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