The word “mortgage” dates back to the late 14th century, with the roots “mort” meaning death in French and “gage” meaning pledge…

Two weeks before a group of masked men turned up at their family home, Jim and Alison received a very official-looking letter with the Irish harp emblazoned on the top of a brown envelope.

Immediately, they looked at each other with some trepidation, guessing what the content was going to be even before they opened it.

Hands shaking, Jim opened the envelope and slowly took the letter out. Tears began to form in his already red eyes, eyes tired and sore from crying and suffering from lack of sleep. Alison looked on, her body beginning to shake, intensely focused on the letter but fearing its contents because she pretty much knew that it meant that the family was now facing homelessness for the first time in their lives.

Jim threw the letter on the table and told Alison to start packing.

Alison screamed as if she had just heard about the death of a close loved one. She cupped her hands over her face, tears running through her fingers, sobbing at the loss of not just her home but also her security which had been her home for over 17 years.

She looked at Jim. His face was now white as a sheet, shaking with a mix of anger, disbelief and every other emotion that engulfs one when presented with such horrendous news.

Alison, in her state of shock, asked Jim to get back to the court people who sent the letter and plead with them for more time.

Jim simply said that it was too late, nothing is going to stop what they are planning to do to us. Jim and Alison had been served with a repossession order from the court. It meant they were going to be evicted, forcefully or otherwise.

Alison rushed upstairs to the bedroom sobbing, distraught at the idea that they would soon be made homeless with literally nowhere to go.

They had been reading about the 12,000-plus families who had already nowhere to go or to call home.

She had looked everywhere for a rental property in the locality but found nothing affordable. She asked everyone she knew to keep a lookout for a property for herself, Jim, and the kids. Nothing, absolutely nothing to be found.

Panic, like bile, began to fill up her throat and she vomited where she stood as she realised the full gravity of their situation. She called her closest family members to let them know what was happening and asked if they could help. 

This was the first time that either Jim or Alison had said anything to anyone about their predicament because they were so embarrassed.

They were afraid to turn up in court for fear that the neighbours would find out about the upcoming eviction. Fear of the neighbours and embarrassment with their families kept them from attempting to save their home or rather trying to save it if the judge was in any way sympathetic.

(Irish Central Bank statistics show that over 60 percent of repossession attempts by vulture funds and banks go uncontested as there is no legal aid support available to distressed Irish homeowners).

Noticeably, strange cars had been seen stopping outside their house a few times during the week. Every time Jim or Alison saw the cars, their hearts leapt. They knew that these would be security men who were going to assist with the eviction by surveying the house. Later on, a good friend of Jim’s called him on his phone and told him that he had seen the local police inspector and a Garda sergeant sitting down with some of the same security men in the local hotel. These men were discussing a strategy for removing the family from the house if they were to resist.

One week went by, with little or no time to sleep, not eating, telling their small kids that they were going on an adventure, and telling the older ones that they were selling the house and would find a new place to live… soon.

A few days later, Alison took the younger kids to the local playground. The older ones were hanging out with their friends, all oblivious to what was coming at them shortly.

Jim, unable to work that week because of the threat of eviction, had begun to put his tools from his man shed into boxes. Overcome with emotion and racked with guilt, Jim took a long blue rope out of a box on the floor. Jim had used the rope to tow his neighbour’s car recently and had thrown it into the box not knowing what it might be used for again.

Jim threw the rope over the rafters of his shed and tied it off so that it sat about two feet from the ground. Jim then stood on a dusty old chair, put the rope around his neck, and tightened the knot. His final thoughts allowed him to take the ultimate journey as he knew that the life insurance policy was up to date and that Alison and the kids would be looked after. Jim took one last gulp of air and kicked the chair away.

3:15 pm. Alison and the kids returned from the playground. The kids ran around the house looking for Daddy. Alison followed suit but couldn’t find him. She took a look into the bedroom one more time and saw an envelope on the bed with her name on it. Immediately upon opening it she let out a blood-curdling scream and collapsed on the floor. The kids ran in, in panic and tried to “wake Mammy.”

Their little nine-year-old boy then found his Daddy hanging in the shed.

The funeral took place five days later. In the graveyard, two Gardai stood off in the distance, watching, maybe wondering if their part in the eviction had played a part in Jim’s suicide.

This is the reality of modern-day Ireland. The one that President Biden didn’t get to see.

Banks and vulture funds have created a situation where compassion, forbearance and / or debt forgiveness only applies to someone who owes them millions of euros.

Distressed Debt, in many cases, equates to death.

Ask Alison what that means to her and her children today.

**Currently over 113,000 distressed mortgages have been transferred by so-called Irish Pillar Banks to the Vulture Funds, over which neither the Irish Central Bank nor the Irish Courts appear to have any meaningful control.

*(Not the couple’s real names)