates the effective laws from our nearest jurisdiction. That way, everyone benefits, even the banks.

cat woman

 

 

Now this is the kind of cat lady I want to be!

Woman who challenged law on bankrupts standing in elections wins costs

First printed in The Irish Times on February 24, 2015

Jillian Godsil found to have been ‘directly instrumental’ in bringing about a change in the law

jillian godsil

jillian godsil

 

 

 

 

 

A woman has been awarded the costs of her legal challenge which prompted legislation allowing undischarged bankrupts to run for Dáil and European elections.

Jillian Godsil — an Independent who stood in the European and local elections last May on an anti-debt platform — had asked the Supreme Court to award her the costs of herHigh Court challenge which was withdrawn when the Government changed the law. A three-judge Supreme Court unanimously ruled she is entitled to her full High Court costs. She was also awarded her costs in the Supreme Court.

Following the withdrawal of her action when the law was changed last year, the President of the High Court, Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns, said she was only entitled to the administrative outlay costs, including stamp duty on filing documents.

Giving the Supreme Court’s decision awarding her all her costs, Mr Justice William McKechnie said Ms Godsil had been “directly instrumental” in bringing about a change in the law relating to bankruptcy which had stood since 1923. While such a result was not without precedent, it must surely be unusual, he said.

He could not see why “costs should not follow the event”, a standard phrase in law which means the loser pays the costs.

Given the facts of this case, and the absence of any disqualifying conduct or factors, he could not find anything which “either in justice or in logic would justify anything less than a full cost order in this regard”.

It was not necessary to address Ms Godsil’s argument that she should get costs because the case was brought in the public interest, Mr Justice McKechnie said.

Ms Godsil’s home in Wicklow was repossessed in 2013 and she applied to be declared bankrupt in February 2014 but found this disbarred her from running in the European elections, although not in the locals. She polled 9,179 first preferences in the IrelandSouth European constituency and 193 in the Baltinglass local election area.

In her appeal to the Supreme Court, she argued the Government had given no indication it would rush through a change in the law or even indicated it was considering such a change. As a result, she had to bring her legal challenge. Costs should also be awarded to her because the case was taken in the public interest, she claimed.

The State opposed her costs application saying she “waited until the last minute” to bring her challenge. The Government had moved expeditiously to change the law, it was also argued.

I used to be an Asshole – Lessons in Genteel Poverty (with apologies to my mother for the headline)

Genteel Poverty

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!

Jillian Godsil

This article first ran in the Sunday Independent on Sunday 30 November, 2014 

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.

warwick rowers warwick 3

 

 

 

 

 

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.

warwick 2

 

 

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.