Good luck Ireland - look after yourself....

My seat belt is fastened and little Molly is sitting in between me and Deirdre all excited as its her first time on a plane.  In 36 hours we will be in Sydney Australia, which will be our new home for the next few years, maybe for the rest of our lives.  As I look out the window  going up through the clouds I look down on the green fields outside Dublin and feel a tear starting to congregate in my left eye.  How did it get to this? why could it not have worked out differently?.... ah well what the hell, we are on the plane now so there's no going back.

In 2003 I set up my own small building company and in the first few years we were going great guns.  Ireland was buzzing and most people where doing home improvements or extensions and there wasn't enough hours in the day to get through the work.  By 2005 I had 12 really good men working for me and there was no problem picking up jobs.  In fact I turned down more than I accepted as I just didn't have the men to do the work.  Not a bad complaint all the same.

At that time I was living in a nice bungalow, but I spoke to my bank manager and he told me he could organise a €500,000 mortgage so we decided to build ourselves our dream home and in 2007 we moved in  - life was good and Deirdre and myself were living a comfortable life and money was always available.  In 2007 my bank manager told me he could organise more funding for me if I wanted to buy some land.  A cracking site went on the market just outside Dublin and in the middle of 2007, I was top bid and bought the land for €3,000,000.  It was a lot of money and I was a little apprehensive about borrowing it but my architect and estate agent advised we could get 50 houses on the land and in 12 months we could sell it with full planning permission for €4,500,000 - not a bad turn for 12 months work.  My bank manager loved the deal and told me to go for it-  so I did. 

Then in 2008 I remember the collapse of Lehman's bank and nearly immediately there was a global financial crisis which seemed to affect everyone across the world.  Well certainly in Ireland the banks stopped lending altogether and there was a noticeable swing in the work situation and by 2009, the construction industry in the country came to a stop.  One of the most difficult parts of this downturn meant I had to lay 11 out of the 12 men off who had been very loyal to me over the years, but I just didn't have the money or work to pay them and keep them on board.

Overall I worked out between one thing and another I had €5,000,000 of debt and was earning approx. €50,000 per annum from picking up the odd job here and there.  Life went from being very comfortable and busy in 2006/2007 to being an absolute struggle in 2009/10,11 and 2012.

I started speaking to my bank in 2010 telling them that work was thin on the ground and that I was struggling to keep the repayments.  They just kept telling me that I had to pay and that they could not write any debt down or accommodate me in any way.  The assets I had were valued at €850,000 so that left a shortfall of €4,150,000 - how was I ever going to pay that back - I simply wasn't.

For the last two years I have be scraping around for work trying my very best to keep up the mortgage payments on my house - but unfortunately since September 2012 I haven't been able to even service the mortgage never mind the other debt.  I didn't know what to do or who to turn to.  So I did nothing for two years and probably if anything I drank way to often just to soften the pain of the financial position we were finding ourselves in.  I sort of kept Deirdre in the loop, but thought it best not to tell her everything.  I was just hoping I would get one or two decent jobs and everything would be back on track.  It never happened!!

In January we went into the bank and asked them to sell the assets and re base the mortgage to a level we could afford to pay. Our new dream home was worth €375,000 now and we told them we could afford to service that if they were open to a deal.  They point blankly told us they didn't do debt forgiveness and that if we couldn't keep up the mortgage payments then we would have to sell the house.  We just kept hitting a brick wall after brick wall.  It seems the banks are not interested In working with me and Deirdre at all, and I eventually got completely and utterly emotionally drained.. 

We started talking about going to Australia at Christmas 2012 as there seems to be plenty of work and it is supposed to be a great place to bring up children.  There are a stack of men over there from my home town and I reckon we will settle in very well.  There is also a good gaelic team called Penrith Gaels so at least I could keep my football up.

So we decided to emigrate out of Ireland.  It has nothing to offer me or my young family.  The banks wouldn't entertain any suggestion I had or compromise in any way, and it just seems that they wont be happy until everyone Is on the street. Its pretty unfair especially due to the fact the banks are all bust themselves and needed a bail out.  Who bailed me out? yeah that's right nobody.  Yes I am bitter, and I shouldn't have to leave this country I love, over the hell of debt.  I never wanted to buy that bloody land in Dublin but sure the banker couldn't get the money out the door to me quick enough at the time and the architect and estate agent told me it was a dead cert.  Ah well no point crying over spilled milk as I am a big boy and made up my own mind.

Anyway I really fear for the country moving forward.  There has to be over 100 young people have left our town in the last two years, to get out of Ireland in search of opportunities.  The country in insolvent and the banks are just not playing ball with the borrowers.  Its so unfair but I suppose whats a small builder like me going to do about it.

Maybe I will come back one day, and if that does happen hopefully the country is in better hands than it is today.  The heart has been ripped out if the towns and villages and debt has destroyed manys a home.

Ah well - I wonder what the film is on this flight and I hope the foods good.  Little Molly is watching the Ipad and seems in good form.  Deirdre also seems content so I suppose that's all that really matters.

As we disappear into the clouds, I say to myself - Good Luck Ireland, Look after yourself.

***This short story is fiction however it is based on a number of people I have come across who have become swamped with debt and feel they have no choice but to leave the country in search of opportunity and a better life. 

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