independent

Thursday 17 April 2014

Martina Devlin: Shane should forfeit his €40,000 wedding ring before it turns into a big millstone

THERE'S something elementally symbolic in its simplicity about a plain gold band worn on the third finger of the left hand – whose vein, the vena amoris, was once believed to run directly to the heart.

Simplicity isn't for everyone, of course, but it has a transcendent purity. As for that "gentleman's platinum two-row channel-set 31.41 carat baguette diamond wedding ring" worn by Shane Filan – it's also emblematic, but in quite a different way.

It's not for us to judge whether blingtastic rings are tasteful or trashy: beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But a flamboyant marriage ring within twinkling distance of a €40,000 price tag is so much more than a symbol – by design, it's a statement.

The Westlifer is the latest Irishman to shift a little to the east and discover his inner Englishman, filing for bankruptcy under the UK's more forgiving regime. This requires him to surrender his assets in return for a debt write-off.

But one particular valuable – his wedding ring – spotlights the world in which Filan lives. And the UK Insolvency Service is allowing him to keep it.

It's an asset which announces conspicuous consumption. Which announces ostentatious splurging. Which announces peacock exhibitionism. And all that remains justifiable on the grounds of personal taste, provided the dandy in question possesses the wherewithal to carry it off.

But when he's more than €23m in debt – to banks owned or part-owned by Irish and British taxpayers – retaining spectacular jewellery while leaving creditors unpaid doesn't quite strike that uptown note.

In fact, it sounds a discordant note – misjudged and fundamentally selfish.

He may enjoy wearing it now, but every time he catches someone staring at it, or spots a camera lingering on it, the shine will dim from his sparkler.

Number one rule of flaunting: only do it when you're on solid ground. When your foothold is on shifting sands, however, it's time to pack up the trinkets and put away the baubles.

I expect Filan spends money on public relations, because people in his position always do. Here's some free PR advice: hand over that diamond-encrusted ornament, saying you couldn't stomach wearing it one day longer when your creditors are obliged to take a loss.

Forfeit it in a voluntary gesture of renunciation. Afterwards, appear in public with the traditional plain gold band on your finger – and watch your credit rating soar.

Not with financial institutions, admittedly: understandably, they'll continue to throw a jaundiced eye in your direction. But with the ordinary Irish people who supported you starting out, and continued to admire you and buy your records as Westlife made an international impact.

Remember – because we won't forget – the public is among your creditors. Our taxes are being used to offset bank losses such as those incurred by your string of failed property ventures.

Keep the ring, and run the risk of it becoming the equivalent of Michael Fingleton's €11,500 retirement watch. As with Fingers' watch, it is small in the overall schema – but the watch was a powerful irritant, and the ring has the capacity to be equally troublesome.

The watch, paid for cash down, was presented to Fingers by the directors when he left the Irish Nationwide Building Society – receiving it in April 2009, just after Nationwide was guaranteed by the State following massive losses. A payment of €9,650 was even made to the taxman to save Fingers a benefit-in-kind charge. His acceptance of the watch under the prevailing circumstances encapsulates everything that's wrong with Fingers.

Incidentally, the UK's tolerance of Filan's hardware is at odds with Justice Minister Alan Shatter's recent "diamond bazooka" comments with regard to the new personal insolvency legislation.

During an Oireachtas committee meeting, the minister was pressed to allow "one item of jewellery of ceremonial significance" when assets were counted, and had the prescience to point up the Filan-shaped hole in the proposed amendment.

"One individual's €100 ring that has ceremonial significance might be another individual's €200,000 or €300,000 diamond bazooka that they regard as having a great deal more ceremony than the €100 ring," noted Mr Shatter.

Mistakes are about accepting personal as well as legal responsibility. Be a man who recognises that and hand over the ice, Shane Filan. As much for your own sake as for your creditors.

www.martinadevlin.com

Irish Independent

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