“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.”
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
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.
Debt is Divisive
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.
We are a talkative nation. Put any two Irish people together and we will talk. We will talk in a bus queue, after mass, in the pub, on the street, in our homes and in our offices. And we are not behind in our opinions. We can be quite forceful in our views. And we are also very good about giving out when things are not right. Talk to Joe on RTE radio is one of our longest running programmes and it is amazing the number of topics we can give out about. And when we give out, we often say that somebody should do something about that. Somebody should do something.
Well, I decided to be that somebody. It wasn’t that I considered myself better than anyone else at doing something. It wasn’t that I felt I was any more qualified to be that somebody. It wasn’t even that I thought I had a God-given right to be that somebody – I just felt that I had to be the change I wanted to see. So I had to be that somebody.
Of course, somebody is also your mother, your sister, your daughter, your wife. Somebody is your friend, your first date, your last date, your golf partner. Somebody is the girl next door, is Mrs Murphy down the street, is the woman in the shop, is the woman hanging out the washing. Somebody is the attendant in the petrol station, the bus driver, the chap smoking on the corner, the woman pushing her child in her pram. Somebody is also you.
Even as I become that somebody, I would love if you could become somebody too. When I stand for election, I would love if somebody would vote for me, somebody just like you, in fact, it is you!
What has happened with our country? We are going through one of the darkest periods of our modern history, with more people queuing up to see Garth Brooks than demonstrating against our governmental self-inflicted poverty. And when it comes to showing what is happening we are reliant on the outsiders to show the truth, even if we have to view our society through a fake wig and eye lashes. When did the truth become more true when delivered by a man dressed as woman. And please do not get me wrong, I have nothing against a man dressed as a woman, maybe not my man, but I fully support Panti’s dress code, gender code, wig code., but doesn’t it say something when the so called ‘outsiders’ of a society are leading the truth charge?
In the same way, feminist, activist, erotica writer Aoife Brennan is leading a little charge all of her own. I interviewed her last year about her first book of erotica and it was all about ‘real world sex’ but the second two books developed into full scale feminism and her trilogy has become thinking women’s erotica. Her erotica is the genre that dares to speak its name. Her books, which touch on financially inspired suicide, the banks, social media, women’s choices, austerity, legal issues, and much more, including graphic sex, were quoted on Twitter recently as being the lynchpin of Enda’s comments. So the Irish prime minster is now relying on a feminist erotic book to explain what is going wrong with the country.
When the outsiders of society point to harsh truths, then it is time to listen …
This is what bankruptcy looks like…
Yesterday I handed over €650 to The Insolvency Service of Ireland in order to go bankrupt. This is what the fee looks like: €650 in coins and some fivers and tens.
It could be worse. In recent weeks another client of the Irish Mortgage Holders Organisation (IMHO) handed over a cheque from Saint Vincent de Paul for the same purpose. Going bankrupt is not a pleasant action. It is not an easy action. For most people it is the end of the road. The bankrupt may claim it is a new beginning, but it is hard to form a new beginning when you don’t have anything or a job or an income to start over.
Bankruptcy is the end of the road. It is the elimination of debt. That is to be welcomed. But it should also be remembered that unlike the high rollers who take this route, who have pensions and salaries and multiple homes, there are many people like myself who have to scrape together the fee, who no longer own a home and who have no means of income except social welfare.
I welcome becoming a bankrupt, to calling a halt on my debt. However, it is not something that I would have aspired to as a teenager. I didn’t day dream that one day I could be a bankrupt and start all over again. It is a necessary evil.
In about ten days I should be in the High Court finding out if I am to be accepted as a bankrupt. I have waited a long time for this but it is one life event that I shall not be celebrating. I am pensive as I journey in this direction, hope intact but in short supply, eroded as it has been by the daily privations of encroaching debt. Even as I hope to undo my shackles, I am not sure what will replace them.
It is good to be free, but freedom like health, is better enjoyed with money than without.
Well, hello bankruptcy!
first printed in IrishCentral on December 14, 2013
The New York Times has thrown cold water onto the success story that is Ireland. It has challenged the public perception peddled by Irish politicians that we are the ‘good boy’ of Europe and that ‘austerity politics are serving us well’. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth and what is emerging today in Ireland is a two tier society with the those in control enjoying large pensions, fat salaries and ‘top-ups’ to their income, while the middle classes have largely been eradicated and along with the poor are faced with stealth taxes; taxes applied universally so that proportionately the less well-off are hit harder.
Emigration numbers are at famine levels, suicides now number two a day and some 40percent of all households have no disposal income at the beginning of each month.
I can personally attest to the direct impact of austerity on Ireland and I can see no light at the end of the tunnel. Six years ago a perfect storm of divorce and recession left me with a mortgage of €1million on a house worth half that. I accumulated huge legal fees (my divorce lawyer for half the proceedings was the current Minister for Justice, then a serving TD) in the region of €100,000. My once successful business crumbled away under the strain and I had the unedifying and deeply upsetting visit from bailiffs to seize goods. I kept on thinking I could go no lower. I had moved out of the family home, a Georgian manor house once valued at €1.65million, four years ago into a rented two bedroom cottage with my two children. My ex-husband returned to the UK and went bankrupt in the much more tolerant laws there. In a year he was cleansed of his debts. The upshot was that I in turn was responsible for the entire debt of €1million. I tried everything to recover but it was too much for me. I made a video to sell the house in 2011 which went viral and I received a cash offer of €500,000 but the banks refused consent to sell. They preferred to repossess the house which they did in August of this year. It was sold two weeks ago for less than €160,000. Sadly under Irish law I am still liable for the debt despite the disposal of the underlying asset.
Struggling to find some way out, to try and regain my place in society again, I waited with eager interest to the new Insolvency Service launched in September 2013 to handle to debt time-bomb of middle Ireland. However, these new laws are clumsy and inefficient and moreover the banks have veto over any settlement. In an ever more bizarre turn, you have to be well off to enter the service. I am literally too broke to avail of the new laws – despite having pro bono representation from the debt advocacy group Irish Mortgage Holders Organisation (IMHO)
Last week new bankruptcy laws were introduced and I am again at the top of this queue. The new laws have reduced the duration of the bankruptcy period from 12 to three years and cut the fees in half. I am with IMHO tomorrow and hope that I can be bankrupt by Christmas. It is an ironic observation that I am looking forward to being bankrupt but I so want to try and start my life again. I have spent six years in financial wilderness and it is not pleasant.
What does it feel like to have debt that cannot be cleansed – waiting for the banks to engage or the government to bring in laws to help the struggling citizens? I liken it to dragging a stinking corpse of debt around with me. The debt fills my brain and I can think of little else. Everything is a struggle. It takes so much energy just to be, let alone to live. People say you can’t get blood from a stone, but I reply ‘try being that stone’.
I was filling in yet another set of forms today in preparation for my meeting tomorrow. I record my modest income and the miss-match with my outgoings. I list my assets – but I am not sure that a ten year old fridge freezer can be considered an asset. I list my debts but I am guessing now at the final amounts as interest has been piled on interest. I tell myself I came into the world with nothing and I shall leave it in the same unencumbered fashion, but it would be nice to hang on to some possessions along the way.
Last winter we had no home heating fuel and the children watched television under duvets. We don’t eat out, I shop for groceries at the discount stores and holidays – let’s just say we don’t do holidays. But we are not alone. Death by the kitchen table is happening in households all over the country with parents unable to meet mortgages, pay the new taxes and even put food on the table. In some ways I was lucky that I had moved out of my home into the rented cottage before it was repossessed. I cannot imagine the heartache of a sheriff evicting my family. When he came in August to take my home I was far away in Dublin filming a documentary about sex (an appropriate contrast I thought at the time).
Ireland will survive but it won’t be because of the austerity policies. No one ever recovered an economy by breaking it further. Ireland will survive because we are an indomitable, creative maverick people. However, we are being let down so very badly by our leaders who refuse to call to account those who lead our country into debt, who prop up the banks on all fronts and who cannot see or do not care about the thousands of families suffering from debt. It is ironic that our very own Beckett said “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better” as we are being punished by our own.
I won’t make Christmas but I hope to be bankrupt in January 🙂
The first is that I am not afraid. I wanted to rise up from my seat in the upper Special Criminal Court house and call it out. Colm O’Gorman was speaking. It felt a bit like the eponymous Jeffers’ book: Feel the fear but do it anyway. My heart pounded and I wanted to stand up and call it out but it wasn’t my time and maybe I had confused my emotion with a film from Hollywood. But I felt it very strongly.
The second is the level of propaganda promulgated by the status quo. When Ross Maguire spoke he talked of giving ordinary home owners a break, a time out. He wanted a dignified mechanism that could be implemented without the mortgage holder having to beg for help or worse not been listened to at all. Terms such as debt forgiveness and moral hazard are used by …bankers. How dare they? The purveyors of Usury should not be allowed to dictate the ethics of our society. For that is at the very nub of this problem. We are a society of individuals who have come together to create our world. Service providers, such as finance houses, are there to fit into our cultural, moral and ethical rules. Bankers should not dictate what is right in our society. Politicians are there to regulate how various different service providers in our society behave. We, the people, elect the politicians to make the laws, not the banks. So we have to stop listening to banking propaganda and believing it to be true, especially when they use terms laden with emotive meanings. If the financial processes in our society are broken, then we need to fix them. We have been brain washed to believe the rapacious banker who evicts a family from their home is right. We didn’t believe that when the English did it, so why do we believe it when our own do it?
The third thing I learnt is that people are caring. I sat next to a couple who were both self-employed and have a large mortgage. They were doing okay. Thankfully they were able to meet repayments but it wasn’t easy. These are the very people we are told who will not have ‘debt forgiveness’ or ‘debt breaks’ or any leniency for families in financial trouble. We are told that we cannot look afresh at debt for those in trouble on account of this couple and their elk. Bankers and politicians tell us that the people paying their mortgages will not countenance that sort of help for people in default. Well, guess what? That is not true. The couple I met were very concerned. They expressed great worry for home owners in debt. They wanted those people to be helped, to be given a time out, a break. There but for the grace of God was their view. If their neighbour was in danger of losing their home, then they wanted to see that family helped, not thrown to the wolves. “Why should we wish to penalise families who are in danger of losing their homes?” they asked wide eyed. “We would want to see them helped.”
I literally sat there with my mouth open. This couple were not unique. They do not want to see people’s lives ruined and their homes taken from them. I believe there are more caring and compassionate people like this in Ireland than those mythical vindictive people we are told about. It is a propaganda of the most damning to stop us as a society questioning the rights of the banks over the people. This couple are the future of Ireland; kind, compassionate, hard-working and caring. And do you know, they are not unique. They are quintessentially Irish. What is not Irish is this culture of hitting the vulnerable and making us all afraid to question how we run our country and how we live our lives. We are no longer under the yolk and we need to take back our autonomy from those who would protect their ivory towers and hide behind banking rhetoric and lies.
This budget is yet another example of the polarisation of our society. This blog is not about the budget – but there is no doubt that the rich are protected and the poor are affected. There were no cuts to the politicians’ salaries and pensions and indeed their expenses will rise with the vouched route. Turkeys voting for Christmas comes to mind.
Finally, (and a sneaky fourthly) I learnt from Maria Doyle Kennedy that singing is better than sex and chocolate. If you don’t believe me, watch it here
Credit cards have a way with words. Some of the best lines have centred round their use. From the ‘No charge’ slogan in the 80s, to the Not the Nine O’clock News sketch with Pamela Stephenson where she invited her credit card customer to stroke her boob (ok, it was a location joke, a vintage location joke playing on the fact that America Express took an exalted view of its own brand of commerce) to the most recent Mastercard line, There are some things money can’t buy, for everything else there’s Mastercard.
Of course, the ultimate irony with credit cards is that while they are selling you a way of life, in reality they are just helping you spend money more easily and costing everyone a percentage into the bargain. Credit cards take their cut, like Shylock’s pound of flesh, and usury is a dirty business after all.
Being a credit card is a bit like being a parent. Or is that being a parent is just like being a credit card. It’s all spend, spend, spend on one’s progeny. Unlike credit cards, however, there is not a fixed expiry date. It just keeps bobbing along until the parent expires.
Of course parents can extract their revenge on their children in two ways. One to live long enough to see them have teenage children. Sweet! And secondly is to live long enough to have to reside in a very expensive nursing home claiming back some of the investment made at the early years of their children’s lives.
Either way, a child is not just for Christmas but for life.
In my travels in this world I thought I had finalised the expenditure of my parents at a range of points, and in each case proved myself wholly wrong. While in Trinity College, Dublin I worked in the States during the summers and paid my own tuition fees. I thought at that stage I’d finished asking my parents for final handouts. Not!
I bought a flat in London at the height of the property market and borrowed the deposit off my parents. It was a sure thing, Not!
I sold my flat at the bottom of the London property crash to move to Australia and borrowed money from my parents to sell it in negative equity. End of financial dependency? Not!
I returned to Ireland and set up home in Dublin. When my husband wanted to move career and we bought a ruined manor house down the country to renovate it, we moved to my parent’s home for a year. To be sure no money changed hands: we did not actually ask them for money but neither did we pay rent. My abiding memory was my husband and I being given free rein in the TV room (a converted bedroom) while my father watched television on a small mobile in the bedroom, and my mother read down in the living room. They never complained. Their currency was love and support.
Fast forward ten years on and the marriage failed. My father had also died in the intervening years. My aged mother (gosh, she would kill me for that description, she is lively as a hare in March) who was then in her late seventies travelled down to mind our youngest every second week. Since we bought Raheengraney House in 1996, I had become the sole breadwinner in the family. By 2008, and now beginning our separation, our eldest was in weekly boarding and my newly ex husband minded our youngest week about. He had been a house husband since moving down to Raheengraney House, a career of guestkeeping not really suiting him.
At the start of separation I had money and thought nothing of it. As my divorce progressed along with the recession in Ireland and the failure of my business, twice, I began to rely on my mother’s largesse again. Is there no end to which a child may rely on a parent, I wonder.
I am still so far from being out of the woods it is a shocker. I wrote a blog last year when the bailiffs came and I said I’d hit rock bottom. Not so, this autumn to my great sadness I have to let go my long term friend and colleague and retreat my business back to my house.
I have to confess. I have hit more bottoms than Mr Grey and without the same level of enjoyment it must be said.
What is it to be parent? To be a child? To be bound in an endless series of engagements, some happy, some sad and many financial. I am so endlessly grateful to my parents and to my mother who is second to none.
This blog was written as my eldest daughter having done her leaving and at 18 is taking a gap year, doing courses and seeking out the love of her life, working with horses. And her now gainfully employed father, who has paid her child maintenance for the past eighteen months declares himself no longer responsible for her financial upkeep. She must look to herself to support herself. Am I to follow suit? Am I fuck! My child is my child whether she is 18 or 47. She is still my child. She is a hard worker who has chosen a tough career. She is my joy, my burden, my love and I would have it no other way. Thank you Mum (and Dad!) xx