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Monday 24 October 2016

€18k-a-month separation settlement exposes Ireland's chasm of inequality

Barbara Scully

Published 22/04/2015 | 02:30

There is another strata of ‘rich’ out there – people we have never heard of, living lives we wouldn’t even aspire to
There is another strata of ‘rich’ out there – people we have never heard of, living lives we wouldn’t even aspire to

When I read the headline in this paper yesterday: "Wife gets €3m homes and €18k a month from cheating husband" my heart sank at the thought of such an error on the front page. Surely the amount was €1,800 - €18,000 could not possibly be right.

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But no, I was wrong and the headline was, of course, correct.

A high court judge, Mr Justice David Keane, has awarded a woman €18,000 per month maintenance, of which €15,000 was for herself and €3,000 for her children (there are four). €18,000 per month. That's €216,000 per year. And that's not all. She was also awarded the family home (worth €1.6m) and a €1.7m holiday home.

I pondered these amounts. Eighteen. Thousand. Euro. Per month. My mind boggled.

I swear, I wouldn't know how to spend that much money. I mean, I could probably give it a good go for the first month. The bathroom needs painting as the damp patches are beginning to meet up. We need a new sofa. Oh, and a new telly. Apparently, the ones with the big sticky out backs are very antiquated and I should have a flat one for the wall.

And I would dearly love to have someone come in and fix my garden so it wouldn't look constantly like a cross between a patch of waste ground and an urban jungle. Yep, I could probably spend €18,000 if I was lucky enough to get a windfall. But €18,000 every single month?

As for a holiday home worth €1.7m... well it's clearly not a caravan in Curracloe.

The woman's husband, who was reported as being an 'extremely dynamic businessman', was also by all accounts an extremely dynamic lover who admitted to repeated and continuing adultery.

His average annual earnings for the last five years have been in the region of €1.4m per year. He also has a new home and other assets valued at €7.4m.

Bear in mind, dear reader, that these are 'post-recession' figures. In other words, the years of austerity, which caused most of the rest of us to teeter near the edge of financial oblivion, seem not to have caused too much financial hardship to this couple.

What kind of magic is this?

Like the wife in question, I also was a homemaker while my husband worked all the hours there were in order to keep our little ship afloat during the very choppy years immediately after the crash.

I remember long evenings when we juggled bills and prayed and repeated the mantra, "It'll be okay" to steady each other's nerves. He cut prices and kept going and I did my best to reduce costs on the domestic front.

We are both now hoping we are over the worst of it. But we carry the scars. No pension. No savings. No safety net.

Maybe I was stupid to think that every family had to adjust their sails in the same way we did, relative to their means.

Don't get me wrong, I knew there were plenty of families better off than us, just like I knew there were others much, much worse off.

But, I suppose, I thought we knew all the mega rich in Ireland. Anyone who reads the Rich List can pluck who they want from these glossy pages, but the really rich are different.

What this case illustrates is that there is another strata of 'rich' out there - people we have never heard of, living lives we wouldn't even aspire to.

With their million-euro mansions and their million-euro holiday homes in the sun they are a kind of secret society who keep well away from the gossip pages and limelight. Indeed, from time to time they do divorce, in the same way that other sections of Irish society do, but usually they like to come to their settlements in secret, so such figures are not splashed across the pages of the newspaper leaving the rest of us wondering where it was we went wrong . . . well, on the money front at any rate.

There are other sections of society who did well - the Celtic Tiger politicians, for one, who took to the retirement hills at the first sign of trouble and who are living their lives largely out of the limelight on very substantial pensions funded by the rest of us. I tend to try not to dwell on them. It brings me out in a rash. But at least I know what they are.

This is different, nobody told me about people like me having €18,000 a month. But while the country was being torn apart, due mainly to the reckless lending of our banks, quietly, in the shadows, it seems there were other very seriously wealthy individuals continuing to live their very lavish opulent lifestyles of sumptuous luxury.

I don't begrudge anyone the fruits of their hard work. And for all I know, this particular couple may make large donations to charity. But really, does anyone need THAT much money when all their basic needs are also being met? Should we have a maximum wage to balance the minimum wage?

There was much talk during the Celtic Tiger years that we had lost the run of ourselves. We had become a materialistic society who knew the cost of everything and the value of nothing. But the current situation where such a high percentage of wealth is concentrated among a small minority of mega rich people has got to be just as worrying.

For the next month or so, we will continue to hear much talk about equality in this little country of ours.

But one of the greatest drivers of inequality has got to be the increasing gap between the mega wealthy and the rest of us.

€18,000 per month, huh?

I certainly hope she isn't claiming her child benefit.

Irish Independent

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