Jillian hopes to be among first to 'wipe slate clean'

REPOSSESSED: Jillian Godsil, pictured outside Raheengraney House near Shillelagh, Co Wicklow, has €1m in mortgage debt which she has no hope of paying back along with smaller debts to two creditors. Photo: Frank McGrath

Maeve Sheehan

SHE was once the proud owner of a stately pile in Co Wicklow and ran a successful marketing company.

But this week Jillian Godsil will be among the first of the debt-laden pioneers attempting to navigate the uncharted waters of the Insolvency Service of Ireland, which opens for business tomorrow.

She is uncertain of what lies ahead, but says that things can't get much worse than they are. Jillian has a €1m mortgage debt which she has no hope of paying back, along with smaller debts to two creditors, and her business has gone bust.

Last month, the fabulous Georgian manor was repossessed. And for the last couple of years she has lived in a rented house with her two daughters, on State benefit of €200 a week.

This week, a Personal Insolvency Practitioner (PIP) will submit her application for a Debt Settlement Arrangement to the Insolvency Service as the first step in the process of wiping her slate clean.

"I was hit by the perfect storm of divorce and recession together. We bought a ruin in the country, did it up and ran it as a guest house," she said.

"My business was very successful. I was putting €6,000 a month into a pension fund."

Financial difficulties caused by the recession were compounded by her marriage breakdown. Just as the property market nose-dived, the couple secured an offer of €1.5m but the sale fell through. After that, she said, they had "lots of people viewing the house but prices were crashing. We had no offers".

She said when ex-husband returned to the UK, where he was declared bankrupt, the "upshot was that I ended up with the debt in Ireland".

After that, Jillian tried to offload the grand house, touting it to millionaires and even posting a video of it on YouTube that went viral. She received an offer of €500,000 for the house, but the bank turned down the sale.

Last year, she reached a new low. Although she never contemplated suicide, she said she came close to understanding how others in similar difficulties did.

In desperation she went to Belfast last year, hoping to go through the more lenient one-year bankruptcy process in the UK and Northern Ireland. She found an apartment in Belfast and spoke to editors, looking for freelance writing work. But in the end, she realised she couldn't even afford bankruptcy.

"If I had gone North, I would have lost my jobseekers' allowance of €200 a week, and I couldn't afford to pay rent here (where her two teenage daughters live) and in the North," she said.

It "kills" her that developers still have the means to go abroad to avail of more lenient bankruptcy regimes.

"There are a whole bunch of us who cannot afford to go away," she said.

This year, Jillian went to the Irish Mortgage Holders Organisation for help. She will be assigned a Personal Insolvency Practitioner who will help her tackle her smaller debts through a Debt Settlement Arrangement.

"At the end of the day, I would like to have a pass, to say I can draw a line under it," she said.

Things might not be looking up financially yet, but she has restored some perspective on her finances and has started writing novels.

"This year, I am still broke. But I have managed to divorce myself from the emotion of debt," she said.

"I haven't solved anything but I have two beautiful girls. They don't actually understand the enormity of the debt that I have, they are kids. I am happy that I am suddenly turning my life back to them again. I am not looking at my debt. I am looking at my children."

In the meantime, she isn't afraid to talk about her financial woes.

"The most important thing is that I am not ashamed of failing financially," Jillian said. "I will pick myself up and I will go again."