Public Service

March 20, 2014

I am running for public service. I believe that the past six years have led me to this place. There is a reason for my experience and now I want to turn it into an asset to help others. I am finalising what I can bring to the table and in the interim, here is where it all started – it started with debt.

I wonder – about Debt This is a 30 minute video about debt and this is why I am running for public service

Here also is my appearance on the RTE news talking about bankruptcy last night- my first official interview as a person looking to stand for public office – but guess what? I’m still saying the same things! RTE About the second minute

Thank you

Jillian

March 20, 2014

 

 

Bankrupt

There is no one more surprised than myself to be in front of the judge in the High Court on February 17, 2014 and to hear the words that I was declared bankrupt. The surprise lay in the fact of the judgement – how had I, Jillian Godsil, arrived at this point?  I had always worked hard, I had been financially independent since a student, and I had not ‘partied’ during the Celtic Tiger. Far from it, I had been a hard-working, self-employed mother of two small children.

I grew up in Dublin, one of six children, and attended Rathfarnham Parish School, The High School Danum before going on to read History and English at Trinity College Dublin.  I loved Trinity and flourished behind those grey walls. As I approached my final examinations, I struggled to consider what career I might take. A number of international financial organisations held graduate evenings in the college and I tagged along with business students who were friends. I was most impressed by the JP Morgan presentation and the following week put in a standard CV to the bank. To my surprise I was called to interviews both in Dublin and London and was subsequently offered a job before I had sat my finals.  I achieved a respectable 2-1 in June and moved to London in September 1987 and began my first career in banking. I was hired on the graduate programme and settled into city life. I spent in total three years in London, buying an apartment in Islington along the way. I also met my future husband and became engaged towards the end of that furlong. He was transferred to Sydney and I happily followed shortly afterwards, embarking on a new career, that of public relations.

We spent three years in Sydney. I quickly rose to senior consultant with a small pr company before transferring to a large US multinational, Hill & Knowlton. During that time, we also flew to Fiji in 1991 and were married on Valentine’s day.  In 1992, My husband was then transferred to Singapore and I joined the Singapore office of Hill & Knowlton with a rather cumbersome title of Asia Pacific Director of Advanced Technology. During our eighteen months in Singapore I also conceived and gave birth to our first child; it was a busy time.

My husband’s job was reaching an end in Singapore and being a new mother I was homesick. Accordingly we chose Dublin over London as our next city of choice. I returned home in advance of my husband, buying our home on Leinster Road before he was discharged from Singapore. He found employment in the IFSC in Dublin and I worked briefly for a local pr firm before joining Iona Technologies as its PRO. We were well established in Dublin; we both had good jobs, our Georgian house was renovated, and I became pregnant with our second child. It was around this period that my husband felt he was unwell and perhaps suffering from a breakdown. He was very unhappy in work and wished to try a new career. He was an excellent cook and so we decided to buy a guesthouse near to Dublin.

We sold our home in Leinster Road and bought a ruin in Co Wicklow called Raheengraney House in 1997. We moved in with my parents for three months while we did it up. A year later we moved out but the house was still largely a building site. It was to take the guts of another year before we finished the renovation, at which point my husband then switched to renovating an outbuilding into guest accommodation and planting the gardens. At the time we bought the house, I opened a pr consultancy, quickly winning new accounts in the growing economy. When the house was ready for guests, my husband was not. My business had grown substantially during this initial period and I took over the role of sole breadwinner. We did not run a guesthouse afterwards but lived in gracious rooms.

In 2007 my life on the outside was perfect; I was married with two beautiful children, living in a comfortable house, owning a successful business and contributing to the local community. I was involved in the local church; I was honorary secretary of the select vestry, church warden, choir member and Sunday school teacher. I was active in my children’s hobbies: I was a committee member and PRO for the Shillelagh Pony Club. I was active in my own interests: I was a committee member and PRO of the Tinahely Riding club, I was a choir member of the Tullow Singers, I was a volunteer with the Irish charity To Russian with Love and sponsored a Russian orphan, and I was the pro bono PRO for the equine charity, The Irish Horse Welfare Trust. In my spare time I walked the local roads, read books and dreamt one day of writing the Irish novel.

At this time the house was valued at €1.65million.  Since my husband was not working, he wanted to create a pension for our retirement and bought property in Portugal, using equity from the family home. As a result we grew the mortgage to €800,000. My business was thriving in the Celtic Tiger and was easily able to repay the interest. Again I was the supportive wife and agreed to this plan. I had worked on different continents and succeeded. I had lived through the dotcom boom and crash and succeeded. I had never failed financially before, far from it. I was a hard and diligent worker and had proven myself capable of supporting the family by my own efforts over the past ten years without any income support from my husband

This perfect life was however crumbling from the inside.

I hit first the dissolution of my marriage and then the crashing impact of the recession. I could have withstood one, but not both. Add into that mix a very difficult and extremely expensive family law confrontation and the seeds of my bankruptcy took hold and flourished.

As part of the divorce, the house was put on the market in 2008 and fetched an offer of €1.1million. However, this was retracted due to personal circumstances of behalf of the buyer and now we faced into the property crash. The overseas investment went to pay the shockingly high family law legal fees. These were compounded by my husband first bringing a commercial case in the High Court which was subsequently joined to a family law suit. It was largely farcical and resulted in huge legal fees (almost €100,000 in my case), many delays and subsequent asset loses through the passage of time and descent into recession. We concluded our legal separation in the High Court on February 2, 2010, with the children remaining with me and our debts shared equally.

Following our legal separation, my ex-husband returned to the UK and became bankrupt, thereby leaving the entire mortgage debt to myself and the two children. I struggled hard to find a way to climb out of my increasing financial difficulties. My business was affected and fee income dropped dramatically. In August 2010 my ex-husband filed for divorce in Chelmsford in the UK. It was concluded a number of months later on the basis of being apart for more than two years.

When my ex-husband moved to the UK, the children and I moved out of the big house; it was too expensive to heat. We moved to a two bedroom cottage in nearby Coolboy. I rented Raheengraney house to a number of tenants, passing the rent directly to the bank. However, the rent was not sufficient and the arrears grew to a devastating and unmanageable €200,000. I then lost my tenant and the house was in no fit state to rent out again. In desperation in 2011, I made a video to sell the house.  It went viral and a cash offer of €500,000 was received within weeks. In a crushing and inexplicable blow, the bank refused consent to sell. This was the landmark point in determining if I could have avoided bankruptcy or not. From April 2011 until the house was finally repossessed in March 2013, I fought tooth and nail to find a solution. If I could not sell it, perhaps I could turn it into a business, find a white knight, or attract a backer. I expended huge energies in trying to extricate myself from this growing debt but nothing worked. In fact, the opposite happened, my own business began to suffer, slowly at first and then more noticeably as the recession took hold. In fairness to my departing client base, they also commented that my work rate was not the same as previously. The stress was taking its toll on me, intellectually and commercially.

The limited company floundered. Bailiffs were called and finding nothing of value, went away again. I attempted to trade my way out of insolvency but despite moving mountains, in August 2012, I closed the doors on my business and retired home to lick my wounds. For the next six months I suffered from severe depression. 2013 did not begin with any more hope. Legal proceedings issued by Bank of Scotland before Christmas landed me in court in February. Despite the county registrar’s initial backing of my case –  I had secured another offer, this time of €220,000 – a second visit to court sealed the repossession order. The sheriff took the house formally in August 2013 and proceeded to sell it for less than €160,000 in February of this year. At this point I had an unsecured debt of 1 million plus, no business and no hope.

When the new laws were introduced last September by the government to tackle the country’s growing indebtedness, of which I was now a statistic, I attempted to enter the insolvency process. Ironically I was too broke. I did not have sufficient income to engage, despite being handled pro bono by the Irish Mortgage Holders Organisation, the law not being fit to cater for truly insolvent individuals.

There was no other option but bankruptcy. I filed on January 7, 2014 and was adjudicated a bankrupt on February 17.  I met with my case officers on March 10 to enter all the particulars of my assets, or rather the lack of same. It was with chilling awareness I was told that while the duration of the bankruptcy was three years, should I obtain work prior to the termination of that period, even as late as the last day, that the Insolvency Service might and very much would slap a judgement order on my salary for a further five years. In short while all debts incurred over the next three years were mine and mine alone, any assets could be seized as theirs. For all their politeness, the steely menace of the system was not for turning. I am to return to court on March 31 to confirm my compliance with the court officers and system.

I never imagined that I might be in this terrible place – all my life’s savings gone, my home gone and in receipt of social welfare.  Moreover, I am not alone. This fact does not provide any comfort, however, as I see people facing into similar distressing situations. Bankruptcy is a solution, but it is not a panacea for the truly insolvent. Children still have to be fed, rent still has to be paid, and bills still have to be met. It is ground zero which is better than sub terrain, but only marginally.

 

This is what bankruptcy looks like…

This is what bankruptcy looks like…

 

€650 bankruptcy fee

€650 bankruptcy fee

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

 

 

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.

 

PS

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