Category Archives: Ireland

Re-possession or Eviction – reflections on the Strokestown affair

0011321b-1600Some words given their ordinary meaning may describe something distasteful but are unlikely to cause offence to the general populace. The same words uttered in Ireland can be transformed and give rise to may grave offence and outrage. They might even stir men to commit violent deeds. It is not to say that we Irish are thin skinned, though on balance we probably are, but rather that certain words not only remind us of sad and shameful events.

Sometimes in the wake of such offense the Irish raise fists or whatever else they can find close by. On others they simply repair to the Law Library to hire the best defamation lawyer they can afford, demanding vindication of their good name. This is exactly what happened in the early 1970’s when a man called Peter Berry, a high-ranking civil servant took on the Irish Times. The plaintiff claimed that he had been defamed when the defendants published a photograph of a person at a protest carrying a sign with allegedly defamatory material printed on it.

“Peter Berry – twentieth century felon setter – helped jail republicans in England.”

Mr. Berry did not succeed in his claim but the dissenting views of some of the Supreme Court members are interesting. Fitzgerald J said that:

“’Felon-setter’ and ‘Helped Jail Republicans in England’ were not words in respect of which one has to have recourse to a dictionary to know what they meant to an Irishman; they were equivalent to calling him a traitor.”

McLoughlin J, also dissenting, took a similar view:

“Put in other words, the suggestion is that this Irishman, the plaintiff, has acted as a spy and informer for the British police concerning republicans in England, […] thus putting the plaintiff into the same category as the spies and informers of earlier centuries who were regarded with loathing and abomination by all decent people.”

If you don’t want to annoy an Irishman please refrain from calling him a Felon setter. Nor should you ever call him a “Gombeen Man” for it was this slight that led former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds to take on the Sunday Times for an article which was effectively his political obituary. For “Gombeen” is a pejorative term that hints at a shady, unscrupolous dealer who hoarded food during famine times until the price would rise and profits would flow.

As the English Landlord system gave County Mayo Captain Boycott so did Irish land agitation give to the English Language, a new word, defined as
‘to withdraw from commercial or social relations with (a country, organization, or person) as a punishment or protest’.

In a country where Land Reform is just over a century old the word Eviction is still emotive. The recent goings on a farm outside Strokestown, County Roscommon has highlighted the fact that this word is still capable of stirring up the wildest of emotions in people. It also suggests that some people in KBC Bank ought to undertake some cultural awareness training – at least intensive instruction for the bright spark who decided to hire a few gentlemen from the northern part of this Island, instructing them to travel to a farm in the rural west of Ireland for the purpose of forcefully removing (even if they argue the force used was reasonable) the legal owners of that property.

irelandevictions-6The whole sequence of events also highlights the gulf between mainstream media and social media. In some newspapers the event is called a “re-possession” which is legally the correct term. On most social media sites it is referred to as an ‘eviction’ and therein lies the problem. Re-possession begs one to explore the background to how this situation was arrived at. Eviction on the other hand needs no such reflection, eviction is always bad, eviction pushes different buttons altogether in the Irish psyche.

In 1880 Captain Boycott had to avail of the services of up to fifty Orangemen from Cavan and Monaghan to save the harvest on Lord Ernes Estate. They were escorted to and from Claremorris by over one thousand policemen and soldiers.

In 2018 KBC in their wisdom hired a security firm from Northern Ireland to re-possess / evict the owners from a farm in Roscommon. Maybe it is true that History teaches us nothing, save that we are doomed to make the same mistakes as before. One incident from some amateur footage taken at the scene records the underlying tensions. The cameraman suggests to one of the security men that he should be ashamed to call yourself an Irish man. The security man, in a thick northern brogue, tells his accuser that he is not Irish, I’m British. The Ulster Plantation, the gift that keeps on giving, it is enough to break the Internet.

The exchanges in the Dail after the eviction / re-possession was fiery. Pearse Doherty TD said that what happened when the family was evicted was a “disgrace. It was unjustified and it brought to mind the scenes of our past where families were being evicted and thrown onto the side of the road.”

It was an ordeal of thuggery from a group of men acting on behalf of a financial institution with the Gardaí watching on.”

The Taoiseach focus is in the ‘vigilantes’ and the risk to the peace of the State.

It really could have been Mayo in 1880, the Orange men under the guard of the Royal Irish Constabulary, mass evictions nearby. It lays the blame firmly at the feet of the bank and the State for not acting. Some online commentators allege state collusion but never is any evidence produced to back this up. The Gardai come in for a lot of blame but what is their function in what is a civil matter. Online forums are full of mis-information, false assumptions and ignorance of the law. But don’t let that get in the way of the posters narrative building, they’ll just shout you down anyway.

The print media generally focussed more on the people who attacked the security firm. The narrative shifts depending on what viewpoint you wish to articulate. The Irish Independent describes those who attacked the security firm as “dissidents”,Vigilantes” “republican elements” who “exploited the anger”. The reports focus on the baseball bats, chainsaws, burnt out vehicles. You can’t be left without thinking that this was a well organised and executed punishment beating. Meanwhile online the perpetrators are hailed as “patriots”. Are they the modern incarnate of the land-leaguers that Davitt inspired? Or are they bigger thugs than the previous thugs.

Wherein lies the truth? What can we believe? Who can we believe? Where is the room for the moderate view in these conflicting narratives.

DK17_16_June20_1885Parnell asked a meeting in Ennis in 1880 what they would do to to a Tenant that bid for his evicted neighbours farm. The crowd replied in unison “shoot him, shoot him”. Parnell replied that there was a much better way “you must show him by leaving him severely alone, by putting him in a moral Coventry, your detestation for his crime”

By getting the crowd to illicit the extremist response Parnell then counselled the crowd on a moderate but more effective strategy.

The security firm that attended the property are hardly politically motivated. Most are simply there for the cash. In order to demonise them they must be labelled, they must become ‘loyalist thugs’ ‘ex UVF’, Ex UDR’, ‘Former British Soldiers’ and thereby ‘Scum’.

istock-000061298742-smallThe Re-possession must be portrayed as an Eviction in the same strata as Victorian Ireland evctions. KBC assumes the role of cruel, tyrannical landlord. The Gardai (now headed by Drew Harris) are the RIC and are all in on it and are not there to protect the citizens. Its all one big conspiracy.

Nowhere in this particular narrative does one look at the facts or the lead up to the fateful moment these persons pulled up outside the farmhouse in Strokestown. Nor is it part of this narrative to examine the dealings and behaviour of the borrower over the last decade or more. Could it be that therein lies  some inconvenient truths. What was the original loan for? What were the funds used for? What repayments were made? How much arrears were built up? What engagement had the borrower with the bank? What Court proceedings have issued? Did the borrower engage with the Courts? Did he engage with a Personal Insolvency Advisor? What efforts were made to make some payments? Are these matters private or because of what has happened now in the public interest.

This information is crucial to understanding what has really happened at Strokestown. Colm Keena in the Times makes an attempt to give people some information about the financial background whereby the landowner had a major tax settlement over an under-declaration as well as a number of Judgements registered, some involving local businesses. Again this is very factual and short on context but it does paint a picture of a man in severe financial difficulty. An article by Keena today suggests that KBC have been seeking repayment for at least nine years now past. These are not irrelevant matter.

When a person takes out mortgage they are always advised that default of payment can lead to you losing your home. Sure we might not think it will ever come to that just like think the doctor will never give us bad news about our health. The reality is we all must borrow money at some stage in our lives and we all must repay that money plus the interest. Similarly, we must pay our taxes even if we grumble about them. It might therefore be appropriate to also pose questions such as; What if we stopped paying our taxes? What if we all stopped paying our mortgages?

We should also look at the answers; If we don’t pay our taxes we risk being audited by Revenue and been subjected to not just paying the original tax owed but also penalties and surcharges. Without this deterrent the State would not function. A Mortgage is a Contract and if we fail to meet our repayments we are in breach of that contract. The causes of the breach can then be looked but no matter what the cause, be it unemployment, illness, economic downturn etc the mortgage contract has been breached. The Courts in Ireland make the distinction between those who can’t pay and those who refuse to pay. The Family Home is also treated differently. What would happen if we all decided to default on our mortgages?

The truth behind this Strokestown Eviction / Re-possession is very well camoflauged and as such suits the many different narratives that have jumped on it. On the one hand the security firm are ‘loyalist thugs’ and ‘Henchmen’ of the cruel Bank, on the other they could be just men in need of a few quid and doing a really crap job. Their attackers are either patriotic heroes, rural robin hoods or as the Independent tried to paint them ‘linked to dissidents’ and a well known criminal gang. The landowner is either a victim of corporate greed, a citizen let down by the state or perhaps a foolish man who bit off more than he could chew, or a serial defaulter in his financial dealings. Wherein lies the truth?

This last week we have seen what can happen when imprudent lending and imprudent borrowing marry and what can quickly inhabit the vacuum that lies between. Never were the words of the wise Polonius more appropriate – ‘Neither a borrower nor a Lender be’.

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Life, Is changing every day, In every possible way.

Rockefeller centerIt was the Summer of 1994 I was working in New York. It was my first time to fly on  a plane and it was good to get away from Ireland for a little while. It was exciting, it was exhilarating, an amazing experience for a young buck from the west of Ireland who thought he knew it all. I lived in Elmhurst, Queens in a diverse ethnic neighbourhood but where the majority seemed to be either Colombians or Koreans. I had secured a Doorman’s job in a large Manhattan Apartment building and a couple of day jobs as well. Earning plenty of dollars I was able to pay the rent and have plenty of beer money. Mid-week we got the train up to Van Cortland Park for pretty basic Gaelic football training.  I remember there was a rock on an outcrop overlooking the playing fields and Broadway with an Irish Tricolour painted on it. At weekends we played matches in Gaelic Park and met people from home in the bar afterwards.  I threw myself completely into the City and when I was off work into Irish-Americana. An Irish-American friend gave me tours of old Bronx Irish neighbourhoods such as Fordham, Kingsbridge, and Bainbridge and regaled me with stories of famous local characters. We drank together in neighbourhood bars. With one ear we listened respectfully to ‘old-timers’ and with the other it was all  Nirvana and Pearl Jam from the jukebox.

gaelic parkwoodlawn

In many ways that summer was a rite of passage for me and my first real foray into the a wider world.  I still longed for news from home.  Occasionally I bought the Leitrim Observer in an Irish shop in Jackson heights. For national news I sometimes bought the Irish Independent from a Yemeni man who had a small kiosk not far from where I worked.

The start of the summer for us was the World Cup and that memorable game in Giants Stadium. Who can forget that moment Ray Houghton chipped Pagliuca. It was a great day to be Irish. It also gave us bragging rights in a City which culturally was so dominated up to that time by the Irish and Italian communities. It felt strange at the time defeating a big time soccer nation like Italy.

Later in the summer my native County also made history by winning the Connacht Championship for the first time in sixty seven years. The previous year Derry had won their first All-Ireland. There was much new ground broken in those crucial years, the collapse of communism, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the break-up of the USSR. All these things were unimaginable and improbable just a short time earlier.

Despite all these new beginnings the Troubles in the North lingered on. A number of events stood out for me in 1993; the IRA bomb in the Shankill, the UFF massacre at Greysteel and the naked sectarianism on display in Windsor Park on the night Ireland qualified for USA ’94.

One other atrocity earlier that year had a huge effect on me. It happened in a town called Warrington which is about half way between Liverpool and Manchester. The IRA made a warning call to the Samaritans in Liverpool saying that they had planted a bomb outside Boots Chemist. The authorities still maintain that the caller never said what Boots shop the bomb had been placed at. Just 30 minutes later a bomb exploded outside Boots in Warrington. As people ran from the scene they were caught up in a second bomb planted outside Argos.

The bombs were placed in cast iron bins which ensured there was lots of shrapnel. Johnathan Ball died at the scene, only 3 years old he was in town with his babysitter. She was buying him a Mother’s Day card. About fifty people were injured and maimed by the explosions. warrington_parry_ball_pa

A few days later the parents of 12 year old Tim Parry had to make the awful decision to turn off his life support machine. The aftermath consisted of the IRA blaming the Police for not acting on precise warnings and the Police and most right thinking people blaming the bombers. The weeks following the bombing were punctuated by even more sectarian killings in the North. Tim Parry’s father made a huge impression on me when I heard him speak about reconciliation and conflict resolution on TV.

One morning late in my summer sojourn I was walking south on 3rd Avenue. I had walked past Hunter College and The Armoury. Suddenly I heard someone calling me. It was Asil the Yemeni kiosk owner. He was shouting ‘Irishman, Irishman, look, look, peace in your country’. He was holding up the latest edition of the Irish Independent an in big back letters I could clearly read the words ‘ITS OVER FOR GOOD’.  IRA Ceasfire

He looked like Neville Chamberlain come back from Munich. Of course my reaction was that this can’t be true and I think I actually said this to Asil. I was certainly dismissive. Nevertheless I bought the paper, which is probably what Asil really wanted. I read it as I walked and read it again several times on the subway home. It slowly began to sink in. It was true. It really was. Peace in our time. Ironically the roles are now reversed and I wish peace for Asil’s home country of Yemen.

The only reason I’m recalling those crazy days of 1993 and 1994 is the sad passing of Dolores O’Riordan. The Cranberries were the soundtrack of that period for thousands of young Irish people like me. The Band released the album ‘Everyone else is doing it why can’t we’ in 1993. In a way the title sums up how we felt when we beat the Italians over in New Jersey. The Cranberries were heading for rock stardom. They were touring the UK when the Warrington bomb went off. In the aftermath Dolores apparently penned the words to the song ‘Zombie’ . It would be released on the 1994 Album ‘No need to argue’ and later be a number one single. The song would also win best song at the MTV Music awards.

Another head hangs lowly

Child is slowly taken

And the violence caused such silence

Who are we mistaken

It’s not necessarily the Cranberries best song and is very much a departure from their songbook even if the instantly recognisable grungy riffs are still to the fore. It is at its heart a quintessential anti-war song and it struck a note big time with many of us, expressing as it did how we had come to feel about the Troubles. It was also marvellous that it was this feisty little rock chick from Limerick telling the World how we felt. There will be enough commentary about the premature passing of Ireland’s first global female rock star. For many of us she will always be simply the voice of the generation who lived either side of the watershed of peace on this Island. That’s how I’ll remember her.

life, Is changing every day,dolores-o-riordan

In every possible way.

And oh, my dreams,

It’s never quite as it seems

 

 

 

This too shall pass

House windSo it begins, our worst storm in fifty years, poised and ready to unleash its fury. News stations have no problem filling their schedules, feeding our puerile interest in natural disaster. Meteorologists and Weather forecasters, typically born to bloom unseen, take centre stage today.

I brought the dog for a walk earlier amidst balmy sunshine and humid weather – a pleasant but foreboding experience.  It was like taking ones seat in a fully lit theatre whilst behind the thick curtain Ophelia’s symphony orchestra tuned up ready for the big matinee. One thing that struck me was the absence of small birds. Normally I throw something to the sparrows – yesterday they were all busy fluttering about hither and tither over and back to the makeshift feeding board I have nailed to the boundary fence. This morning all are absent – presumably they watched Sky News all night and decided to hunker down.  A quick glance around the garden to make sure I didn’t miss anything on last night’s sally to nail everything down. Flasks filled with hot water, nothing says we’ll be alright like a cup of tea.

Ophelia! Ophelia! A tragic name and warning to us not to take this storm lightly. We’ve had disaster before and survived famine and economic calamity – for the latter we would have done better had we heeded Ophelia’s fathers advice to ‘neither a borrower nor a lender be’. The best advice from the wise old Polonius relevant to today is probably to paraphrase his next line, don’t lose yourself or friend today. Stay safe everyone.