Jim O'Brien: 'A dread of eviction is burned into our folk memory'

People attend a protest in Strokestown against the handling of a high-profile eviction (Brian Lawless/PA)
People attend a protest in Strokestown against the handling of a high-profile eviction (Brian Lawless/PA)
Jim O'Brien

Jim O'Brien

Everyone likes to be on the side of underdog. In Ireland, our passion for the 'small man' burns a molten red when land is involved.

Mention the word 'eviction' and something visceral is stirred in us, and even the most recalcitrant of tenants will have little difficulty mustering solid public support.

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It all goes back to post-Famine Ireland and the Land War. The sight of bailiffs supported by the constabulary destroying mud huts and throwing impoverished families on to the side of the road is branded into the Irish folk memory.

With such a toxic memory sloshing around the Irish psyche, it is easy to see why banks or lending houses seeking to repossess and offload distressed farming properties will face a torrid time.

This is especially true when land, particularly family farmland, is the subject of repossession or forced sale.

Even in the normal course of land transactions, be it by public auction or private treaty, there is often a local understanding as to who the 'natural buyer' for a property is.

The adjoining farmer or the person who has been renting the land for a number of years will be regarded as the natural customer.

God help the person who breaks this unwritten code, and unwittingly nods or winks in the direction of the auctioneer.

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When it comes to distressed rural properties the local, unspoken understanding takes on the force of 'omerta'.

No local will be seen to facilitate dispossession and profit on another's misfortune.

And it will take many a long day before the one who breaches this code will be forgotten or forgiven.

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