Friday 24 January 2020

Debtor's tale inspires others to fight back

Father of three considered suicide over threat of losing home

David Raleigh

UP to 100 people with various levels of debt have attended the first in a series of free seminars aimed at supporting those sinking fast in their own financial quicksand.

The organisers, New Beginning, gave much credit for the unexpectedly high turnout to Monaghan man Martin Byrne.

The father of three has gone public with his personal story of battling against thoughts of suicide as he fights banks who have threatened to have him evicted from his home.

"It started off in 2006. I bought our house at the height of the boom and a couple of years afterwards we started to get into trouble when the mortgage interest rates went up. The repayments on the mortgage went crazy and then my job was going down the tubes," he told the Sunday Independent.

When the family-run furniture business of 53 years succumbed to the crisis, "the wolf was shouting at the door".

Mr Byrne and his wife "ran away from the problem" to Spain, where he made a poor living as a musician playing bars during the summer season.

When winter hit, the money trail ran cold and they returned to their home in Castleblaney.

However, on return to Monaghan, he found that services providing help were "totally inadequate".

"I went on the welfare and the jobseekers' benefit here. We looked for help from everybody and there really was no help. I found I was deeply depressed. I'd suffered several nervous breakdowns up until that point and my head was up my backside," he admitted.

Mr Byrne's turning point eventually appeared when he was offered the following advice: "Sometimes it's wiser to turn and run at the problem, rather than run a way from it."

He said: "So that's what I did."

Having fought his demons, including "coming very close to doing away with myself", he "confronted my bank".

"The mortgage is €1,900 a month. I'm paying them (bank) €100 a month."

With fire in his belly and a resilience not be made to feel "ashamed" or "humiliated", he has, aged 47, gone back to university as a mature student.

When he eventually gets his law degree from NUI Maynooth, he's going to be "the biggest pain in the arse the banks have ever seen".

Many in the audience at the New Beginning seminar in Limerick on Friday night said they had taken solace from Mr Byrne's radio interview 24 hours earlier.

A Tipperary couple said they had a new desire to fight for their mental and financial health.

"We were very badly treated by a bank that is now no more – Anglo. I just feel its time now to fight back. We have had stress on top of stress and anxiety since 2008-2009, when Anglo put us into receivership," said Emma (not her real name).

The couple – in their 50s – received a bank loan of about €500,000, set up a business and developed one property. They began trading just as the recession started to sweep across the country.

"They (Anglo) eventually took us to the High Court and put us into receivership and it has just been hell from that day to this. It has been so stressful. My husband had to have heart surgery."

Mother-of-four grown-up children Mary McLoughlin, from Clare, also attended the seminar in search of hope and answers.

"My husband who is 60, was self-employed and then he got cancer. Being self-employed, he was entitled to nothing. I had to go on the live register and be a jobseeker. In the meantime, we couldn't pay our mortgage and were running up arrears."

She added: "To come to things like this is really helpful. It makes you realise there are thousands of us in the same boat. I was on antidepressants for months. I am in a better place now. I find it wonderful to talk about it."

New Beginning is to bring its free service to Galway, Sligo and Dublin over the coming month.

The seminar includes information on options available to "people destroyed by debt", as well as a talk from an expert psychologist on how to deal with the burden in a rational way.

The next seminar takes place at the Gresham Metropole Hotel in Cork next Thursday from 7-9pm.

Irish Independent

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