Hoping to be Bankrupt for Christmas …

first printed in IrishCentral on December 14, 2013

jill in fur coatThe 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 againFail better” as we are being punished by our own.



I won’t make Christmas but I hope to be bankrupt in January 🙂


My week on @Ireland – my parting message

What an amazing week. I will write about my lovely time as the curator of the @Ireland account tomorrow but I am running out the door now and so I just want to ask people who follow the account to look at this presentation I did on debt, survival and hope.

http://bcove.me/i68kpnpg  or click on the icon on www.SouthEastTelevision.ie

This is a talk I did with SouthEast Television called I wonder – about debt,survival and hope

I really put my heart and soul into this. I think it is important. I am passionate about not being ashamed at failing financially. Neither should you be – if you have the misfortune to be down on your luck.

God bless!


Remember – This too will pass…


Arm young people with facts, not fear

I was going to add my twuppence worth into the ridiculous outrage in the past few days over the ‘threesome’ article. In fairness I had a lot of fun on Twitter talking about it. I also listened to Liveline and was bemused. Have we nothing better to worry about? Yes, in fact we do: rising employment, increased repossessions, suicides, poverty, teenage bullying, stress, despair, mass emigration, lack of proper health care, people lying on trolleys in hospitals, growing polarisation between rich and poor, and that poor child who drowned yesterday. We have a lot to worry about. Providing facts about sexuality is not a bad thing. Just because you know about a certain sexual act, does not mean you have to do it. Knowledge is power. From knowledge comes choice. Ignorance only creates fear. Anyway, I don’t want to labour the point, the good people at Spunout have expressed themselves very well and I enclose their statement here.


Arm young people with facts, not fear.

Published: March 23, 2013

Young people are having sex whether the Sunday Independent or Deputy Michelle Mulherin like it or not.

Some of them are having sex with more than one person, and sometimes with more than one person at the one time.

Research shows the average age at which teens start to engage in sexual activity is getting younger, particularly in urban areas. HSE data from 2006 (which is now seven years old) shows the average age at which a young person has sex for the first time is 17 (both male and female).

Education needs to begin earlier than the age of first sex and it is widely accepted that sexual education in Irish schools is both of poor quality and inconsistent.

Research by the HSE shows that young people who receive a detailed and quality sex education actually wait longer to have sex for the first time.

SpunOut.ie exists to provide balanced, reliable and responsible information for 16 to 25 year olds only. The age of consent in Northern Ireland is 16, SpunOut.ie is an all-island charity.

The Sunday Independent wrongly claims we receive €250,000 in state funding. We receive €124,000 in total and this was confirmed with the journalist in question at 11.50am on Saturday March 23rd by phone.

SpunOut.ie believes in the ability of young people to make the right decision for themselves once they have access to quality and reliable information, such as the information provided by our website.

We promote safer sex to reduce the transmission of STIs and unwanted pregnancy.

Young people are bombarded with unrealistic sexual imagery through films and porn, neither of which detail the drawbacks to different forms of sexual activity.

We do not promote threesomes, we arm young people with the facts about them.

We advise young people not to be coerced or pressured into having any form of sex.

All too often, older generations avoid having conversations with their young people about difficult subjects. This is particularly true in relation to sex. Parents feel uncomfortable talking to their children about it and teachers are afraid to raise the subject in the classroom. An adult’s discomfort does not negate a young person’s right to information.

Silence does not breed confidence, instead it creates fear and confusion.

We should arm our young people with the facts and trust them to make responsible decisions.

SpunOut.ie is proud to do just that.

Exporting our Troubles

As a nation we have become adept at exporting our troubles.

When our population soared in the mid 1800s we exported our surplus population by the coffin ship. There just were not enough potatoes to go around.

When we grew a pair and started to demand national self determination and that spilled in active resistance in the next century, so we began flexing the fledging muscles of independence. But then when a timely and largely indiscriminate thin red line was drawn across the upper province of our country, we managed to export the actual violence and daily grind of sectarian anger and destruction over the border.

When we were unable to cope with the concept and possible results of sex outside of marriage, we exported our pregnant teenagers to the UK to have abortions. We still export this problem for distressed women who need a termination regardless of marriage status.

When we could not tolerate any breakdown in the sanctity of marriage, we exported that problem too for a long time. Even now, we operate a splintered path to divorce, a two part process that draws out the painful division of a couple, resulting in months, even years of arguing to divide a union that took mere weeks to join up. Only the solicitors benefit from these convoluted and intolerant legal machinations.

When we could no longer employ our young people in this depressed economy, we again export them in their thousands. And to our national collective shame, the largely xenophobic welcome we gave the recent economic emigrants to our country, is being visited on those young people as they seek work abroad. The Irish are not the only race with long memories.

When the country is awash with huge debt, sovereign, banking, and personal, we do not take the bull by the horns. Our antiquated bankruptcy laws are just that, designed to punish the person who failed. We so lack the American foresight that endorses our very own (exported) Samuel Beckett’s view: ‘Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.’ To be a bankrupt often implies the person was an entrepreneur, a doer, a creator of jobs and wealth, not just a PAYE worker or public servant. The person who fails once may yet succeed again. This especially applies to someone like Ivan Yates. Yates, an honest businessman who succeeded and failed, is being penalised beyond his failure, he is being punished by the financial institutions that fawned over him in better days.

We are told that new laws are coming in, news laws to solve the bottleneck of insolvency in this country. But instead of adopting the refreshing bankruptcy laws just across the water, we are coming up with a different variation. It is too slow and penal still. Why not review the UK bankruptcy laws, take the best bits, and implement them here. Why not? Why do we have to take so long, kowtow to the financial institutions, and still bring in limited, penal solutions. If NAMA was created in a single long night, why does our insolvency legislation need more than a year to create, and still favour the banks over the individual?

Bringing in these imperfect solutions will not stop the tide of bankruptcy tourism to the UK. Businessmen like Yates will no doubt avail of that course, and why not? Why wait to be punished here by the same authority that caused the problem in the first place when a short trip across the water can cleanse the debt without rancour. Except, exporting our bankruptcy problems has the double whammy of causing real stress to the individuals forced to emigrate house, family and work to a fairer jurisdiction, while local creditors will struggle to obtain any recompense when dealing with a foreign legal system. And when you export the good people, they may not come back.

We are a nation that excels at our exporting our troubles. Shame we have as yet managed to export our scourges with the same gusto:  paedophile priests, corrupt politicians, lazy regulators, greedy developers, arrogant solicitors and choking bankers.



The man next door is not your enemy – a rant on the side of the people

The man next door is not your enemy. He may well be in receipt of many hundreds of welfare money and reliefs each week, but he is not your enemy.

The young girl who has a baby to ‘get ’a house is not your enemy. Would you wish that lifestyle choice on your sister, daughter, or friend?

The chap doing the nixers and claiming the dole is not your enemy.

People make choices but often choices are forced on them. It could be accident of birth, education or geographical location. It could be as result of job loss, divorce or bereavement. It could be the school you went to, the kids you hung out with, or what your parents did. It could a desire to follow a dream, or conversely inertia and laziness. It could be because you fell in love in final year, broke up in final year, or could not find love in final year. It could be the books you read, the books you hoped to read, or more importantly the books you never read. It could be the songs sung to you in the cradle, the songs you hummed as a child, or the songs you made out to.

Choices are often involuntary. Will your child become a doctor? Chances are only if his parents were. Will your child become a plumber? Chances are only if his parents were. Will you child go to college? Chances are only if his parents did. Choices are often parameterised by circumstances – past, present and future.

So if your neighbour is on the dole, if the girl next door has babies to earn a house, if the chap who fixes your washing machine demands cash because he is on the dole…he is not your enemy.

The enemy is the lazy agent of government which refuses to make the welfare state more equitable. The enemy is the process that applies a slap-dash approach and ties up worthy recipients into a mire of red tape. The enemy is the over paid senior manager who runs a department in the same way it was run before because that is how it has always been done.

Why does seniority of tenure demand a large salary without expectation of greater performance? Why don’t we find entrepreneurs within government and institutions of state? Are they choked off by inertia, by ‘more than my job’s worth’, by sheer intransigence of circumstance, of history, of a sickening series of accumulations that together create an amorphous mass that cannot be shifted.

I am very tired of government and the people who are supposed to be in charge ducking out of responsibility for tackling issues. Instead they prefer to set the people at the bottom against each other, dividing and conquering, kept busy so that the injustice up the ladder is not seen.

The squabbling classes. The squabbling masses.

Throw them bones so they tear each other apart. There was a report in all the major news outlets in January. It said that the people most affected by the new universal charges and levies are the middle classes, the squeezed middle classes. Those in receipt of social payments were said to be largely insulated from the rising costs. This was the headline in news reports and in the broadsheets, as well of course in the tabloids. It took a few days but then some bright spark questioned the source of this report. There was none. No source. No survey.

Then at the start of February we had the Magda scandal of the polish woman who was supposedly here as an economic tourist, living off the dole and laughing at the Irish people. The report was utterly wrong and so far from the original polish translation, but it not only ran in a broadsheet but had several senators and councilors roundly criticising her – the same senators and councilors who have access to large sums in expenses.

And don’t get me started on the laundry expenses kept by TDs in excess of €3000 per year. Are politicians meant to be prettier than the rest of us?

I refuse to look at the man next door and see him as my enemy.

There are many abuses to the social welfare system, not least that the self employed cannot access it. The self employed person by their very nature tends to be a self starter and wants to work for themselves or create larger companies. But sometimes the self employed need help too. I may be very good at my job. I have years of experience but that does not guarantee my success nor an increase in salary each year. Last year my company failed and I was unable to get any help. Instead I was visited by bailiffs. I still cannot get any help – and now is when I need it. I have no intention of remaining on welfare but I need it now and I cannot access it. I can only strive to re create my business. This is wrong.

Welfare should be administered on need. It should be compassionate. It should also be a right not a privilege. But it needs to be fair. If there are inbalances then these need to be fixed.

The army of people working in the department of social welfare are not all pen pushers. They are not all administration people looking at the rules and then applying strictures. I will not insult the vast army of people working in these departments, they are of course intelligent, intuitive, and interested in getting the job down.

But why are the rules so hard to change, to fix, or to amend? I do not have access to the salaries and CVs of those working in management but I am sure they are high flyers, high earners and high achievers. Where there are inbalances, can not a critical mind re evaluate how they should work. Checks and balances. Why are they so undone?

My heart also stops when I hear the latest news from welfare that the department is going after the welfare dodgers, the abusers, the parasites in society. Why is it that a man in receipt of a lowly figure on welfare may be considered a parasite, while a politician in receipt of a laundry expense (just to pick one frivolous example) is entitled to look pretty?

Fix the system from the top. Look at Eamonn Maloney, Labour TD and the only politician who refuses to take expenses. He is not on a crusade; he believes his salary is sufficient. I am not saying that expenses are the work of the devil, but please let us count them the same way we count for the people on the dole, the self employed with no safety net, the old and those on the breadline.

The man next door is not your enemy. We are not in Orwellian country now where pig cannot be told from human. Look up people of Ireland to fix our country. Those in power, in salaries, in positions of authority have to earn our respect. They have to earn their salaries and positions in society.

Look up People of Ireland.