Land League

The an­gry men, the ec­centrics and some fa­mil­iar faces — Ire­land’s new prop­erty wars

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Life - - NEWS -

A new fea­ture of the Ir­ish prop­erty scene is how tac­tics from the 1880s Land War, Par­nel­lism and the War of In­de­pen­dence, com­plete with his­tor­i­cal in­ac­cu­ra­cies, are be­ing blended to­gether to block prop­erty sales. Will Hanafin takes a some­times sur­real jour­ney through the loose coali­tion of an­gry men in­volved and finds some ec­centrics, and some fa­mil­iar faces

‘ENGLISH SCUM OUT!” and “Ire­land is not for sale!” are slo­gans we'd as­so­ciate with the H-Block protests of the 1980s, but not with the gen­teel sur­round­ings of St Stephen’s Green in 2013. Ire­land is be­com­ing a very strange place when you see for­merly su­per-wealthy, mid­dle-aged busi­ness­men dis­rupt­ing auc­tions, while quot­ing ev­ery­one from Par­nell to Michael Davitt.

But those were just some of the widely re­ported slo­gans used dur­ing an ex­tra­or­di­nary protest last July at a distressed properties auc­tion in Dublin. The All­sop Space auc­tions had pre­vi­ously been held 11 times in the Shel­bourne Ho­tel. But, this time round, a group of pro­test­ers en­tered the ho­tel and man­aged to halt the auc­tion. One by­stander was re­ported as say­ing: “They were roar­ing, ‘Go back to Bri­tain with your tails be­tween your legs like in 1916'.” All­sop is an English com­pany, but All­sop Space said af­ter­wards it was a jointly owned Bri­tish and Ir­ish com­pany. A spokesman for the auc­tion­eers said: “The ac­tions of some peo­ple at­tend­ing were both un­law­ful and in­tim­ida­tory, re­sult­ing in peo­ple be­ing pre­vented from go­ing about their law­ful and nec­es­sary busi­ness as well as be­ing put at risk of per­sonal harm.”

T he high-pro­file, fire-sale proper ty auc­tions hosted by All­sop pre­vi­ously fea­tured on TV news bul­letins as a flicker of hope that our prop­erty crash had fi­nally bot­tomed out. What was ex­tra­or­di­nary about the dust-up was the sheer plethora of protest groups that sur­faced that day in­clud­ing Peo­ple for Eco­nomic Jus­tice, De­fend Our Homes, Di­rect Democ­racy Ire­land and Friends of Bank­ing Ire­land. The protest also in­cluded TDs like Mat­tie McGrath, de­vel­oper Jerry Beades, who's an ex-Fianna Fail national ex­ec­u­tive mem­ber, and busi­ness peo­ple who have ended up in mas­sive fi­nan­cial dif­fi­cul­ties. There was a mo­ment of com­edy when one of the pro­test­ers, busi­ness­man Tom D'Arcy, told RTE news that: “Con­stant Markievicz gave up his life to en­able us to erad­i­cate sup­pres­sion, tax­a­tion, evic­tion, crim­i­nal­ity.” He man­aged to change the sex of the 1916 rev­o­lu­tion­ary Con­stance Markievicz, get her name wrong and mis­tak­enly say she lost her life dur­ing the Ris­ing. It was the first real pub­lic man­i­fes­ta­tion of a new tac­tic in the bat­tle be­tween banks and some in fi­nan­cial dif­fi­cul­ties. Tac­tics from the 1880s Land War, Par­nel­lism and the War of In­de­pen­dence — com­plete with his­tor­i­cal in­ac­cu­ra­cies — are be­ing blended to­gether to block prop­erty sales.

One prom­i­nent pres­ence at the All­sop auc­tion protest was Jerr y Beades, an ex-Fianna Fail national ex­ec­u­tive mem­ber and for­mer close con­fi­dant of Ber­tie Ah­ern. I tracked Jerry Beades down on the phone; he was at Is­tan­bul air­port, wait­ing to catch a flight to Kur­dis­tan. He has a busi­ness lay­ing Easy Screed floors and gets most of his busi­ness in coun­tries like Kur­dis­tan, Qatar, South Africa and Uganda. In Ire­land, he's cur­rently bat­tling Ul­ster Bank in the Com­mer­cial Court as the bank has a claim for a €3.5 mil­lion judge­ment against him.

“The Markievicz thing was just a slip up by Tom, who's a busi­ness­man who is cheesed off with banks,” he said. Beades also fronts Friends of Bank­ing Ire­land, who have opened an of­fice in Mary Street in Dublin. “The Friends of Bank­ing are fight­ing the ma­jor un­just na­ture of banks and re­ceivers. The of­fice is staffed with peo­ple of­fer­ing a free ser­vice to peo­ple to file to courts.”

Since the dis­rup­tion of the Dublin All­sop auc­tion, they have ex­panded their protests and have pre­vented auc­tions in other parts of the coun­try. “We stopped an auc­tion in Gal­way last Fri­day . . . 60 peo­ple turned out . . . we had a truck out­side the Im­pe­rial Ho­tel and they buck­led.”

The de­vel­oper claims that his or­gan­i­sa­tion is bind­ing to­gether other small protest

groups. “We have a steer­ing com­mit­tee that meets ev­ery Satur­day, which is mainly made up of busi­ness peo­ple wiped out by the banks — not left­ies,” said Beades.

What of the al­le­ga­tions of racism and anti-Bri­tish­ness lev­elled at Beades and the oth­ers? “Dur­ing the protests at the auc­tions, I read Par­nell's speech from En­nis, the one that says, ‘When a man takes a farm from which an­other has been evicted, you must shun him on the road­side when you meet him, you must shun him in the streets’.”

Beades also has a vin­tage truck that he parks out­side the auc­tions that has the Par­nell En­nis speech re­pro­duced on plac­ards at­tached to the sides of the ve­hi­cle.

“All­sop is an English fran­chise. At the All­sop protest in Dublin I read the speech, sang the national an­them and some of them didn't stand. They had to be told. That's how it started,” he said.

Beades is also plan­ning an es­ca­la­tion of protests against re­pos­ses­sion and debt en­force­ment in the com­ing months. “We are go­ing to bring the whole thing to a stand­still. We are go­ing to tar­get the sher­iffs, the banks and the re­ceivers. Af­ter All­sop’s, it all took off. I had no in­ten­tion of set­ting up a protest move­ment and I've been shocked at how we have man­aged to stoke pub­lic anger.”

The Friends of Bank­ing Ire­land chief is deeply dis­en­chanted with the le­gal sys­tem. “The courts are ridicu­lous. They are get­ting judge­ments that they can only wipe their ar­ses with. I owe them €3.5 mil­lion — but you can't get blood from a stone.

“The new in­sol­vency ser­vice won't be able to cope. There are 400,000 who face los­ing their home. It's a Euro­pean prob­lem. Europe has to ac­cept the Euro is fucked. There should be a mas­sive write­down of debt. Just start the print­ing presses and for­get about up­hold­ing the euro's rep­u­ta­tion.” Is there a risk that his group is giv­ing false hope to peo­ple who are in des­per­ate sit­u­a­tions with fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions? “We are not giv­ing any­one false hopes. Any­thing we've done, we've de­liv­ered,” he says. And af­ter the scuf­fles at the All­sop auc­tion, is there a real risk that it's go­ing to spill over into vi­o­lent con­flict? “We have had no prob­lems with vi­o­lence. I've talked to leftie groups — told them they're wel­come to come along, as long as it's peace­ful. We're mainly busi­ness peo­ple who have lost ev­ery­thing.” Has his old pal Ber­tie Ah­ern been giv­ing Beades any tips? “Ber­tie wasn't lis­ten­ing when the storm clouds were gath­er­ing. I told Cowen as well to sack six min­is­ters. They didn't lis­ten.”

An­other ma­jor fig­ure as­so­ci­ated with the All­sop protest was Ben Gil­roy. T he charis­matic, sil­ver-haired ex-body­guard man­aged to beat Labour into fifth po­si­tion in the Meath East by-elec­tion in March, run­ning for the fledg­ling party Di­rect Democ­racy Ire­land. Gil­roy also fronts Peo­ple for Eco­nomic Jus­tice and has es­tab­lished him­self as a lay lit­i­gant ad­vo­cate for peo­ple in fi­nan­cial dif­fi­cul­ties dur­ing cour t pro­ceed­ings. He has also been to the fore at protests when the sher­iffs at­tempt to gain ac­cess to properties.

Gil­roy was prom­i­nent at the All­sop Shel­bourne Ho­tel protest. “I had been protest­ing out­side rather than in­side be­cause I was barred. At a pre­vi­ous auc­tion I stood up and said, ‘Take your Bri­tish ac­cent and bring it back with you!’ They were sell­ing some­one's stuff with­out any court case. When I heard him with the Bri­tish ac­cent say­ing, ‘I'm go­ing to sell this prop­erty' I just said I wanted him and his like back out of this coun­try. They re­minded me of vul­tures. I know huge num­bers of peo­ple in the UK, in­clud­ing rel­a­tives. I said th­ese things not be­cause he was English, but be­cause of what he was do­ing.” Di­rect Democ­racy is a new po­lit­i­cal party that per­formed re­spectably in the Meath East by­elec­tion with around 6 per cent of the vote. So what would they want if they went into power? “The only way we'd go into power, or hold the bal­ance of power, is if Ar­ti­cles 47 and 48 are re­in­stated.” Th­ese are two Ar­ti­cles in the 1922 Con­sti­tu­tion that al­lowed a pe­ti­tion sys­tem by cit­i­zens to force ref­er­enda.

Gil­roy feels very dis­il­lu­sioned about the ex­clu­sion of his party from the me­dia dur­ing the by-elec­tion. “Look­ing at shows like Prime

Time, it felt like we were in a race and some­one was hold­ing you by the jumper. I was watch­ing Prime Time the week be­fore the elec­tion and all the main par­ties were on it. It was the same auld bull­shit we've been hear­ing since I was a child. ‘I'd be a strong voice' etc. It's all bol­lix.” The alien­ation that vot­ers feel from main­stream pol­i­tics worked to his ad­van­tage. They don't even call their party a party, re­fer­ring in­stead to it as a ser­vice. “We ended up get­ting a good spread of votes on the ground. We had 10 peo­ple out, at most, can­vass­ing, but we had the right mes­sage. We beat Labour, the Greens, all the in­de­pen­dents and so­cial­ists. We beat a party in govern­ment who were able to con­cen­trate all their work on one con­stituency,” he said.

But can Di­rect Democ­racy cap­i­talise on the Meath East elec­tion re­sult? “We're ac­tive in a num­ber of con­stituen­cies like Car­low, Water­ford, Wick­low and Done­gal, as well as North Dublin. It does take time and money and we have no money com­ing in.”

Gil­roy hails from Ra­heny and came from a house­hold that was staunchly Fianna Fail, and his mother had pic­tures of the Sa­cred Heart and Char­lie Haughey side by side. He pre­vi­ously worked as a body­guard, in­clud­ing a stint pro­tect­ing Don Tidey. He then had his own elec­tri­cal se­cu­rity busi­ness — which isn't go­ing as well as it was. “We're broke, but I can han­dle that. I told my mort­gage com­pany that I can­not pay them and we have a kind of stand-off agree­ment.”

Through his Peo­ple for Eco­nomic Jus­tice group, he helps lay lit­i­gants in court. Is he paid for this? “They come to me in trou­ble. I don't ask them for money, just ex­penses if they have it. There is a do­na­tion but­ton on the web­site as well. I help peo­ple be­cause in this coun­try you're only equal be­fore the law if you have money.”

He is very, very an­gry about the Ir­ish po­lit­i­cal sys­tem and the present ad­min­is­tra­tion in par­tic­u­lar. “They said all the right t hings be­fore go­ing i nto govern­ment, but they have gone worse. Tax­ing our wa­ter! It fuck­ing sticks in my craw. There are four sui­cides a day in Ire­land. We are sit­ting on a pow­der keg here. In­stead

‘The Pres­i­dent should sign in a new law — punch Noo­nan in the face ev­ery time you see him’

of shoot­ing them­selves, they're go­ing to shoot sher­iffs.

“Th­ese bankers said to the govern­ment, ‘We can't screw enough money so we want you to change the law. Change the law to evict fam­i­lies out of their homes’. The Con­sti­tu­tion is thrown out the win­dow.”

Has the present Govern­ment not gone to great lengths to restore the rep­u­ta­tion of the coun­try since the dis­as­trous crash? Not in Gil­roy's mind: “Gob­shites! Did you ever see a face that needed to be slapped more than Noo­nan? Why are politi­cians not stand­ing up? This gob­shite Enda Kenny. He col­lects the Euro­pean man of the year award. When he was pulling on his pants that morn­ing, why didn't he ask him­self, ‘Why am I get­ting it?' And he was a big­ger gob­shite to go over and col­lect it.”

His ha­tred of Noo­nan is par­tic­u­larly acute. “The way that Noo­nan talks does my head in. He's such a con­niv­ing lit­tle rat. The Pres­i­dent should sign in a new law — punch Noo­nan in the face ev­ery time you see him. They are like two gombeen men.”

He has lit­tle time for Pres­i­dent Hig­gins ei­ther, be­cause of his ag­nos­tic be­liefs. “The Pres­i­dent is an athe­ist but he has to swear the oath of of­fice un­der God. What does he say? I swear un­der what? The five lamps?”

Gil­roy be­lieves the Pres­i­dent shouldn't have signed the abor­tion bill into law af­ter the Coun­cil of State meet­ing. “He had no right to do that. I don't know any­one in favour of that leg­is­la­tion. It looks like you can have an abor­tion at a drop of a hat if you're de­pressed. The lady that died [Savita Halap­panavar] — it had noth­ing to do with abor­tion. This is the me­dia spin.

“If we had di­rect democ­racy it wouldn't hap­pen. I am very much pro-life, but I do not ram my views down peo­ple's throats, I ed­u­cate peo­ple in­stead. Abor­tion is not a so­lu­tion for de­pres­sion. If some­one has been raped and then the ad­vice is ‘kill your child’ — does that make things bet­ter for her? The peo­ple should de­cide.”

As some­one who helps in­debted peo­ple in court, he re­serves par­tic­u­lar ire for the Ir­ish le­gal sys­tem. “Peo­ple who have worked all their lives and now they are in trou­ble and are part of a fam­ily unit, are af­forded no help. But still they'll pay for le­gal aid for some gur­rier down the town who hits a girl.” Some of Gil­roy's opin­ions are, frankly, bonkers. He launches into a di­a­tribe about the Freema­sons in Ire­land. “The Freema­sons Hall is just across the road from the Dail. I'd say ev­ery judge is in it — this ‘help a brother in trou­ble' stuff. That Freema­son Lodge is the sec­ond old­est and the sec­ond most im­por­tant in the world. There is one lodge in ev­ery Ir­ish town, with 50,000 mem­bers.”

At this point, I had to draw a breath. Pas­tor Niemoller's poem came to mind: “First they came for the com­mu­nists and I didn' t speak out be­cause I wasn' t a com­mu­nist. Then they came for the so­cial­ists, and I didn't speak out be­cause I wasn't a so­cial­ist . . . then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me.”

I ask Gil­roy if he's sim­ply a far-right Tro­jan horse and in­stinc­tive racist who's cod­ding gullible peo­ple with a con­spir­acy-based po­lit­i­cal move­ment, taken largely from the Free­man move­ment in the US. Freemen be­lieve if they de­clare them­selves to be ‘free

men on the land' they re­move any ves­tige of con­sent to be gov­erned by the Govern­ment of Ire­land, mean­ing they don't have to obey statute law.

“I hate peo­ple telling me what I am. I think the Freemen move­ment . . . a lot of them make great sense . . . but don't tell me I'm one of them. Don't call me right-wing and racist — I'm not. Then make me look like a pussy and ap­pear that I'm not strong in my own con­vic­tions. Once I am pi­geon-holed, they can at­tack. I have been ac­cused of be­ing ev­ery­thing from far-right to far-left, then I helped the Nige­rian church in Na­van. Then dur­ing an LMFM in­ter­view I was ac­cused of be­ing anti-English — but a per­son I helped, Lee Well­stead, was English. They say I have links to Nigel Farage and UKIP be­cause I posted one of their videos. I'm an or­di­nary bloke with a fam­ily, who's very pro-life and had to ask my mate Johnny what far-right was.”

He was par­tic­u­larly an­noyed by a fea­ture in the Law So­ci­ety Gazette in March by bar­ris­ter Keith Rooney about the Freemen. Rooney high­lighted a YouTube video fea­tur­ing Gil­roy ‘de­feat­ing' the sher­iff of Port­laoise in a clip en­ti­tled ‘con­sti­tu­tion halts sher­iff '.

“They ridicule me — th­ese West Brits at­tack me. In this video you're there, the sher­iff is there, you're not at your best. I know I made a few mis­takes in the video,” said Gil­roy. I spoke to the author of the ar­ti­cle, bar­ris­ter Keith Rooney, about his at­ti­tude to th­ese types of debt cam­paign­ers. “Ben Gil­roy says he's not a Free­man but has a lot of the same traits. It's a dif­fer­ent brand of th­ese false le­gal be­liefs, tak­ing a lit­eral mean­ing of the Con­sti­tu­tion, like Ar­ti­cle 43, that the fam­ily has in­alien­able rights.” But surely th­ese new groups are a re­sponse by des­per­ate peo­ple who are be­ing chased down by fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions for large debts which they can­not pay. “I never blame the peo­ple. There are three lev­els. Peo­ple who gen­uinely be­lieve this stuff. Then the sec­ond level are those who push other peo­ple to take this line in court, while the third level are the peo­ple in the room who I have noth­ing but sym­pa­thy for,” said Rooney. “The en­tire le­gal sys­tem is set up for an eco­nomic sys­tem that worked nor­mally . . .The process for re­cov­er­ing debts or mort­gage re­quires govern­ment to change. The money was there. This is an ex­tra­or­di­nary cir­cum­stance. This is an en­vi­ron­ment where peo­ple want to blame the bankers.”

Speak­ing to many in the le­gal pro­fes­sion for this ar­ti­cle, there is a per­cep­tion that many court ac­tions nowa­days are es­sen­tially two bald men fight­ing over a comb, as no one has any money to sat­isfy the judg­ments.

“If Ben Gil­roy is help­ing some­one — nor­mally the per­son will have a stan­dard form of af­fi­davit and then say they want Ben Gil­roy to speak for me. Some judges are le­nient and there is some for­bear­ance and he's given an op­por­tu­nity to speak. There is a le­gal con­cept called a McKen­zie friend — where lay ad­vo­cates are al­lowed to have some­one there,” adds Rooney.

I went to the Four Courts with Gil­roy as he ad­vised some­one. He was due to help a man fac­ing a large de­mand from a ma­jor bank. In the small, sec­ond-floor court in the Four Courts, the bar­ris­ters for the banks firstly out­lined their case. Then the re­spon­dent spoke and asked: “I move the court to have my friend speak for me.” The judge re­sponded: “I can't al­low Mr Gil­roy to speak for you.”

“I will bring a chal­lenge to Europe then — I feel I am not get­ting jus­tice . . . I left school at 13,” said the man. “I have no com­plaint about Mr Gil­roy's con­duct as a McKen­zie friend — but a per­son who as­sists some­one else is not en­ti­tled to rep­re­sent them and I must en­force that rule,” added the judge.

The man ap­peared to be read­ing from a script and reg­u­larly con­sulted with Gil­roy who was sit­ting next to him. The judge gave judge­ment, but al­lowed an ap­peal to the Supreme Court, and put a stay of ex­e­cu­tion for three months. Af­ter the case I ask Gil­roy, who has a back­ground in se­cu­rity-cam­era in­stal­la­tion, would he trust a judge to in­stall a CCTV sys­tem? Why not let them do the job they are trained to do? “I un­der­stand what you're say­ing , but I have stud­ied se­cu­ri­ti­sa­tion and bank­ing for many years. I un­der­stand a good deal about court pro­ce­dure. I can ar­gue very well in court.” Even though Gil­roy re­jects the Free­man phi­los­o­phy, he com­monly ar­gues in court about the en­tire process of se­cu­ri­ti­sa­tion of loans and other tac­tics like void­ing court or­ders — which the Free­man groups ar­gue for as well.

At the court, I give him a chance to re­tract a few of his con­tro­ver­sial as­ser­tions — such as the Ma­sonic con­spir­acy. “Even if there's one judge, that's one too many,” he says.

Peo­ple Be­fore Profit TD Joan Collins has been in­volved with bank-debt protests, but has reser­va­tions about some of the tac­tics be­ing used. “If the Free­man move­ment is grow­ing, it's be­cause peo­ple are so frus­trated and are latch­ing on to any idea. The Labour and trade-union move­ment have failed them, so they fill the vac­uum. One in seven mort­gages are over 90 days in ar­rears.”

“Some of it in­volves be­ing ‘men of the land' and ‘ bound by sea' and they check the num­ber of strings on the harps in the court. I worry that if peo­ple are given false hope — and courts can be very over­pow­er­ing places — if they're mis­in­formed, they may find them­selves in jail,” the TD added.

Be­fore I leave I ask Gil­roy what he'd do if he were Taoiseach. “The cit­i­zen is stymied by the EU and un­elected bu­reau­crats are run­ning Europe. We are a sov­er­eign state abun­dant in ev­ery­thing here. We have fer­tile ground, but one in four chil­dren go to bed hun­gry be­cause of pol­i­tics. We could be the or­ganic food cen­tre of Europe and take con­trol of oil and gas. Our govern­ment should is­sue debt-free cur­rency and we'd never have a national debt. We just need to print our own money.”

‘We’re go­ing to bring the whole thing to a stand­still’ — de­vel­oper Jerry Beades, cen­tre left (hold­ing brochure), protests

at an All­sop auc­tion

‘Don’t call me right-wing and racist — I’m not’ —

Ben Gil­roy at the Meath East

by-elec­tion

Jerry Beades with Ber­tie Ah­ern in a cor­po­rate box at Lis­towel Races in 2006

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