Farm Ireland

Thursday 23 November 2017

'The pattern is always the same - bills come in the door, there is no money and the crisis builds up'

Seamus Sherlock has bounced back from his own debt problems to become a rural issues campaigner
Seamus Sherlock has bounced back from his own debt problems to become a rural issues campaigner

Ken Whelan

ICSA rural development chairman Seamus Sherlock knows "a good few farmers" who took their lives because of the stress and depression caused by farm debts or because of not being able to make ends meet with their farming enterprise.

"The pattern is always the same - the bills come in the door and there is no money to meet them. The payments are ignored and the debt builds up just as the crisis builds up," he says.

"Then instead of reaching out and talking to the bank or a friend, they think of themselves as a failure and then the tragedy occurs."

Seamus himself slid into serious debt on his farm in Co Limerick in 2012 and barricaded himself and his family in the family home after the bank threatened him with eviction over farm debt. He survived, bounced bank and now campaigns on rural debt issues and the consequences of this debt.

He says that the typical farmer is too proud to admit they are in financial trouble, even to their family or friends.

"I have known farmers who were so indebted that they wouldn't go to the local pub in case they met someone to whom they owed money," Seamus says.

"It might be a contractor or someone who did a job for them, and they stay at home and tell nobody about their problem - that's how the spiral begins."

And that spiral can go from indebtedness through depression to suicide, unless it is tackled, he adds.

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The first and most important step in solving the problem is to talk about it - and there are plenty of people who a troubled and indebted farmer can talk to.

"If you need a hand, it is there. Talk to friends, neighbours or the local priest, or the Gardai, or the local GAA club chairman. Talk to someone. It's the only solution. Take the helping hand that is available," he says.

For Seamus, rural debt is an ongoing problem, especially in the current cycle of low prices , where some farming enterprises are simply not viable.

The debt crisis which was serious during the economic collapse has not gone away, he warns.

Indo Farming