“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.”
Toby is a beautiful chestnut Bavarian warmblood gelding. He came into our lives four years ago. His previous owner thought he had kissing spine, a terminal condition, and he was going to the factory. My daughter Georgina fell in love with him and refused to let him go. We paid the factory (ie meat) money for him and brought him home.
It turns out Toby does not have kissing spine. We had chiropractors and vets examine him. However, what he does have is – well lots of things, most of them mental. He box walked, weaved, has herd separation anxiety and lots of other things hard to fathom. Georgina, who as you can guess is animal and horse mad, is also a T Touch student. Her friend and top T Touch healer Sarah Fisher was in Ireland and she came and worked with Toby. Georgina used the same techniques and soon Toby calmed down, relaxed and began to enjoy himself.
Of course, there is only one thing better than a rescue horse, and that is two rescue horses. So along came Deano. Deano is a top class racehorse. His sire is Flemensfirth, an American stallion and sire of many racing heroes. However, poor Deano was not very fast, at all. Paddy Last – truth be told and he was on the way to the great field in the sky when we offered him a home. He was ridden by my youngest daughter and while willing and sweet his show jumping is a bit hit and miss.
Time passed. My girls were busy doing their thing and the two boys had a great time in our rented fields. Best buddies, a true bromance, Toby and Deano are happy lads. They enjoy the freedom of the paddocks and wander in and out of the stables if the rain is too hard or the sun too bright.
A happy ending you’d think. Except while we rescued the horses, we were sadly not doing so well with the humans.
My home was repossessed by the banks in 2011. Prior to that we moved into our beautiful rented cottage in County Wicklow. The boys were joined by our rescue dog and cat. We were all set to live happily ever after – or at least until I managed to exit bankruptcy and get a job.
Then disaster fell. Our lease was terminated. It officially ends on June 20, 2016. Right now, we are overhanging our lease. We are still paying the rent but we have to find another place for us and our horses.
That’s where you come in. We are trying to buy a field nearby. A field that will be ours. A field that we cannot be evicted from. A field that the banks cannot seize. We have found a beautiful spot. But we need help securing the cost.
We have been told over and over that horses are not as important as human beings. We know that but having rescued our beautiful horses we would not see them abandoned or worse. Possessions are not important but security is. We want the security of having a field to keep Toby and Deano safe.
We have found the field. It is beautiful. And we need help securing it.
A field. The Field. Our field – with your help.
Go on buy a cup of tea for Toby – Go on Go on Go on! Just €3 will make a big difference to us.
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.
Now this is the kind of cat lady I want to be!
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.
The power of ONE can change laws. Do no doubt where there is a will there is a way. Where one person can change laws, think what many people can do.
On Tuesday April 1, 2014, The Irish Cabinet agreed to reverse the ban on bankrupts running for public office. This is a monumental change. The law has been in place since the foundation of the State. In fact, this law prohibited James Larkin from taking up his Dail seat in 1927. The Cabinet is now rushing through a bill that will alter this in time for nominations for the European Elections on April 17.
This is directly attributable to my legal case in the High Court. I had brought a case to challenge the ban on bankrupts. Nicholas Kearns, President of the High Court, was unable for time constraints to hear my case before April 17 and so had set a date for July. However, given the incontrovertible case in favour of changing the law, Government acted with sense. Now, that is not a comment I would have thought to have made in recent years. It acted with sense and took action to reverse the ban in time for April 17.
Why did it need to be changed? It makes no sense (there is that word again). A person bankrupted in another country can run for the Dail or remain in the Dail, but if they are bankrupted here they cannot. This archaic law was formed in times were bankruptcy was seen as a moral failure, not a business condition. This change should have been incorporated in the new Insolvency and Bankruptcy laws but was overlooked – along with a whole raft of other issues. I raised the challenge to highlight these new laws which are sadly lacking in common sense. Our Insolvency Laws are still not fit for purpose. A report issued yesterday demonstrates this clearly with only 4 cases completed using the Insolvency Service and more than 60 people using bankruptcy. The laws need to be changed – quickly – to help people in debt. Having been through the whole process I know how to fix it; creating clean, business-like and compassionate law. Law that reflects the society we want to live in, not the polarised version we exist in at the moment
Back to the power of One – If one person can change law, think what many can do. Voting for an independent can make a difference. I have made a difference already – and I’m not even formally on the ballot paper.
Of course, even an Independent needs help and I have to thank the amazing legal team behind the court case: Dr Michael Forde. Richard Humphries, Colm MacGeehin and Ruandhan.
Think on this:
There is a well-documented swing away from political party voting towards Independents, it is coupled with a general feeling of disillusionment and disenfranchisement as a whole. I am not a betting woman but if I were, I would hazard a bet that we will see an all-time low in turn out for the coming local and European elections.
This disillusionment can be directly linked back to the General Election three years ago where Fianna Fail got their comeuppance and Fine Gael / Labour were given a clear and powerful mandate to reverse cronyism and fight for Ireland in Europe. This mandate was totally ignored.
‘Isn’t that what you do during an election’ said Pat Rabitte
What? Tell lies? Bald and bad political thinking at its worst.
So people moved their support to Independents who were at least not directly culpable for creating the mess or indeed for perpetuating it; independents who were not tied to the party whip and who could vote with their conscience not according to the latest political expediency.
But the big problem facing Independents is that they lack power. Their very independence means they don’t have the big political wheels churning behind them.
I have made a difference. Come join me and make a difference. Think what we can to when we all come together.
Irish Men and Irish Women – for the sake of Democracy – Let us all Unite
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
March 20, 2014
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…
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 🙂
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
At the end of last year, as the debate over our national indebtedness continues, there was a horrific story that hit the headlines: A professional Irish man who had lost his job and was currently unemployed, was struggling to pay his mortgage. And in struggling to pay his mortgage, he was neglecting to feed his children. The story grew even more terrible as it transpired he found his daughter in her bedroom chewing on cardboard from a cereal packet to stave off the hunger.
This story is frightening from so many perspectives that it is hard to know where to begin. One really scary point is that it is being told in modern Ireland. This was not, when I last looked, a Third World country with no infrastructure, no police force, and no welfare state. This is a country that recently entertained the Queen and the President of the United States of America. We spent millions on security, on entertainment, on promoting the visits but they went without hitch and even with a fair degree of pride. In terms of keeping up with the Joneses, we were right up there. Is feider linn we all repeated after the O’Bama from Moneygall. After all, he should know.
We may be a broken country, with a ruling party that used cronyism to bring us to our knees financially, a judiciary that has bled the country in tribunals as we investigate those leaders who were never brought to justice, and a financial system that poured loans like poison down our necks. Albeit we opened our mouths wide, but we were told it was good for us, would make us better and moreover the financial institutions said how much they cared for us, cared enough to loan us millions and trillions. Now we are tasting the medicine and it no longer seems so sweet. But how did we end up with a desperate man feeding the greedy bank rather than his hungry children?
It seems to speak to several aspects of our national psyche, none of which is terribly edifying. When did blind obedience to paying a mortgage come ahead of feeding our children? When did the gaping maw of a greedy bank surpass that of a child’s needs? It seems to hearken back to the times of paying the shilling to the insurance man so that in times of hardship, money could be found. Of course, those weekly payments stopped once hardship began so when real privation arrived, there was only loss. So why in the 21st century is the shilling still being paid. And why does it appear that this duty only applies to lowly people. We have seen, and often, the rules changed for leaders in our society. Why can developers, bankers and politicians blithely ignore those same rules and indeed they often profit when things go wrong. How does this work? We all know by now that bankruptcy is a punitive weapon in Irish law designed to curtail and limit failed business people. However, at the top it is interesting to witness that those business people who have gone bankrupt have at the same time made their spouses very rich. The same people who have ridden this country to the edge of collapse are retired off, rats leaving the ship, but beset at all sides with golden handshakes, pendulous pensions and exorbitant expenses.
Then there is the age old sacrifice to land. We have not moved very far from The Field if we consider that our house is worth more than our children. There is loss, take it on the chin and move on. Of course, in Irish law, this is not possible. The banks, those providers of sweet honey in times of good, take no risk and take no responsibility for their actions. If that man fails, they will take his house but he still keeps any debt.
Where is the way out?
Sometimes we try so hard, fight so hard, work so hard that we cannot see a way out. The backbones of this country, people who get up every day and work, who believe in the dignity of labour, have been dumped upon from a great height and with a large amount of excrement. Sometimes there needs to be a halt.
Halting is much harder than it looks. Inertia may ironically keep you working but it is very hard to stop. Stop paying; stop being a good citizen, stop worrying about meeting direct debits and loans and standing orders. It also means not looking people in the eye. Not answering any blocked calls or indeed any unknown numbers. It means writing, repeatedly, I have no money. I cannot pay that bill or any bill for that matter.
How does a person reach that point? How do you get the courage to say ‘Stop the world I want to get off’ and still live in that world?
It is no one thing, it is many things. Remember the sermon of the glass being full? First we are shown it full of small rocks, full to the brim.
Not so, says the preacher, adding smaller stones. Still not full, he says as he adds sand to the very brim. Still not full, and he adds water. Now it is full.
I reached my own epiphany addition by addition until the water reached the top of the glass. It was a many stepped epiphany as slowly by slowly the scales fell from my eyes. Many small epiphanies maketh one big mother fucker of an eye opener!
A man to whom I was once married, a husband, took his leave of me in a cruel fashion. The professionals assigned to help me double-mugged me like Asyraf Haziq, that poor Malaysian student mugged during the London riots at the end of 2011. Supposed helpers filched his wallet and phone from his bag, as others helped the wounded man up. What that man who was once married to me could not take, the legal profession scooped up. There was no justice in the legal system for me or my children. I learnt at first hand the purpose of those rocks in the glass. They were to stone me.
The law continued to mug me. When that man who was once married to me left Ireland, he went bankrupt in a kinder jurisdiction, a jurisdiction that cleansed his debt within twelve months. And as a divorce present he gave all the Irish debt to me.
Now the financial institutions lined up. A mortgage that had been given in generous times had flipped into negative equity, serious negative equity, now almost twice the value of the asset. I sought a solution. I was lectured on the sin of looking for debt forgiveness. As the sand rained down on me, I began to choke with frustration. I was not the expert in the purchase of the loan. I bought only one house in Ireland. I did not produce the valuation nor undertake the evaluation of my ability to pay. Moreover, I had poured my life’s savings and earnings into that house. I stood to lose everything. The bank stood to lose half of its gamble. Except of course we do not have loans of no recourse in Ireland. So while the bank may have lost half, it was still free to chase me for the remainder. Buried deep in sand the debt suffocates me. There is no forgiveness of debt nor fairness in risk.
I cannot even claw back some air, selling the house at market value to reduce half my debt. The bank said it was not enough and left me buried up to my chin in sand and debt.
Then, as if I needed more, the demise of my business forced me to close my company. Maybe it was something to do with the fact that I had been stoned by the legal system that was supposed to protect me and buried in sand by the bank that was to help me put a roof over my head and over my children’s heads. How can someone still work, work effectively, when mugged, stoned and incapacitated? Tied up and tied down until life itself is a struggle. I was left alone to try and fund the company debts and as the water flowed into the glass I was no longer able to breathe. I had no choice but to stop.
Stopping is very liberating. I swam towards the white light, leaving my debt behind.
Of course, not paying my debt doesn’t mean the debt collectors don’t stop chasing me. If I don’t answer my phone to you my friend, then make sure to put your number in contacts. I have put my children first. I will work for them and to put food on the table for them. I refuse to work for the architects of our country’s destruction. I will only work for my children.
I have shifted my priorities and I am unsure of the outcome. I have no call on the social welfare, no call on the taxpayers of Ireland, no cost to anyone other than myself. I have shed my possessions and am clean. Not cleansed, just clean.
If I cannot empty my full glass of debt through commonsense, a rationale approach and morally correct actions, then I will jump glasses. Do you like my new glass? It is full of light and joy: there are no rocks to stone me, no stones to hide surprises under, no sand to bury me, and no water to drown me.
copyright @ Jillian Godsil