I am one of the many who are in mortgage arrears and enslaved by debt to a ‘vulture fund’. My position as a quality control inspector was made redundant in 2010 after the banks crucified this country. I restructured my mortgage with Bank of Scotland Ireland, with the hope of finding employment and going back to paying in full. However, I soon discovered finding employment was not an easy task and Bank of Scotland moved off and sold my mortgage to a ‘vulture fund’. I went back to education and studied Community Development for 2 years and then on to Trinity College for 4 years studying Sociology and Social Policy.
During this time I continued to restructure my mortgage with the hope of getting a good job and going back to full payment. However, this institution that holds such power over me decided last year that my mortgage is no longer ‘sustainable’ and they want my house. ‘Would you not think of surrendering your house’? the voice at the end of the phone said. ‘But where would I live’? I answered. ‘I have a daughter, and her twin babies, and a 28-year-old son living with me because they can’t afford to rent’? ‘Well you could find yourself homeless in six months’ she said. ‘I am nearly finished my degree and I hope to get work soon and start to pay back in full’ I replied. ‘Well I’m not being smart but there are younger people than you with degrees that can’t get work’ she replied. At this point I knew the battle was beginning and the lack of compassion left me cold.
Then came the dreaded letter, ‘the repossession letter’, the court date. I had a few months to gather myself. I had just completed a dissertation on homelessness, and now I was facing the possibility that I could be one of those ‘statistics’. Meanwhile, my friend lost her daughter after an operation to remove a brain tumor and I watched her, and her husband shrink before my eyes as the grief seeped into their bodies, and consumed their flesh. It broke my heart.
Six weeks later, my daughters childhood friend and her husband passed away within weeks of each other from cancer, leaving three children behind aged 10, 8 and 4. Unbelievable grief again for two families and a whole community. It was so hard to take it all in. My problems were put aside, my mind would not give them space it was filled with concern for these families, my heart ached for the parents who lost their children, and three children who lost their parents. I had no right to worry about my financial problems, they were nothing compared to the deep-rooted pain these families were enduring. I thanked God every day for my children and grandchildren and dare not complain.
The day came, I had to present myself to the courts, without any legal representation. In the hall representatives from MABS await to present themselves to people and hand out leaflets. A nice lady asked me about my situation and showed me the court list. I was number 36, jeez I would have to sit and listen to 35 cases the thought of it was depressing. I entered the tiny room and made a decision to sit at the top in order to avoid seeing other people looking at me when I had to present myself. The court was filled with barristers and lawyers all whispering to each other as the poor souls sat on the wooden seats not speaking to anyone. Although we did not speak to each other, we were all connected. We were the epitome of the power imbalance between the capitalist wealth accumulators, who do not appear, but send their barristers, and the unrepresented slaves pleading to keep the roof over their heads.
One after another pleas were made for opportunities to ‘get back on our feet’ and meet full repayments. I had to put my face into my hands as a man in his sixties read out a statement with a quivering voice, I thought the man was going to cry as he told the judge the thoughts of being homeless at 60 was destroying him. He couldn’t get to sit down and talk to anyone from the ‘vulture fund’, he was constantly speaking to someone different on the phone and having to repeat his story over an over. The man was broken it was so sad. The human destruction of financialised capitalism was playing out in this room. Globalised financial institutions using the instrument of debt to physically and emotionally break them, as they plead for nothing more than the roof over their families heads.
My name was called and I felt sick as I stood up and confirmed who I was. It was quick, adjourned until June. I was told to contact the ‘vulture fund’ visit MABS and sort something out. That was it I left. I walked to the bus stop still thinking of that man and how hard it has become to live in this world of financialised capitalism that our Government adores and protects. Who protects us? We are not even in a position to have anyone to speak for us in court, because we are broke. We are broke financially, physically and emotionally, and the people responsible walk away with huge pensions. I walked to the bus stop with barely the bus fare home, and yet I remember bankers leaving court jumping into big cars smiling profusely.
The following day I went to see MABS, and as I sat, and explained my situation to the woman, I heard my story, and broke down in tears. For so long I have tried to see how blessed I was in comparison to my friends, who have lost their children. I kept telling myself I had no right to complain, but as I sat there and heard myself speak about the possibility of losing my home, and seeing my grandchildren placed in a hotel, or a hub I collapsed.
I don’t know what will happen to us as a family, but I am very angry. I did not cause the economic crash, nor did any of those people in that court room. We are victims of a group of elites who got greedy, and a Government who, rather than support people in crisis, caved into pressure from financial institutions to dish out years of austerity. Women, and children who are homeless are hidden away in hotels and hubs. These people have rights that no one is speaking about, and it’s time Leo Vradkar and his cabinet were brought down to earth, and held responsible for their actions. Leo Vradkar has already stated he only wants to work for a certain section of society, ‘those who get up early in the morning’, well it’s about time he was informed that’s not how it works. We are the citizens of Ireland, and no matter what time we get up in the morning, his job is to ensure we all have a decent standard of living. We have rights, and the following are a reminder to him least he has forgotten.
Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:
Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, Housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowed, old age, or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control. (Kenna, 2005. p. 1).
Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights states:
The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and Housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions. The States Parties will take appropriate steps to ensure the realization of this right, recognizing to this effect the essential importance of international co-operation based on free consent. (Kenna, 2005. p. 2).
The Convention on the Rights of the Child at Article 27 (1) points out that States Parties recognize the right of every child to a standard of living adequate for the child’s physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development. (Kenna, 2005. p. 9).
I attended a talk last week on the homeless crisis in Trinity College attended by Professor P.J. Drudy, and he made this point- We have rights, but no one is speaking about them. It’s about time now we began fighting for these rights, together and not blaming each other. It was not us, the ordinary people of this country that caused this crisis, it was banks, financial institutions and our Government, who bowed to their every demand at the expense of the citizens of this country. It is not acceptable when a person without a home, forced to live on the streets tells the media ‘What happens if I don’t wake up tomorrow? well problem solved’. The only way this mans problem will be solved is if he does not wake in the morning. He is a human being, a citizen of this country, we should not accept this. We all have the potential to develop into healthy participants in our society, but achieving this potential is determined by the structure of our society, and thousands of adults, and children are deprived of this potential in Ireland today, because they do not have a home.
On the way home from the discussion on the homeless crisis, at Trinity College, I stood at the bust stop at what was, the Central Bank, and witnessed shivering people without a home, gathered around makeshift tables to receive hot meals from volunteers. The board around the Central Bank read: ‘100,000 sq ft Grade A offices, Modern Dining, Designer Shopping’. I couldn’t help but wonder, ‘Is this Modern Dining in Ireland’?. People huddled around makeshift tables in the street, grappling for a hot meal in a silver tray, as they walk away to set up a makeshift bed on the street. We are a rich country it doesn’t have to be this way. Choices made by Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Labour Party have created this horrendous situation, and now they throw more people to the ‘vultures’ without a thought for the human devastation behind it. I await my own destiny as I prepare to face the ‘vulture’ myself, with no one to protect me, I lay bare at the mercy of the Irish Court. However, I continue to hold my friends grief in my heart, while allowing myself to lament for the security of a home for myself and my family.