Friday, 29 March 2013

Letter to Sharon Bowles - losing a home

Dear Sharon,

We are a family of five – a mother, a father and three young children under school-going age.

Both I and my husband put ourselves through college at night, while working during the day.

I have worked consistently since 1992 and my husband has worked consistently since 1991.

My husband was self-employed up until 2009.

My husband has a mortgage and I have a mortgage; both were taken out when we were single people and before marriage.

When my husband’s business started failing, we were down to a single-income family, as opposed to two. Overnight I pretty much knew that we were in trouble.

In 2009, when I knew that we were going to be in trouble, I phoned my mortgage provider and asked if they could look at my file – literally to look at my file on an individual basis and my history with them; they point-blank told me ‘No!’. I told them that we would be in trouble soon if they didn’t – they still refused and said it was not their ‘policy’ to look at files on an individual basis.

Things started slowly initially but gradually the spiralling just got out of control. Simple things, like our little man has at times a terrible time being an undiagnosed asthmatic, or the time the engine broke down in our 12-year-old car – these types of things happened and had to be paid for. 

€1,000 for a new engine; €500 for a special inhaler plus drugs and three doctor visits, plus one visit to Accident & Emergency - to someone with nothing, €1,500 is a lot of money. I tried to renegotiate with my husband’s lender. We were told a few things by officials in Bank of Ireland, some of these being:

  •  My husband should get his wife (me) to get a loan to pay his debt;
  • one of the representatives from Bank of Ireland told him that she could not understand why either my husband or I was worried about his debt as his loans at the time were ‘performing’ – this made no sense to us as we could not pay the debt fully, only the interest; 
  • Another representative from Bank of Ireland told me that I should stop paying my mortgage and pay his instead. 
  • Another representative asked my husband to sell his house, and pay the shortfall back to the bank. This would be a figure of approx €100,000 – how can one pay their mortgage/anything when they have no income, not even a social welfare payment as he was self employed?

I could go on with the different things we have been told but I won’t – I have not got the energy for it and I do not want to bring up old wounds. I’m trying to conserve my energy for our relationship and our children, as they are the most important things – not banks, not houses, not money, not bonds. My life, my quality of life, my children’s lives and their happiness, my husband’s life and his happiness – they are my number one priority, and they always will be.

I used to be worried before, I used to be stressed, so stressed I wasn’t able to sleep for days. I was so bad that my doctor put me on anti-depressants but I now see the wood from the trees. This is my life – this is our life; no bank is going to bully-boy me or my family and kill us. Oh no – no way will that happen. I will not let it. The banks are running people out of this country – approximately 1,000 people every week. I will not let them do that to us.

For a short while, only because we had a small amount of savings combined with my salary, I was able to pay something to my husband’s mortgage, pay part to my mortgage (I had to cover the shortfall on my mortgage repayment as the rental market has lowered the prices of rental properties).

It couldn’t go on. I couldn’t keep the house together, the car filled with petrol to get me to work, the kids ok – I just couldn’t keep doing it.

Gradually, my own mortgage fell into arrears. I can’t sell it – the bank won’t accept the offers I have got. Even if I did sell it there would be another shortfall on this mortgage, of approx €180,000.

For own health we are at the stage where we actually want the banks to take it all – just take it all. We are talking about negative equity debt of €280,000 between the two of us. I am on social welfare – how on earth can I pay this back?? I was hoping that the new Insolvency Bill might help us – in short, it doesn’t. Not one iota.

In effect, I have given up. Now, today, I find myself unemployed, the first time in my working life of 20 years where. I am an unproductive member of society and I don’t want to be living a life like this. 

When one applies for a mortgage one completes a statement of Income & Expenditure. I did this based upon my lifestyle at the time, as did my husband. Not ever, ever, ever, could we possibly have included a loan of €64,100,000,000,000 into that equation, Ireland’s bank bailout bill, or water charges, or property charges, or children’s allowance reductions, or increased VAT, or increased car-taxes, or increased cost of living, or other ‘tax’ increases or wage reductions. It just wasn’t possible to include those 10 years ago.

It is very easy, nearly too easy, to forget that there are people involved here, people’s lives, their children’s lives; it’s very easy to forget all that with the hard and cold business of bonds and of money and of figures.

But this is our reality.
This is our life.

Thank you for taking the time to read our story.

Kind regards,
The Byrne Family

Letter to Sharon Bowles - job loss, man's perspective


Dear Sharon,

             Our story is but a small snapshot of how the decisions of the past and present are affecting real people in our country. I had been self-employed in the education and training sector of the economy until the demand ceased and I ran out of financial road. Once that occurred all semblance of normal everyday life ceased for us as a family. We have had to fire-sale any possession to keep the mortgage paid. We have other loans that we cannot service yet pay minimal sums to date; I have offered settlement figures all to no avail and now the banks are not prepared to allow us any more time and we face judgement orders. The banks have been bailed out by the taxpayer, they have won, but their behaviour is not as Winston Churchill stated - “In Victory, Magnanimity”.

             We are trying to self-start again on a cost-neutral basis from where we stand at present. To say the least, this is very stressful and laced with anxiety. In 35 years of employment we have never run out of work and never failed to pay either our business loans or any other loans, yet now our credit-rating is shot to pieces with no chance of loan funding in the foreseeable future.

             We have invested whatever financial resources we have had into my wife up-skilling over the past 18 months to achieve a qualification in Healthcare. She has thus far managed to gain 1.5 hours per week at a rate of €10 per hour. We are now facing default on our mortgage, we do not have funds to cover any emergencies.

             When our washing-machine packed up in the last fortnight, only then did I know what hardship meant – this is now my interpretation: “Is hardship when the washing-machine or similar machine breaks down and your wife is so stressed and in tears because you’ve run out of financial road to deal with such things? No! That’s not hardship; hardship is witnessing it as a breadwinning husband and not being in a position to do anything about it. It assaults the very core of your being, the pit of your stomach; your chest aches all the time. That’s hardship”.

             We are now socially and economically isolated. We just subsist from week to week, we keep our negative thoughts in check as best we can, but our time of reckoning is fast approaching; we will not be able to survive unless a glimmer of hope is presented. Our alternative is to emigrate again or lose everything else we possess, namely, our home.

             I possess many skill-sets as a tradesperson with third-level qualifications yet since 2011 have had no success in obtaining even part-time employment, despite over 120 applications. We look at the economic devastation taking place in our local town, the shops closing every week; our politicians saying that things are getting less worse does not mean that they are improving. I can sometimes visualize tumbleweed blowing down the main street.

             What’s occurring in our country is unprecedented, it is like a low creeping fog that envelops all, consumes all, a silent evil. It cannot easily be seen yet all citizens know that it is there.

             I have no sense of hope for the future in this country. We have had terribly weak ‘leadership’ from our politicians – in fact leadership it most certainly is not, appeasement is the correct term and it has echoes of Chamberlain’s efforts at appeasing Hitler in the late 1930s.

             However having reached my 50th year I will conclude on a positive note and I again pay homage to Winston Churchill and the great leadership he showed the world when he said “In Defeat, Defiance”.
Kind Regards,

Letter to Sharon Bowles - family disrupted

24th March, 2013
Dear Ms. Bowles,
I hope this finds you well.

I don’t know where to start so I’m just going to start from this particular moment in time; tonight, in the silence of my home, I will try to convey to you the feeling of anguish which is now a permanent feeling in my chest.

I sit here at my kitchen table, my three children asleep in bed. My husband has wearily climbed the stairs but I know he is not asleep. I hear him turning and know that tonight, like every night for the last number of years, he will face another night of anguish, despair and very little rest.

I have often lain awake, pretending to be asleep, to watch him stand in the dark looking out our bedroom window. I know why he is there. I know that even though we are a team and discuss how to keep our heads above water, he wakes at night desperate to try and figure out a way to protect our family from the financial strain we are starting to find ourselves in. Seeing the silhouette of this strong man against the night sky, burdened under this worry and torment, is crushing. I wait until he returns to bed, turn over and place my arm around him. This at least is some comfort to us both.

Ms. Bowles, my husband is self employed. He has always worked very hard. We have always paid our way, never once asking for help. We never wanted to be millionaires. Our goal was always simple; to provide for our kids, rear them to respect themselves and others. We have been very lucky as they are three very good, kind and fair-minded children, well-liked and respected by their peers and adults alike.

When our kids were still babies, we built our own modest three-bedroom house in the village where I was born and reared. We have never lived beyond our means – we never wanted to! Spending time with our kids, spending as much time as we could outdoors, playing traditional music and being together, was enough. We lived very simple but happy lives, happy in the knowledge that our kids loved their home, loved and had the love and support of their extended family that lived close by. They loved their country and had the ease that comes with a sense of place. They thrived in the security of being loved and of us being a unit. However, this is being destroyed.

My children are not stupid. They are fully aware of the strain that we are now finding ourselves in. They see that their father is travelling further and further in search of work, they see us staying up until the late hours pricing jobs, more often than not to no avail. They know that for the self-employed, if you don’t work you don’t eat. We are currently just making the mortgage. They know that we will not be able to pay the home-tax introduced or the water-charges that are currently being discussed. You can feel the unspoken fear that their Dad may possibly have to emigrate to find work, of the possibility of us losing our home and having to leave everything and everyone we know and love behind. The family unit in which they always felt so safe is being ripped apart by emigration. The heartbreak they felt as they had to say goodbye to their cousins, as their aunt and uncle had no choice but to leave for America, never to return. This totals three uncles and kids gone. Their three older cousins – all educated – are gone, with another to go shortly. They live with the fear that they are next.

The austerity measures that have been introduced are not only crippling and stagnating us financially, it is the sinister way that without permission, it has invaded our home and is destroying our very souls. We have always been a productive and positive family. We have always taught our kids to do the right thing. It is becoming difficult to justify to the children today why it is important to do the right thing. All they have seen is that those who have done the right thing are being forced into debt, while those who driven by greed and power have walked away, free to continue with the same policies of ‘too big to fail’. They are seeing that people are no longer a priority to those who were trusted to govern.

Ms. Bowles, I could delve a lot deeper into the profound effect that austerity is having on my family and families like ours all over Ireland and Europe. Sometimes when looking at a massive task, the human consequences of decisions are far removed. I will finish this letter and after I climb the stairs to bed and close my eyes, I will once again agonise over what the future holds for my children.

Yours sincerely,


Letter to Sharon Bowles - health breakdown

Dear Ms. Bowles,

August 2012 was my first head-on experience with the cuts in funding to the health service; cuts that were made in order to furnish the bank-debt had filtered through to the front-line directly affecting people like me.

I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 1999 but it was not until 2002 that the most disabling symptom of my disease appeared - I had developed chronic nerve-pain. I was referred to the pain clinic and we began, together, a journey to find a way to control the pain while avoiding the side effects of most conventional forms of pain control such as addiction, drowsiness and an altered state of mind.

I was and always have been employed; to stay this way it was necessary to avoid opioids completely.

My pain consultant is very dedicated and tried to find a way to give me as much relief as possible. In 2008 I took part in a trial where lignocane (a local anesthetic) was infused to my spinal fluid through an intravenous drip; not only was this treatment inexpensive (€34 per infusion), within 24 hours I was completely pain-free and for the first time in six years I no longer required painkillers.  It was and is life-changing. For the following four years I received lignocane infusions every six weeks and lived an almost normal productive life.

In August 2012 the Pain Clinic I attend lost three-quarters of its resources as a direct result of funding cuts. I was due to receive a lignocane infusion the same week, an appointment that was cancelled. I was to wait three months and endure unending chronic nerve pain. I was reduced to my bed for a period of eight weeks, no longer a productive member of society, wife or mother. I received my infusion in December but due to the delay, it was not as effective and the relief was only partial and short-lived. There are no words to adequately explain what chronic pain feels like. What I can say is the volume of medication required to have a short break reduced me to a state akin to a living death; I was either sleeping or taking more pills to induce sleep.

I am one of many thousands of people in Ireland whose life has been turned upside-down as a direct result of cuts to vital health services. The decision to make such drastic cuts to the resources at the Pain Clinic have proven to be uneconomical as I now engage with extra services such as out-of-hours GP visits (on average eight home visits per month at a cost to the health service of €100/visit). The lignocaine infusion costs €34 and provides total pain relief for an average of four weeks. Then there are all the extra medications I use to treat the pain or the side effects caused by the pain meds…

It is a battle I am having to fight unnecessarily to pay the debts of banks; why?