October 10, 2013 by aoifebrennan
In the past six months two television production companies approached me. In my non-writing life I am very famous for being very broke. I have been featured many times on Irish and international radio and television talking about my very up-close and personal experiences of debt in a recession. However, both these companies wanted to talk about the fact that Ireland is coming through the recession, has been acting sensibly and is the ‘good boy’ of Europe. Both companies wanted to show how the policies of austerity were working and that we, the Irish people, were a great example of sucking it up and coming through the far side with honours.
“Excuse me,” I said. “Where did you get that idea?”
“Aren’t things better?” they both asked, puzzled.
“No,” was my answer and both I, and indeed Ireland as case study, were dropped like hot potatoes from their documentaries.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I am a proud Irishwoman and I love my country. I think we are a unique and inspiring race. For a tiny island on the furthermost corner of Europe, a mere outcrop into the Atlantic, we punch way above our weight. No other country has its national day celebrated on a global basis. We have a proud history of producing great leaders, great thinkers and great writers. Irishmen and women have made their mark on the world stage in every area; explorers, writers, painters, poets, entrepreneurs, engineers, musicians, thinkers, philosophers, inventors, sailors, sportspeople and other roles too numerous to mention. I believe we will come good again. I am fiercely proud to be Irish and what it stands for.
But right now there is something rotten in the state of Ireland. Corrupt bankers, just listen to the #anglotapes, incompetent civil servants and regulators and worse still inept career politicians whose duty to self and cronies is far greater than duty to our country and its people. We lack patriots across all positions of power.
If my first book in The Cougar Diaries series touched on the pitted almost post-apocalyptic landscape that followed the Celtic Tiger, my second book dived into the eviscerated bowels of what remains of our poor country.
I traced the path of Aoife Brennan, 40-something year old, separated mother of two teenage boys, learning to live again in the ruins of a society that has lost its way. A society ruled by people determined to maintain the status quo of the elite, even in the face of fraud, criminality, and ultimately lack of any compassion for the vulnerable in the firing line.
I can give you two examples that best highlight the wrongs in our society. Wrongs that are impacting on the weak, breaking down our communities and in some cases ultimately the underlying cause behind our soaring suicide rate.
The banks are in control in this country, and indeed across the world. Even when they collapsed in Ireland and were insolvent, the politicians in the previous administration bailed them out. So, we voted in a new government with a huge mandate to protect the people and control the banks. However, ever single election promise was overturned, especially with regard to the financial sector. The people responsible for the banks failing were pensioned off with huge payouts, not prosecuted. Bankers, regulators and politicians suffered no reversal of financial fortune despite their actions thrusting the Irish nation into massive debt and saddling future generations with that debt.
Fast forward to this year and the crippling personal debt where one in four Irish homeowners is in arrears. The banks response was to repossess and close down businesses, despite being bailed out by the Irish tax payer. Early debt advocacy groups managed to put a legal brake in place but this month (July 2013) the Irish government has removed that, speeding up the process whereby banks can seize assets and repossess homes. Two months in arrears and the banks can go legal and have the homeowner in court in six. There is also no limit to the amount of harassment and bullying that be visited on the struggling homeowner. Two days ago, a top Irish physiatrist went public saying he was writing letter to named bank officials on behalf of his clients. In these letters, he warned them that his clients were a suicide risk as the result of their continued actions. It is this bad.
The government has also brought in new insolvency laws to replace the antiquated legislation which required bankruptcy to last for a minimum of twelve years and maybe longer. The terms may be reduced in time but the banks are in charge. They have the veto and any appeal is only to the banks. The homeowner has no protection left. The banks are commercial organisations and only want either profit or failing that, extraction from unsustainable loans. If the person ends up on the street, they do not care; the State will have to pick up the pieces. And yet the State has handed control to the banks. Why?
The second and shorter example is cutting the carers allowances. Carers are people, sometimes family members, who are paid a tiny hourly rate to mind sick, disabled or elderly people in the community. It costs the State much less to have people minded in their communities and most people would prefer to remain there too. By cutting the allowances some elderly people will be fed their dinner in the afternoon and put to bed immediately afterwards as the carer does not have enough hours to come back at a dignified hour. The cuts to these most vulnerable people were made a) to appease the gods of austerity and b) in favour of reducing the fat cat pensions of those who caused the financial meltdown in this country.
The Cougar Diaries is not a political book. It is not a book of activism. It is not a socio economic book. The Cougar Diaries is a fast paced rollicking good read SET in post Celtic Tiger Ireland. To divorce the character from her background is to do a disservice to the story. Ireland in the 2010s is part of the story.
But how does one give a child its medicine? With a spoonful of sugar of course. So too in my beautiful trilogy. Aoife Brennan is the sugar in my tale, the sweetness in my story, the honey stickiness in my book. Or maybe it’s the sex! Let’s not be coy, it is the sex. And why not – if I lead her through the valley of despair I can at least lighten the way with fantastic eye-popping, in between the sheets capers. For we do not live by bread alone.
Combining my pleasures, my passions: story telling and writing polemics on social injustice has been one of the most exciting things I have ever done. So you may read my book without shame knowing that you are hearing and learning about a society that is hurting and a ruling elite that does not care. There is no noblesse oblige in Ireland today. We are crueller masters than any we suffered in the past, for we are doing this to ourselves. This tragedy may be played all over our tiny island, but it also reflected across the globe with wholesale transfer of wealth to an ever decreasing, significant elite. Decreasing in terms of numbers not wealth. The accumulation of obscene wealth in the hands of the few is how history will view the opening decades of this century. Unless we do something to stop it.
So Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Aoife Brennan: every woman, ordinary woman, fighting woman, using fiction to win her battles. Would that life was so easy.
Please open your books – The Cougar Diaries – and meet her.
Hard Back from Lulu.com