Google+ Followers

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Its official: Corruption is legal in Ireland

A student, Eoin Mc Keogh and 23 years old, had never committed a crime, and, like us all, hoped it would stay that way, but he had one committed against him by none other than the legal system itself. 

                                                                       Eoin Mc Keogh

The case against him was so garden variety that it hardly merited a mention in the districts courts, and at best if he was the guilty party it would only have resulted in a small fine. But being innocent put a different hue on the matter and a criminal conviction, no matter how small on your resume, is not a good thing facing into your future prospects for a job. The sense of outrage and concern by this young man and his parents forced them to mount a defence and one very easy to prove: simple mistaken identity. An honest solicitor would have charged €500 at best. This family though would have to keep their greater outrage for later.

The case was straight forward even by any sleep walking Garda who needed an appointment with Specsavers and a better attitude. One person clumsily and wrongly picked Eoin out of video footage that came from inside of a taxi showing a person jumping out of the vehicle without paying the fare. The guy was not Eoin, who was several thousand miles away eating sushi in Japan. But the fare for the ride with his solicitor that his family employed to defend him was going to be much bigger. 

That solicitor, Paul Lambert, saw this family as merely sprats in a big ocean and this legal shark was intent on devouring them; it is a moot point and a technical footnote that he was supposed to be representing them and therefore legally, if not morally, was on their side.
The parents, Eamon and Fidelma Mc Keogh, net worth in monetary terms is €250,000 of equity tied up in the family home. But Lambert knew this would not be enough to satisfy the life he had become accustomed to. Eoin McKeogh parents would need another eye watering €1,650, 000 to pay him (not a miss-print). That is one million, six hundred and fifty thousand euro. The fix was in. 

To get out of the fix they would need more barristers and solicitors and is where they are today; and that house that they slaved all their lives for and the boundless love for their son that is priceless, will not be enough to get them out of this one. It is official: corruption is legal in Ireland. 

The McKeoghs have appealed to the Law Courts to set them free from Lambert and the latter has appealed to them as well to keep them in financial penury and himself enriched. The Law Courts, a private company and not a State body, is staffed by more lawyers of course, and where is that going to get the McKeoghs for they have only every showed to be on one side almost all of the time and has nothing to with law, idealism or mere morals.

Lambert had billed the McKeogh's at different times for fictional hours that was anything from €270 an hour to €375 in a case where this young man could have defended himself for free; you see Lambert has several minions to pay otherwise called absentee employees. But such was this student's hope tied up in his naivety for justice he had not realised until it was too late that it does not exist in Ireland if indeed it exists at all anywhere else. Now Lambert has hired more lawyers to defend himself and to make sure he gets his money from the McKeoghs.

One of Lambert’s assertions in trying to mitigate his actions is that he had to do battle with the giants of Facebook, Utube and Google over the taxi video; a claim so laughable that it defines the nature of solicitor’s double speak and the arbitrary method of billing by simply pulling a lottery number out of a hat, hoping it will stick, and that they will get away with it. So far Lambert is getting away with it.

It is not just solicitors and the barristers higher up the food chain that are the problem, but getting public documents, that has to be cleared with a judge in the first place, is just as problematic and expensive. One example: if you apply for a court transcript for your particular case or trial or for an exercise in study alone, despite that they are part of the public domain, in Ireland's Circuit Court they will charge you €80 per page. Bearing in mind that these documents can easily run into the hundreds of pages if not thousands, then the first 100 of them will cost you €8000 (eight thousand euro) with no applicable discount for sheer volume amounts. Not for the lawyers mind but only you, Joe Public. 

The justice system is within a system that is pandemic in its corruption across the globe created from what was once the high idealism of law that was formulated from the first crude interpretation of the Magna Carta. What is now criminal is the law itself along with the legal criminals that oil its wheels as it regresses slowly back to where the individual rights have become greatly diminished. 

The courts has become a place to be feared not just by the guilty but the innocent too. It is beyond time to stop this and needed to have begun yesterday. The irony is that we have to engage with lawyers to make change and that will prove to be the hardest battles of all albeit one that has to be fought. This battle must at least start today.

Barry Clifford

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

How much money do charity shops actually make?

As little as €0.10 of every €1 spent in charity shop goes towards charitable deeds as turning your bag of unwanted goods into cash can be costly exercise

There are about 300 charity shops in Ireland, run by charities such as Age Action, Irish Cancer Society, NCBI, Oxfam and SVP and staffed by volunteers. Photograph: iStockphoto

If you’re in the midst of a spring clean and declutter, you may have a collection of bags and boxes ready to be dropped to your local charity shop (or, if you’re like me, they’ll still be left blocking up the hall.)
In any case, have you ever wondered how your bag of unwanted goods turns into money for a charity? And how much of a financial contribution these bags of goods actually turn into?

An idea that continues to grow
Charity shops first gained prominence on the streets of Ireland back in the 1990s, and it’s an idea that hasn’t yet fallen out of favour. The Charity Retail Association estimates that there are about 300 charity shops across Ireland, with some streets, such as Georges Street in Dún Laoghaire, now more reliant than others on charities renting out retail space to keep the street alive.

A host of charities run shops, including Age Action, the Irish Cancer Society, St Vincent de Paul and Oxfam. And the number of shops is set to rise even further; Age Action, for example, currently runs five shops across the State but has plans for another three, while the National Council for the Blind (NCBI) is also expecting to add another three shops to its 87-strong portfolio.
GailKennedy, retail operations manager with Age Action, notes that sales revenue for 2016 was slightly up on 2015, while its profit margin was also higher, up to 36 per cent from 33 per cent.

If you’ve ever wondered how some charity shops can manage to sell some of the junk that is handed in, the short answer is they don’t. Or not really.

“It’s definitely an area for us that we feel we can grow and help us to do the work we’re doing,” she says.

It’s unrestricted income
For charities, income generated via a charity shop is “unrestricted” – which means the charity can direct the funds where it sees fit, and isn’t obliged to spend it on a specific project.
But not everything is sold. If you’ve ever wondered how some charity shops can manage to sell some of the junk that is handed in, the short answer is they don’t. Or not really.
While charity shops appeal for quality donations, many people look at them as an outlet to offload their rubbish – and shops typically don’t assess donations before accepting them.
“It’s a perennial problem; people put in a broken toy or something like that to get it out of house so they don’t have to pay to dump it themselves,” says Finbarr Roche, head of community and retail fundraising with the National Council for the Blind.
This means that charity shops have to shoulder the costs of disposing of goods that can’t be sold. Kennedy, for example, notes that between 15-20 per cent of Age Action’s donations are destroyed or dumped.

Clothes that aren’t in good enough condition to be sold to the public are often sold to textile recyclers, which will either recycle the clothes as fabric, or export them as garments for sale overseas.

“We try not to decline anything we’re offered if someone has gone to the bother of giving it to us. Everything that comes in is assessed,” she says, adding that the shop operates “strict quality control” and clothes are steamed and cleaned before making it to the shop floor.
There is a way, however, for shops to make some money back on these items.
Clothes that aren’t in good enough condition to be sold to the public are often sold to textile recyclers, which will either recycle the clothes as fabric, or export them as garments for sale overseas.

How much does your local charity shop make?
n (%)
Age Action
3 (6 for 2017)
Enable Ireland
Irish Cancer Society
Irish Wheelchair Association
St Vincent de Paul

Source: Annual reports for 2015, except Oxfam (2016)

Dollie Textile Recycling which works with MS Ireland for example, says that more than two-thirds of the clothes it collects are exported to African countries or Pakistan for sale, 24 per cent are shredded and used for new purposes, and the rest goes to landfill.

Some make a lot of money
Depending on the location, the quality of the goods handed in, and the prowess, perhaps, of the staff in preparing and displaying the goods for sale, charity shops can be a lucrative endeavour.
Sales figures for St Vincent de Paul, for example, which operates a chain of about 200 shops across the State, were €25 million in 2015 – or higher than Irish sales for either Oasis or Abercrombie & Fitch.

Not everyone is a fan
Earlier this year the True and Fair Foundation, which campaigns for more efficiency in the charity sector and is run by Gina Miller (yes, the very same Gina Miller who brought the Brexit case in the UK) found that thousands of charity shops in the UK were, on average, less profitable than some high street retailers, despite benefiting from an extensive network of volunteers, free donated goods and 80 per cent reduction in business rates.
The report, titled “Lifting The Lid”, found that more than 4,000 of them, run by the likes of Scope, Age UK, Sue Ryder, Marie Curie and the British Heart Foundation, made a profit of less than 17p in the pound.
The performance of such shops led Miller to declare that charity shop chains “are failing on many levels”.

Charity shops also buy stock
Not everything that’s for sale in a charity shop comes from donations. According to Roche, for example, the NCBI will buy in a limited amount of new quality stock, although he says there are Revenue implications on that front. Charity shops don’t have to pay VAT typically, but if they go over a certain limit of new stock, VAT may apply.
The charity also benefits from donations from retailers, such as Carraig Donn and Field’s Jewellers. It has started selling higher-value new stock on its eBay shop.
“What you sell for €10 in a local shop, you might sell for €30-€40 on eBay,” Roche notes.

They can benefit from cheap rent
Sometimes a charity shop will benefit from a cheaper deal, but typically they will be subject to rates and rent in the same way as any other retail outlet. However, they will also set up in low-cost areas or places where they can negotiate favourable terms.
NCBI, for example, spent €890,000 on rent for its 80 shops in 2015, but this works out as a cost of just €11,125 per shop, or less than €1,000 per month – considerably less, perhaps, than most people will spend on their monthly rent in Dublin.

Not everyone who works there is a volunteer
Charity shops rely on a steady stream of volunteers to work the till, sort through the goods, and keep the shelves filled and the shops tidy.
“We rely heavily on volunteers, they are our greatest resource,” says Roche, noting that NCBI has a network of up to 800 volunteers.
And the charity is not alone. EnableIreland, for example, which provides services to people with disabilities, says that in 2015, 277 volunteers donated 57,668 hours working in their 21 shops, while SVP has a network of some 4,500 volunteers manning its shops.
However, it’s not just volunteers who work in charity stores; many charities also pay staff to manage the stores.
“You have to have a certain paid cohort [of staff], as they are guaranteed to turn up at a certain time and close the shop,” says Roche.
In addition, many charities avail of grants from the Tús and Community Employment Schemes (CES). The CES aims to help people who are long-term unemployed and other disadvantaged people to get back to work by offering part-time and temporary placements in jobs based within local communities.
Age Action, for example, received €136,567 from the CES in 2015, which accounted for 17 per cent of the revenues generated by its three shops in the year, its financial figures show.

Charity shops operate on a network of free labour, free goods and discounted rent and business rates.

Enable Ireland employs 77 people through its social partnership programme, while Barnardos also relies on the schemes to man their shops.
For Roche, paying staff to work in the shops is also part of the professionalisation of the sector.
“We want to get away from old-fashioned ideology of stores that might be dank, with poor quality items,” he says.

They can be expensive to run – and may contribute less than you think
Charity shops operate on a network of free labour, free goods and discounted rent and business rates. And yet the net financial return to charities from their chain or retail outlets across the State often fails to stretch much higher than traditional retailers who have to operate on a commercial basis. The reason? The costs involved in running the shops.
“Rents, rates, electricity, heat and light – all have to be paid for,” says Kennedy.

Given how costs can eat away at profits, charities are trying to control costs better. Oxfam, for example, reduced its operating costs by 4.5 per cent last year by streamlining its distribution operation and closing non-profitable stores, while NCBI says it has worked on efficiency and in the process boosted its net profits for 2016 to €760,000.

Enable Ireland, for example, operates a network of 21 shops across the State. It reported sales of some €4.9 million in 2015, or €233,333, on average, per shop a year, or about €20,000 per shop per month.
Of this almost €5 million in sales, however, the charity benefited to the tune of €697,662, due to significant costs of some €4.2 million, or about €200,000 a shop.
So, to look at it another way, only a certain proportion of every €1 you spend in a charity shop will be “profit” – ie money that goes back to the work of the charity. As our table shows, of every €1 spent in an outlet of Age Action, about €0.33 went to the work of the charity, while the figure is lower, at €0.14, for Enable Ireland, and €0.09 for Oxfam.

Fiona Redden

‘Nepotism and pull are alive and well’ in Garda force

Last week, as it was reported the Policing Authority is to fill its first senior position since it was handed that power, the Garda Review warned in an editorial that ‘nepotism and pull are alive and well’ in the selection process. Today ex-garda Patrick Horan, now a lawyer, argues that methods of promotion have sullied the honour of the force.

Without question, An Garda Síochána has been one of the most respected of our public institutions in the country, present scandal involving Sgt Maurice McCabeexcepted.
Many of its members have, to borrow a military euphemism, embedded themselves in communities up and down the country and as a consequence are especially prevalent, particularly in the realm of sport where many have given generously to coach under-age teams.
Not an inconsiderable number have represented their county at All-Ireland hurling and football level with distinction.

An Garda Síochána is also one of the most corrupted public institutions in the country, with a corruption localised within the upper echelons of the force from where it permeates down.
This is not corruption as it is traditionally known or understood, where there is dishonest or fraudulent conduct, typically involving bribery. This is instead a systemic corrosion and it is the procedures for promotion and advancement within the gardaí which are the well-springs fromwhich it originates.
It has always been a truism that progression within the force was dependent on two factors: Patronage and “team spirit”.
Patronage simply means having someone of higher rank within the job or pre-eminence within a political party who can vouch for a candidate when they apply for promotion.
Team spirit or initiative are deliberately nebulous terms designed by management and which feature particularly on applications for vacancies within the job.
The sole function of such management-speak is to covertly separate in advance those deemed eligible for promotion from those who are not.
But from an examination of this most corrupt of practices within the job can one see the true extent of the problem affecting the organisation, a problem which Judge Frederick Morris, in the Tribunal bearing his name, pointedly noted 12 years ago had “remained unchanged for over seven decades”.
The promotion-charade begins when a vacancy is advertised via internal circulars. Potential candidates are invited to submit applications for the position, noting the criteria for initiative or team spirit or some such other bland corporate-jargon terminology lifted from the pages of a secondary school business textbook by a HQ flunky.
But nobody is fooled by what Charles De Gaulle once described in a political context as “this absurd ballet”.
Everyone knows that when a job becomes vacant it is not really vacant, for it is already destined for some favourite candidate somewhere, a candidate who has shownthe requisite degree of slavish obedience and an unthinking determination to follow orders without question.
These therefore are the primary attributes which Garda management value in a candidate.
Those who are prepared to demonstrate servility without question (code for keeping the lower ranks in line) flourish accordingly.
Those who are not wither on the vine. Nevertheless, when a vacancy arises the weary ruse must be carried through and sham interviews must be conducted to fulfil civil service legal requirements that a position be advertised to all, lest some upstart institute High Court proceedings.
If there is one thing that petrifies management, it is the nightmarish thought of being called to account before the High Court. The sham interview process has been so fine-tuned over the years that gardaí are adept at determining, often months before interviews commence, who the successful candidate will be.
Yet candidates still march forward to throw their hats into the ring. Why so if the result is not in doubt? Because a failure to apply for a job, even a job which you know you cannot possibly get, regardless of your excellent credentials, will be thrown back at you at some future date as evidence of a previous “lack of initiative”.
There is nothing that the job dislikes more than a lack of initiative in a candidate. Hence the soul-destroying practice, undertaken by many able but failed candidates, of sitting pointless examinations and attending humiliating interviews every year only to be rejected each and every time.
This indignity is magnified by the sight of lesser-able candidates, usually company-men, scurrying with ease up, as Harold MacMillan called it, the greasy pole of promotion.
These company-men will form the future leadership of the force and their followers, usually as limited as they, will be directly behind them, thus ensuring a perpetual cycle of mediocrity and banality, choking the rarified air amongst the upper echelons of the force to the exclusion of men and women who may have superior talents but who are shut out by dint of lacking all patronage.
An example of which I have personal knowledge is illustrative. In the late 1990s, I was attached to a station in a busy Midlands town. One of the station’s senior detectives announced, in February or March one year,that he would retire the following December.
We were all disappointed as he was a gentleman without fail, quiet but effective and always with a spare moment for greenhorns such as myself. His decision made, thoughts then turned as to who might succeed him.
Within two months we had our answer. A sergeant from outside the town was appointed to a vacant position within the station.This man was known to play golf with a very senior member of the force in the area. We all knew immediately that this was to be, regardless of the formality of interviews, the successful candidate.
As dispiriting as all this was, men still put their names forward for an interview which they knew was already decided. One candidate stood head and shoulders above the rest.
He (John — not his real name) was a man with significant crime-fighting experience in Dublin, a veritable walking encyclopaedia of criminal law and respected to the point of reverence by his colleagues, including myself.
John too decided to demonstrate his initiative by applying for the job that really wasn’t on offer but he was kind enough to tip some of us off in advance that he was doing so for no other reason than a sense of morbid curiosity.
The contrast between John and the golf-mad drone who succeeded to the position was the starkest I had ever witnessed in the force: One man deserved the position because of demonstrable and accepted excellence, the other was so incompetent — I cannot overstate this — as to have no business applying in the first place. No prizes for guessing who was successful.
John had the good grace afterwards to tell us how the interview had progressed. To ensure that the right man got the job, the three-member interview panel was headed by the senior officer whose golfing pal was also in the running.
To head off the patent absurdity unfolding whereby somebody with years of serious crime experience was being jettisoned in favour of somebody with none, the senior officer asked John whether “if another job somewhere else came up would you be prepared to take it?”
John smiled and asked:“Why? Is this job already taken?” The senior officer turned red-faced and spluttered “No! No! Of course not! We’re still holding interviews!”
We all laughed when John recounted this story to us later, but the laughter was ironic and bitter. Starkly, perhaps fatally, the realisation had struck, after less than two years in the job, that no matter how hard you worked, no matter how well you did your job, your career progression in the gardaí was predetermined at birth, at the moment you passed the wrought-iron gates of Templemore Training College.

The motto emblazoned across the entrance to Templemore Garda College reads ‘In Scientia Securitas’, Latin for ‘In knowledge, safety’. The appalling treatment by that force of one lone member who tried to shine a light into the impenetrable darkness which has steadily corroded the force from within over the years, leading many to resign, reveals that the lofty Garda motto has been honoured by management more in the breach than the observation.

In the aftermath of this event (variations of which are manifest in every Garda district throughout the country) a colleague (“James”) and I spoke at length about how the job had been misrepresented to us when we joined.
Gloomily we both noted our lack of patronage but this realisation must have been especially difficult to bear for James, for he had excelled academically in Templemore and was a rigorously hard worker.
The following year I transferred to another station where I noted the same bare-faced cronyism and patronage flourishing within the job and similar levels of apathy and disenchantment amongst the rank and file.
The disillusionment was especially marked amongst young members, gardaí with less than three years of service whom I frequently overheard talking about “the pension”and the promised land of retirement.
All this after three years in the job. I began studying law by night. At the same moment James began studying to become a barrister. Seeing no future for myself I resigned from An Garda Síochána and became a solicitor. James also resigned. He is now one of the leading trial barristers in the country.
An Garda Síochána, an organisation for which I retain great affection and in which I have many good friends, has a darkness at its heart.
The atrocious allegations made to Tusla about Sgt McCabe are a case in point, but they are merely representative of the blight at the core of an organisation which allows such behaviour to flourish.
The fact that someone felt this scandalous allegation would somehow please his bosses higher up is indicative not only of a contempt for the rule of law and a determination to silence a brave dissenter, but is evidence of a wider, much more dangerous culture of contempt for the public, a culture where somebody felt this was acceptable and not, as any rational human being would, as being utterly abhorrent to contemplate, much less act upon.
As Justice Morris remarked all those years ago, this is a breakdown of command leadership.
It is an immutable fact of life within the force that only people who do what they are told, don’t ask questions and undertake actions solely designed to please management will succeed within the job. These are the only criteria that matter.
Loyalty — blind, subservient loyalty — is utterly paramount. Attributes such as ability or intelligence are not only not required or deemed desirable, they are regarded by management as positively hostile traits in a candidate because anyone demonstrating either is not likely to follow orders without question.
Somebody within the force was likely involved in the atrocious complaint about Sgt McCabe. There is little public doubt about this.
This person undoubtedly did so because they knew or perceived that damaging Sgt McCabe was precisely what management wanted to see happen and there is no more morally reprehensible allegation to level at any citizen than the ruinous slur of child-abuse.
The motto emblazoned across the entrance to Templemore Garda College reads “In Scientia Securitas”, Latin for “In knowledge, safety”.

The appalling treatment by that force of one lone member who tried to shine a light into the impenetrable darkness which has steadily corroded the force from within over the years, leading many to resign, reveals that the lofty Garda motto has been honoured by management more in the breach than the observation.
Demanding the appointment of an outside commissioner is pointless as can be evidenced by experience. In 2006, the Government appointed a former commissioner of the Boston Police Department to the Garda Inspectorate. This did not stop the scandals.

What is required is a complete dismantling of the process by which promotions are granted right across the country and the appointment of independent persons, impervious to the invidious hand of Garda management and the cliques which it fosters and protects, to oversee all interviews and promotion criteria.
Only in this way can one ensure that candidates of merit and morality succeed. Shattering the self-perpetuating system of power elites who have dragged the force, about which I care deeply, through the mud over the last few years to the detriment of us all must finally be made a priority.
My understanding of the Policing Authority is that they will deal with bringing an element of corporate governance to the running of the force.

This is all very well but it means that they will necessarily be interacting with men and women who themselves were elevated to positions of power within the force due to cronyism further down the ranks. So the people that the Policing Authority will deal with are the beneficiaries of the very nepotism about which I write.

The Morris Tribunal cost the State €80m. The Smithwick Tribunal cost us €15m. Have these stopped the scandals? Of course not. If the furore occasioned by the Morris Tribunal could not affect massive changes, that tells you something about the strength of the power elites at the top.
Understanding the nature of these elites is therefore vital. These are people who all think alike, for if they did not they would not be where they are.
They are also profoundly anti-democratic in outlook. In their eyes the public is little more than an annoyance which has to be either tolerated or managed, but never consulted and certainly never listened to.
But even though the public pays management’s lavish salaries this does not mean that management regards themselves as the public’s servants.
Quite the opposite. To top management, the public has absolutely no business getting involved in the running of Garda affairs. In their eyes, the public’s role is that of a passive bystander, never an active participant.

There are no circumstances under which management will tolerate the public being active participants in what they regard as their exclusive domain. The public is therefore relegated to the sidelines and are only consulted when an enormous scandal erupts and the public chequebook is required to pay for it.
But management realises that the “appearance” of change must be created. Therefore elaborate ruses are concocted (Policing Authority, Garda Inspectorate, Garda Ombudsman) to allay public fears that there is no accountability in our police.
Meanwhile the nepotism goes on unchecked, resulting in periodic scandals in the same vein as the present one, which are fairly predictable.
So what can we conclude? I conclude that the authority, inspectorate and ombudsman are ineffective because they cannot head off major scandals. Are they incompetent? Are they staffed with people who cannot do their jobs properly? Hardly.
I think it is far more likely that they have discovered that they simply cannot penetrate the brass circle at the top of the organisation which is utterly resistant to all change and all outsiders and that there is little political will to assist these bodies in tackling the problem in the first place.
“Insanity”, warned Albert Einstein, “is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”.
The public, from whom all powers of government derive, have a choice to make. We can demand root and branch reform in the manner outlined above and witness a truly revolutionary change in how our maligned national police force operates.
Patrick Horan

If we do not, if we remain passive bystanders whose only job is to pay through the nose for the costs of endless tribunals, we will, as a nation, have collectively lapsed into our own peculiar form of insanity.

In such an eventuality we will only have ourselves to blame.

How new legislation could help keep thousands of families in their homes in Ireland

Irish tenants evicted from their smallholding for the non-payment of rent in an image from the Illustrated London News, December 16, 1848.

The word ‘eviction’ has a particularly poignant and cruel association in Ireland. For anyone who has even a passing knowledge of our history, the word conjures up images of ravaged families loading their scant belongings on carts in the threatening presence of well-dressed landlords and their agents.
It’s a scene, and a word association, that we would probably like to regard as being consigned to history. The reality, however, is that the threat of eviction remains very much part of life in contemporary Ireland.
Today, we tend to call it possession, particularly when it refers to eviction from a home that is mortgaged. It’s a term that slightly sanitises the devastating reality that people are being dispossessed of their family home, and a term that denotes that those being dispossessed are wholly responsible for their own fate.

The reality couldn’t be further from the truth. At least 30,0000 households — and that’s a conservative estimate, in my view — are facing the unthinkable fate of losing their homes largely because they are unable to service unworkable mortgage terms.
The people I represent are not cynical defaulters or shirkers. They are couples in their 50s or 60s who may have remortgaged their home to raise capital for a valid business expansion in the buoyant days of the early 2000s.

They are young parents who paid huge sums of money for very ordinary houses. They are single parents who don’t put the heat on in their houses and scrimp on food for themselves in order to try to meet the onerous repayment demands on their home loans — payments that banks may not even accept.
They are people with no money, with nowhere to turn, and, most often, with no choice in the end but to surrender their homes.
It is because of the fate of these ordinary people — our neighbours and friends — that the Keeping People in Their Homes Bill 2017, introduced yesterday in the Dáil by Independent Alliance TD Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran, is so important, and so overdue.

Utilising principles of EU law (which are already transposed into Irish law), the bill gives us a common-sense piece of legislation that lets courts balance the competing economic rights of corporate home lenders or their successors (so-called vulture funds) against the fundamental rights of ordinary individual borrowers who are facing homelessness.
At its core is what is known as the proportionality assessment or test, which is fundamental to EU contract and human rights law. Proportionality means courts can consider the effect of repossession on the whole household and the impact that granting or executing an order for possession of a home would have on people’s lives.

In practical terms, this legislation will allow a judge or county registrar to consider the effect that the loss of a home has on the physical and mental health of household members. Courts can examine whether there is suitable alternative accommodation available for the household to live together.

They can take into account the impact that home loss will have on children.
They can examine the viability of alternative arrangements to prevent home loss, or they can assess the potential costs to the State if it has to provide emergency accommodation and supports to the household in the event of home loss.

I have been representing people facing repossession since the economic crash nearly a decade ago. The people I work with are not speculators or wily investors.
They are not people who knowingly entered into home loans they couldn’t afford. They are not people who ever saw themselves in the desperate and precarious situations they now find themselves.

They are law-abiding citizens who want to co-operate with banks on fair terms, who want to be able to plan for their children’s futures, and who above all, want to stay in, and pay towards, their own homes.
Julie Sadlier

New to the Parish: ‘I like Ireland because it is safe’

Francisco Ruvalcaba had just finished his degree in business information systems, was living at home with his parents and had begun working with a friend on a website when he booked a flight to Spain in 2010 to walk the Camino de Santiago. He also decided to stop off in Ireland for a few months on his way home, to improve his English.

“I was 24, living with my parents and said ‘I’m gonna do the Camino, study English and I’ll be right back’,” he recalls.
More than six years later he is still living in Dublin.
“Initially my plan was to learn English and then return home to Mexico, but somehow I’ve ended up staying here far longer than I expected or intended.”

He arrived in Ireland with very little money and, after signing up for an English course, he found a job as a waiter in an upmarket city-centre restaurant.
“I worked in a sushi bar in Mexico, and it was mainly serving cocktails and two types of sushi. But here it was completely different. It was by Marco Pierre White and super-formal, and you had to know all the menus off by heart.”

A few months after he arrived in Ireland, Ruvalcaba found a job in a tech company. One night, when he was celebrating the birthday of one of his colleagues, he met Agnieszka.
“If I had to name one reason for staying in Ireland, I’d say it’s her. My whole plan of going back to Mexico changed after we met, and I thought maybe I should stay another year.”
His family back home in the city of Guadalajara were very impressed when he told them he had met a Polish girl.
“In Mexico it’s more common for people to go to the US or Canada. Mexicans have a more romantic ideal of Europe. When something or someone is ‘European’, a wine or a car or even a woman, it has this air of ‘wow, European!’ It develops this mystic value.”

When his study visa expired, he decided to apply for permission to stay in the EU as his girlfriend’s partner. To get this visa, they had to prove to the Irish immigration authorities that they were in a legitimate relationship.

Weekend trips
“It’s tricky because how do you prove something like that? We knew it was going to be read by people we didn’t know, so we had to send lots of pictures and flight tickets of our trip to Mexico. We went on to Facebook and downloaded and printed most of our pictures.”
The couple’s application was accepted and he was given leave to remain until 2019. The couple continued exploring Europe, taking weekend trips to cities such as Rome, Valencia and Barcelona.

“What we love about Ireland is from here you can fly for just two hours and you land in a completely new place with a different culture, different food and different climate.”
He also began working as a technical analyst for a website called Indeed, which provides an online platform for jobseekers around the world. He was also pleasantly surprised to discover that the company offered six weeks’ paternity leave.
He and his girlfriend had already discussed having children and were eager to start a family.
“We knew we wanted a child and were more afraid of not being able to have one than having a child too early, so we said, ‘Let’s just go for it.’ ”
The couple were married in a small ceremony at a registration office in Dublin last year, and seven months later their son, Franek, was born.

Franek was five weeks premature, so Francisco spent the first week of his paternity leave hastily preparing their home in Maynooth while Agnieszka recovered from the birth.
Ruvalcaba says the traditional Latin America macho mentality towards women is changing among his peers, but says that most Mexican men still expect women to look after the children.

“My paternity leave here allowed me to support her in a way that I could not at home. In Mexico you’d have to take that time out of your holidays. That first week was key, with all the preparations while my wife was in hospital.
“It’s incredible the amount of things you have to do when the baby arrives home. Your life changes completely and just revolves around your child. My wife is breastfeeding, so all those things you have to do around the house, that’s where I supported her. My paternity leave allowed me to support her and I’m so grateful for that.”

Irish son
He is still getting used to the idea of having an Irish son. “When I went to the office to register him and then saw the birth cert was from Ireland, I was like ‘holy crap, I have an Irish son’.”
His parents are equally excited to have a European grandson.
“I sent a copy of the birth cert to my parents, and they were like, ‘We never thought we’d have a grandchild in Europe’. Now when they call they ask, ‘How is our European family doing?’ ”
He would like to return home to Mexico some day but says he and Agnieszka, who is now an Irish citizen, have a much better quality of life in Ireland.

“When I go out in Maynooth it’s so quiet and safe. I can let my wife go out, and I’m not worried when she goes for a walk with the baby. They would need to be more careful about that in Guadalajara.
“Of course, I’m not going to tell her ‘You have to stay at home’, but you have to be more careful in Mexico. You have to drive with your windows up and know the places where you can go. Those details matter, and here you don’t have to worry about that.”  

Socha Pollak