Thursday 23 January 2020

You can always bank on somebody being offended by the facts

Buying a house always involved making sacrifices. Pretending otherwise is silly, writes Eilis O'Hanlon

The tweet was simply about a couple doing something which people have done for ever to save up for a house. (stock picture)
The tweet was simply about a couple doing something which people have done for ever to save up for a house. (stock picture)

Eilis O'Hanlon

Anyone who uses Twitter to communicate serious messages with the public, rather than just posting cute videos of kittens, needs their head examined.

For one thing, messages are so short that misunderstandings are bound to occur periodically. For another, Twitter is increasingly populated by people whose sole purpose in life is to take offence at something or other, so why give them ammunition?

That was confirmed again last week when Bank of Ireland found itself in the centre of a storm because of a tweet promoting its first-time buyers' MortgageSaver account.

The tweet described the experience of one such couple: "Orla and her boyfriend stopped renting and moved back with their parents to save the deposit for their 1st home."

Now, there are times when you see a tweet and think: "How did the eejits think they'd get away with that?"

There are other times when you look at a tweet that has caused controversy and think: "Is that it? Seriously? Am I missing something here?"

This was definitely one of the latter occasions. There's no way Bank of Ireland could have foreseen that this would, within hours, have sparked the social media equivalent of the Spanish Inquisition.

The Women's Officer of the Green Party (yep, there is such a position) said it was "obnoxious stuff". Homeless charity the Peter McVerry Trust accused the bank of being "out of touch with reality". Columnists bashed out hundreds of words of protest at heartless financial institutions. Random tweeters huffed and puffed so much that, if only they could have been hooked up to the nearest wind farm, the electricity generated would have powered the country for a week.

Bank of Ireland promptly deleted the tweet.

This urge to take offence at the merest of slights is a defining feature of the age, and may yet prove our undoing; but this one was particularly baffling. I've looked at it repeatedly, and remain dumbfounded as to why it should have caused any offence at all, never mind so much.

The tweet was simply about a woman doing something which people have done for ever to save up for a house.

It takes longer to save now, because house prices have been inflated. And there's a housing crisis in the country that doesn't help calm tempers. And the whole thing is a mess and the Government doesn't seem to have a clue how to solve it, and people are being moved further and further out from where they work and want to live in order to afford decent property.

Despite all that, what exactly is wrong with saying this is what one woman did to solve her particular problem?

Critics said the bank was "out of touch" - but actually they're the ones who are out of touch by not realising that this is what people do all the time.

They even accused Bank of Ireland of encouraging young people to stretch themselves to get on the property ladder, as if it would be better to pretend that you don't have to save up to afford a house, and that it won't mean making painful choices along the way.

Because that's the odd thing. Orla is real. This actually is what she did. She and her boyfriend shared a flat for a couple of years after she graduated and found work in an architectural company, then decided to move back in with her parents to save for a place of their own. They now have a home in Swords in north Co Dublin.

Some people professed to be annoyed because that's not an option for everyone. Who said that it was? But if paying rent can be avoided, you'd have to be mad not to do it.

Rents are at an all-time high, hitting a terrifying average of €1,707 per month in Dublin, and obviously it would be better if property was cheaper; everyone agrees on that. But it's unrealistic to think you can rent a nice place in Dublin and still save money, so if Orla found a way round it, good luck to her.

It's a shame more people can't do it, but Orla's voice shouldn't be silenced because a few thin-skinned moaners didn't like or want to hear what she was saying.

Silenced she certainly was. Trying to find Orla's blog to read it for oneself now brings up the message: "Requested page has not been found."

Bank of Ireland has effectively caved in to a rent-a-mob which wanted to delete the truth. This was not just a marketing campaign. It was Orla's real lived experience.

It's not our place to bossily decide whether other people should be allowed to tell their stories. Their stories belong to them. They don't need our permission.

Young people complain that they live in a post-truth society, where alternative facts are given the same validity as actual facts; but in this instance, they couldn't cope with the fact that, in order to buy a house, these are the sorts of measures ordinary people have always taken.

Many couples even lived with parents after getting married, and, when they did finally get a house of their own, filled it with whatever sticks of furniture they could beg or borrow from friends and family. Lives were put together slowly, piece by piece.

Some of the other blogs by Bank of Ireland customers are by couples doing just that, fixing up homes one room at a time, scrimping, saving, hunting for bargains. Perhaps they should all be muzzled too, lest some sensitive soul thinks they're being coerced into doing without for a while.

Would it have been better if things were easier then, and easier now? Of course, it would. But they're not. Each generation had to make choices and sacrifices. They were different choices and sacrifices in different decades, but no one had it all their own way. Life's hard.

George Hook was dead right to say that the people complaining about the Bank of Ireland tweet should "stop annoying everybody who actually works for a living, saves for a house and goes through all the things that adults have to do" - but the chances of that happening any time soon are somewhere between slim and non-existent.

Some people live these days to be outraged. It's all that gets them out of bed in the morning. The only wonder is that they haven't turned on the Bank of Ireland marketing campaign for being so white and "heteronormative" too.

Where are the gay couples? Where are the mixed-race couples? Where are all the non gender-conforming people who are so right-on that they don't even use the word "couple" in case it oppresses someone?

There is plenty to be offended about in Irish banking. Like financial institutions everywhere, they've allowed themselves to degenerate into the advance guard of the rapacious, unprincipled corporatism which has replaced, and unjustly ruined the reputation of, honest capitalism.

Those in charge of the banks should have suffered more harshly as a result of the financial crash they recklessly helped to engineer, rather than being allowed to slink back into their plush offices and carry on where they left off. Reform has been a joke.

But if an inoffensive tweet is all that anyone can think to complain about, then bankers can consider themselves to have got off lightly indeed.

Sunday Independent

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