Thursday 23 February 2017

'Some people want to climb Mount Everest. I wanted to be a bookie'

Ivan Yates and family may have lost their business, but they still have their integrity, writes Eamon Keane

The winds of change. Cutting through everything she knows, everything she holds dear. The house, their home, a working life, her family. She had fought with it and bargained with it, but no good. It took it all in the end. The wind of recession that is ripping the heart out of this country.

Her voice is broken now, bent sorrowful by the last few days: "Sorry, Eamon, he can't talk. You see, Ivan is sleeping. He is just exhausted. He did all the interviews in one go. He wanted it that way and he is trying to sleep now. He is gone to bed. He is just so tired."

It is three o'clock in the afternoon and I am speaking with Deirdre Boyd. She and her husband, Ivan Yates, had just 24 hours previously announced that their family business had gone bust. Celtic Bookmakers gone to AIB and the receiver. Twenty-three years of blood, sweat and tears. Now there are just fears: "This is devastating, Eamon. It is like a bereavement."

Many families will experience the same this year. But the Government tells us that things are getting better. Just place that one in the vault along with the rest of the lies it spouts. Last year, thousands of firms went bust. The untold story is that of the personal trauma of families up and down the country. To watch a loved one who has built something up over their life lose it all.

Deirdre's pain is not for herself: "To watch Ivan now is the worst thing. It is so difficult. Our children know. We have always told them what is going on, whether it was good or bad. All of them worked in the business bar one. You know, people have been incredibly kind and supportive. They. . ."

Deirdre breaks down, her voice cracking as the words break through the tears: "I'm sorry. I start crying when I read some of the texts we've gotten. I just cry. The texts and the calls have been so decent and kind. People are so good."

If there is such a thing as grace, then Deirdre Boyd, from Tinahely in Co Wicklow, is grace personified. The bankers and politicians who brought this country to its knees wouldn't understand that, though.

I want to take you back to two days before Christmas. It is cold down at the High Court for the two Irish Times reporters who think the Government and AIB are trying to pull a fast one. They don't see the Government's legal team enter by the back entrance. The Government doesn't want anyone to know what is going on at this secret court hearing. Too stupid to properly understand, or maybe they figure you'd just get too annoyed. Maybe you might say "enough is enough". Not its legal team's fault, but the Government tries to bar the reporters from witnessing the ongoing incest between State and the banks. We later learn that the purpose of the hearing is to "pump" €3.7bn of our money into AIB.

"Pump." Maybe that should be "pimp". Banks hounded people into depression, into foreclosures, repossessions. Yet they wined and dined the property pimps with pornographic greed. Greed that was explicit, immoral. Greed that stole the decency of what a society should be. Greed you and yours will be paying off for a long time to come.

Deirdre Boyd is not bitter with the banks, though; 237 jobs at Celtic Bookmakers are now on the line, but she and Ivan Yates insist on taking responsibility for their actions.

I ask Deirdre about the irony of AIB, a billion times more broke than her company, being in a position to potentially force her to sell the family home: "No. I want to be clear on this. We are not blaming the bank. We could see we were not meeting bills. We invited them in to appoint a receiver."

The bankers who got away with it all would laugh at Ivan and Deirdre. Would laugh at them for taking no salary from Celtic Bookmakers as they tried to save it.

Would laugh at them for not putting the family home into someone else's name. And would ask, "Where did it get you, Ivan and Deirdre, this doing the right thing?" Well maybe it got them integrity, something the bankers and sleeveens who run this country will never ever understand.

I can remember once losing something very big. Lost a lot of money, but was able to sleep for doing the right thing.

Deirdre tells me that when she first met Ivan, bookmaking was not high on her list of priorities: "I was reluctant. I got my licence but it was never a burning ambition of mine."

For Ivan, as he recounted recently, it was much clearer: "I was about eight, and my older brother came back from boarding school and showed me how to bet. I put one shilling on Lester Piggott at Bath, and it came in for me at 6/4. From that moment I was hooked. When I was 12, I wanted to be a politician, a farmer and a bookie. It was something I'd always wanted to do. Some people want to climb Mount Everest. I wanted to become a bookie."

Now, though, the passion is dimmed. They face a very uncertain future. I put it to Deirdre that in time they will pick up the pieces. "I don't know. I really don't know. It is too early to say, it is just so hard right now," she says.

And as for the family home, which was given as a personal guarantee? "Oh, that is very worrying, it's awful, we will just have to see."

Ivan Yates's mother also faces a charge on her home. She will have right of residence, as Ivan told us, but it will eventually pass back to the bank. For Deirdre, this hurts: "It is very difficult with the family home. Ivan's mother is as well as can be expected, and the family have been so supportive."

I want to let you in on something I have never told anyone. In the days after I left Newstalk, among the many wellwishers was one Ivan Yates. The man from Wexford left me a beautiful message. A message about enduring, rising above and believing in my talents. Today I send him back the same. I know that he and his wife Deirdre will rise above the Gombeen men, the talentless cowards who would never have the courage to try like they did. The winds will turn for them. That I do know.

www.citizenkeane.ie; twitter@eamonbkeane

Sunday Independent

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