Hot Press

THE HOT PRESS INTERVIEW...

Nationally known as a combative champion of troubled mortgage holders, businessma­n David Hall also unexpected­ly found himself as CEO of suicide charity Console last year, after the organisati­on was struck by major controvers­y. In a hugely revealing interv

- Interview: Jason O’Toole Portrait: David Green

In a hugely revealing interview, businessma­n David Hall – nationally known as a combative champion of mortgage holders – claims that banks have been responsibl­e for up to 200 mortage holders taking their own lives, says that vulture funds may spark protests on a par with water charges, and admits that he would like to be president.

Halfway through this in-depth interview, David Hall – the man hailed as the “home loan hero” by the media – is shaking his head and smiling.

“Interviews are normally all about figures, banks, mortgages, charities or suicide – it’s not about marijuana, drink, riding, condoms, abortion, like with Hot Press. So, you couldn’t get a more opposing interview if you were to try,” he says. Now he's laughing.

In fairness to him, David doesn’t balk at our unorthodox line of questionin­g. Reared in Blanchards­town, Hall has been involved in various community and charity campaigns since he was a teenager. He establishe­d the Make-A-Wish Foundation Ireland back in 1992, after he made a dying woman’s dream of meeting her idol, Jon Bon Jovi, come true. He then went on to help Ronan Keating set-up his cancer charity, the Marie Keating Foundation.

More recently, David has been in the spotlight with his crusade against the appalling behaviour of our financial institutio­ns. At one point, he took the Irish government to court over the controvers­ial promissory notes to bail out the banks.

David set-up the Irish Mortgage Holders Organisati­on (IMHO) and subsequent­ly iCare, a non-profit approved housing body. Its main aim is to help people in mortgage arrears hold onto their homes, either as longterm tenants or by restructur­ing their loans. A volunteer with St John of

Gods Ambulance when he was a teenager, Hall made money with his own ambulance service. “We are the largest private ambulance company in the State,” he explains. “We have 68 full-time staff, and 40 ambulances moving about 16,000 patients a year.”

He hit the headlines again last year when he was appointed interim CEO of the ambattled suicide charity Console.

Jason O’Toole: Were you wild growing up?

David Hall: I wouldn’t say wild. I wasn’t a drinker. Drink didn’t really agree with me. I never smoked and I never tried drugs. I had a natural appetite for a bit of craic without having any substitute there.

So you never even smoked marijuana?

I never tried any type of drug. I was high enough on life. To look at me now, you wouldn’t think so, but I would’ve been health-conscious! From an earlier stage, I would’ve been involved in the St John Ambulance and looking after people and seeing the effects of it. I hate smoking, irrespecti­ve of what the substance is. I never liked the physical act of smoking. I wouldn’t be able to inhale or any of that fucking thing. I couldn’t physically put it my mouth and suck it in. I remember hiding in the Garden of Remembranc­e with a couple of lads with my twenty pack of Major. We all sat there being the hard lads trying it. Sure, I nearly fucking choked.

But you wouldn’t look down on someone for smoking a joint?

Not at all. I noticed last night on The Cutting Edge, Father D’Arcy was on and he used words that stood out a mile to me, like ‘soft drugs’. I agree fully with him. It’s refreshing to hear somebody use the differenti­al between hard and soft drugs.

Growing up, would you have read Hot Press?

Yes. I was an avid music connoisseu­r – even though I can’t sing and I can’t play an instrument. I would’ve been very big into U2 when I was growing up. I had a significan­t interest in Hot Press from U2’s perspectiv­e. I think Hot

Press was a feature of most people my age growing up. Some had Smash Hits and others had Hot Press – two publicatio­ns that everybody would’ve referred to. It is like coming full circle. It’s very strange to be interviewe­d for

Hot Press when you read it in a different context for a decade.

Would you have read Playboy growing up?

I wouldn’t have read it! I don’t think it’s one you sit down and read studiously. It’s more a visual publicatio­n. I would’ve seen it. Growing up, it was a big hit for somebody to be able to find one. Where anyone stored them afterwards was always the controvers­ial component. I wouldn’t have bought it, but lads would’ve shown it to each other.

Can you recall the first time you watched a porn film?

The first time I saw a porno movie was when I was in Maynooth College. I was in a house with four lads. One or two of the lads would’ve had porno movies. Now, my longest time looking at a porn movie might’ve been four minutes! And that wasn’t because of any reaction to watching it – that was just purely the time (laughs).

But it would’ve turned you on?

They’re designed in such a way, in a storytelli­ng way, and have creative stories to capture one’s imaginatio­n and to capture one’s senses! The TD Stephen Donnelly said in his Hot Press Interview back in January that he once went to a strip club. What about you? I did. My stag night was at a strip club in Leeson Street. We all went, but my best man was a barrister and decided he couldn’t go in. We found out afterwards that the owner was a client of his. The other 19 of us went in. It

was one of the funniest nights ever. And it wasn’t funny from a seedy perspectiv­e, it was from an interactio­nal perspectiv­e with a bunch of lads there.

Did you tell your wife-to-be? Yes. She knew where we were going. And her two brother-in-laws were there to supervise!

When did you get married?

I got married in 2000. I was 29. How long were you two together before getting married?

We were together for about 10 years.

How did you first meet? She was nursing in Cappagh Hospital. I had the ambulance company and I went there to get a patient. She accompanie­d the patient on the journey. I asked her out. I don’t know if she actually said yes, I think she sort of didn’t say no. I didn’t have a car at the time. I had to buy an ambulance for my ambulance company. So, I turned up at the nurses’ home, as they were at the time, and collected her that evening in the ambulance. And we went to the Angler's Rest for our first date. We go back down there a couple of times a year. The bench where we sat is still identifiab­le.

Was it love at first sight for you? Yeah, it was. It’s very strange to have somebody in the ambulance when you’re working and go collect them that night, go off for a drink and then marry them. I think that’s fairly conclusive. Were you a bit of a ladies’ man before you settled down? I think I was found to be attractive by the opposite sex. I would’ve shared my personalit­y (laughs)! Where’s the most unusual place you ever had sex?

Driveway of the house!

You were getting a ride home…

Literally (laughs)! How old were you when you lost your virginity?

About 18.

Was it all you hoped it to be? Ah, I think it was more. Is that the technicall­y correct answer (laughs)? It was. Maynooth was a very special time for a whole load of reasons – the camaraderi­e, not just the virginity issue. It was a very maturing time for me, especially my year in the students’ union. You were the vice president of the students’ union in Maynooth... I spent a year as vice president and welfare officer. That was a phenomenal year of getting stuff done. I set up a health centre – that’s still running. It was unheard of for a students’ union with the support of the college to set up the health service on the campus. Were you there when the students held a referendum to demand access to condoms on campus.

(Laughs) I’ll always remember it. The referendum passed, but our legal advice was it was illegal to provide condoms unless through a pharmacy! So, we had to turn down the referendum. One of the well-known priests in Maynooth sat me down and said, ‘I’m going to give you two lessons in life.

One is, you never see a plaque erected in memory of a committee. And my advice to you, especially if you’re looking at politics, don’t get involved in mickey morality!’ During your time at Maynooth, did you give any students advice about having an abortion? Did I advise or help people go abroad for an abortion? Yes. I’ve never been asked the question. You’re the first person who’s ever asked me. I’ll answer questions honestly, irrespecti­ve of who’s asking them. I’m not designed for politics in the sense that I’m not designed to avoid the question. I’ll never tell you who they are, but yes, I did so (despite being) in a massively Catholic ethos. You’ve got to remember that this is 1990 to 1991. This is when condoms weren’t even legal. I would have given advice and directed people during my time in Maynooth. Two particular­ly who needed assistance abroad and would’ve arranged that with one of the local doctors.

Do you have any children yourself? I have a wife and two kids. My twin girls are eight. They are fantastic. But they were IVF. We were unsuccessf­ul in the natural way. Our first go with IVF: bang! Twins. Most football teams have a backroom team – they are my backroom team, my wife and the two kids. Everything I do can’t really be done without their support and help. I’m not going to start telling a wife and two kids what they can do with their body. Is anybody in the country not prolife? Of course everyone is pro-life. This will be the most divisive referendum in the history of the state.

But you’re pro-choice? Yeah. It’s a woman’s choice to make that decision. I’m surrounded by women and I don’t believe that it’s my decision to influence what they can or can’t do with their bodies. It is very difficult when you have a wife and a sister, and two sisters-in-law, and a mother and a mother-in-law. And I have two daughters: am I honestly going to sit them all down and say, ‘I’m going to tell you what you should do with your bodies!' That’s just not appropriat­e. Is it appropriat­e for David Hall to be lecturing women when I’m surrounded by them? I’m not comfortabl­e doing that. Successive Irish government­s have failed women in terms of their rights... Yeah. Look, any of the sexy stuff, they’ll do. Any of the stuff that actually influences and changes lives, they don’t do. There’s human rights issues here. People need an opportunit­y to voice that. And the right thing to do is hold a referendum to Repeal the 8th. I am not going to preach to someone what I think they should do. The way to do this is have a clear referendum that will allow people to make their choices.

Are you religious? I would believe in God. I’m an a la carte believer. I believe what suits me (laughs)! When the shit hits the fan, I believe. I think I believe like most people do. I’ve had some very positive experience­s: my two girls’ arrival. What happened and how did they

come about, having sought and prayed for them. I wouldn’t be deeply religious. I was at mass last Sunday with my girls doing their communion, for the first time in probably a year. I’m not a

Holy Joe. Religion is subjective. I’ve friends of all different religions. I was in a Protestant school. I think religion is a practise and I prefer to practise than preach.

So you actually believe in heaven and hell? I do. It doesn’t make any fucking difference when you’re gone. To me, it’s like Home Stores More:

when you’re gone you’re gone. I wouldn’t be caught up in the dramatic nature of heaven. It’s a hard one to quantify. It’s a hard one to justify. It’s a hard one to evidence. I’m always afraid that I’ll say there’s none and next thing I’m up at the pearly gates and your man says, ‘Here you! You didn’t believe'. And I’ll be, ‘But let me in, will ya? For fuck sake!’ (Laughs). You aspire to be in the heaven pot, not the hell pot.

What about aliens? Out there? I think there’s a few aliens in Ireland! I’ve dealt with a few aliens. No, I don’t believe there is. Your mortgage organisati­on is a non-profit agency – so what’s in it for you? When banks in Ireland and the government talk about people in mortgage arrears, they talk about mortgages – they don’t talk about humans. Ultimately, for me, the satisfacti­on is making a difference. As you start trying to help, you get a bit addicted to it. You can see, physically and emotionall­y, the difference it makes to families who ordinarily wouldn’t have the strength to deal with banks themselves. All I want is to make sure as many people as possible will be saved. If you look at the last few weeks, leaving aside the politician­s, there aren’t that many others who are mad enough to speak out so aggressive­ly against the establishm­ent, against banks. Many people shy away from it. The politician­s don’t want to actually sort out the banks. What’s the benefit? There’s no benefit to sorting out the banks. All you want to know is that your constituen­cy is going to re-elect you as a TD. You’ve worked in both mortgages and suicide prevention. Is it possible to put an estimate on how many people have taken their own lives because of how they’ve been treated by the banks? I would say a couple of hundred. I would be confident in saying a couple of hundred people have taken their own lives directly as a result of financial difficulti­es – and a significan­t percentage of those would’ve been directly as a result of behaviour and treatment by banks. What’s your take on the government’s decision to go easy on the banks over the tracker mortage controvers­y? It was a very dark day given our history with banks. This was a double insult. I’m surprised at the Minister (for Finance) for not realising that when you’re dealing with liars like the banks, all you’re going to do is prolong your political pain in dealing with this matter. You have this remarkable situation where banks wronged customers, stole their money, lied to them, put them under immense pressure, tortured them

– and the Central Bank intervened and allowed them investigat­e themselves! And then the Governor of the Central Bank said that he hopes that the banks will be fair and reasonable with their compensati­on. Whoa! Are you telling me that this is the first redress scheme in the entire world where the actual offender is dictating the level of compensati­on? You seem to be saying that government­s here don’t have the balls to stand up to the banks. No, none. Actually it's worse than that – they’re pretending to have balls, which is worse than having none.

What needs to be done? What should’ve happened is this: the tracker customers’ money should’ve been given back, and then an independen­t arbitratio­n panel put in place, where people could individual­ly challenge the compensati­on offered. And if the banks weren’t happy with the award made by that panel they could go off to court.

What else should be done? The longer-term plan should be sanctions on the banks – be they criminal, or fitness and probity on senior members of the banks for allowing this to happen. It doesn’t sound like you have any confidence in the Central Bank. The Central Bank is not fit for purpose and its consumer protection function should be removed. This is a little cabal between the Department, the Minister, the banks, the Central Bank. It’s deeply concerning that this behaviour has been tolerated. And deeply concerning that the politician­s have stood idly by. The public are becoming more and more disillusio­ned. The public were let down badly by the Central Bank and the government and specifical­ly by the Department of Finance repeatedly. And I’m not too sure how much more they’ll take of it. Water was a very hot topic and a sort of catalyst at a given time. We’re yet to face the abyss of vulture funds, who are now circling and clipping their toenails, getting them ready and sharp to tackle family homes. I think when you see family homes being sold en masse to vulture funds, if it’s allowed to proceed, that might just be the tipping point. You believe there'll be rioting on the streets and civil disobedien­ce if the vulture funds start kicking people out of their homes? Yes. I think we could see a tipping point from the public that could replicate the water protests. Do you think we could see a dramatic increase of homes being re-possessed? So far this year, 1,300 homes have been repossesse­d, or abandoned, or surrendere­d to banks. There’s been a number of them taken from the trackers as well. But there’s 17,000 re-possession proceeding­s before the courts. A number of bank lovers and vulture lovers will comment, ‘The courts haven’t given many repossessi­on orders'. That’s completely correct, because the courts have taken a very humane approach. But the banks’ intent is clear: you don’t put 17,000 re-possession proceeding­s on family homes into the court unless you’re looking to re-possess. How many homes has your organisati­on saved so far? Through the Irish Mortgage Holders Organisati­on, we’ve helped just over 8,000 people. These are figures about to go into an ad campaign. We’ve 8,000 people whom we’ve helped – 90% of whom have stayed in the family home. And a quarter of all bankruptci­es in the county, over the last two years, have been clients of ours whom we’ve helped free-of-charge. We’ve gone from setting up in 2012 to being the largest debt charity in the country. And I would suggest the most effective, from an advocacy perspectiv­e, but more importantl­y, from actually helping customers – because this is hand-to-hand combat with banks.

What are your upcoming plans? The next phase is against the backdrop of the

ECB putting pressure on all the banks to sell loans that are not performing. A significan­t number will be eligible for mortgage-to-rent through iCare, but there’s equally a large number that aren’t eligible for social housing. Their income is above the social housing threshold, but isn’t high enough to meet the standard required by the bank to restructur­e their loans. They will fall into the re-possession list. They will inevitably be sold to vulture funds.

How do you see your plan working? The loan might be 250k. The house might be worth 125k. It could be sold to a vulture fund for 80 grand. And we’re basically saying to the banks, ‘We will set up a not-for-profit – like iCare; it may very well be iCare. If the vulture fund pays the loan they will throw Mary and Joe out, because Mary and Joe cannot pay the full mortgage of €1,500. We will buy the loans, now the loan is only 80 grand, not 250 grand – then we can take €800 off Mary and Joe to allow them stay in the house'. So, it’s a fantastic project. The difference is: the vulture fund will buy the property and evict people and sell it at a profit – we are aiming to buy it with a social conscience. We would buy the loan and they would stay in their home, paying down their loan and they would own it entirely at the end of it.

Will there be any additional costs to the State? This doesn’t cost the State any money, because this is people repaying lower mortgages. And it’s exactly what politician­s claim they’ve wanted – for families to be offered their home back at the same price a vulture would buy it. The problem is aspiration; many people don’t have that money, nor can they borrow the money. The bank is going to get the same money it would get if the vulture fund was buying it. The difference is the vulture fund will not radically restructur­e the loan: we will radically restructur­e the loan that matches the person’s affordabil­ity. If their affordabil­ity increases, then the repayments increase. It keeps them in their homes. I read reports that you have Richard Burrows “advising on securing investment and restructur­ing loans for distressed borrowers”.

Yes, Richard Burrows is working with us. How are you going to fund your operations in the future? We have a credit line from AIB Corporate Finance, completely separate to buying houses from AIB. We are not allowed, as an approved housing body, borrow from the Housing Finance Agency, which is the European fund that funds approved

“DID I ADVISE OR HELP PEOPLE GO ABROAD FOR

AN ABORTION? YES.”

housing bodies. We can apply to them for money in maybe a year’s time when we’re up and running. But as a new start-up, you’re not allowed borrow from them. So, we had to find an alternativ­e source of funding. So, that’s how we’re funded currently, but that will probably change through the Housing Finance Agency, once we’re establishe­d. They’ve been very helpful and I think they will fund us. And the reason that’s important is they fund at a lower level of interest than from a commercial fund, because they’re taking money directly from Europe. You were asked to take over as interim chief executive of Console last year, when

Prime Time broke the story over serious mismanagem­ent by the then CEO, Paul Kelly. We found out that nobody was actually running the show. I never experience­d anything like it.

The nation was convulsed over behaviour that put lives at risk. That behaviour put other charitable entities at risk and had a massively damaging effect on charities. The charity was in dire straits when you took over. The media have an element of responsibi­lity to understand that if you’re going to take the head off a charity publicly, and cripple the charity because of behaviour, there’s services being provided of a lifesaving nature. It’s irresponsi­ble not to see the consequenc­es of such reporting, and not to have an emergency plan in place for Thursday night of Prime Time, to ensure that those services are protected. Do you think Paul Kelly deserves to go to prison? Yeah. He won’t, but I do believe he should. Unfortunat­ely, the law needs to change. The bar for fraud is a very high bar to prove. When you have your wife and others on a board that you control, you can hide behind them approving expenditur­e – and that’s what I believe will happen in this case. I’ve not said that publicly before, but that’s what I think: there will be no criminal sanctions here. The law needs to change so that people in positions of trust with charities, be they staff members or executive officers or trustees, if they breach that trust, then there needs to be a much lower fraud bar for them. You’ve had dealings with the Minister for Health, Simon Harris. How do you rate him? I won’t be popular in saying this: he’s quite okay. I think a very strong CEO is required for health. What I never understood about Simon and, indeed, his predecesso­rs is that they allow the HSE to run the show – and then they take the political flak. If I was going to go in as Minister for Health, I’d have a Conor McGregor style adopted. Because if I’m taking a political hit, what’s the point in sitting there, saying, ‘Actually, I only do policy. Tony O’Brien runs the show'. So there’s a mismatch there in relation to the political effectiven­ess of health. You once ran in a by-election. Might you run again for the Dáil? I’d consider it. I would consider the Seanad.

For the work that I do and advocacy work in general, the Seanad is a great platform; it's designed for people like me, who have some semblance of competency, and who can oversee legislatio­n – particular­ly legislatio­n that protects the vulnerable. Would you consider running for the Presidency? Everyone should aspire to be President, in my view. Everyone should aspire to hold a role that can help people. It would be a privilege for anyone to have the opportunit­y to become President. It’s not in my immediate landscape. I think Michael D. has to make a big decision. Would I like to be President? Absolutely. Would I run amok as President? Absolutely. Would I make a difference as President? I believe so. I like to go where I can have the biggest influence. And I think Mary Robinson, and Michael D. especially, have shown the scope of the Presidency, which is very important. The positivity that a President can give the country is absolutely incredible. People are happy to see Michael D. He actually brings a smile to the face – and not in a derogatory fashion, in a genuinely positive way. And they’re proud to say, ‘He’s my man'. You wouldn’t want any skeletons in your closet if you were running. I recommend running for a by-election to find the skeletons. And I recommend using banks and vulture funds, because they tend to send fellas out to find skeletons. I know people went looking to dig up dirt on me. Politics is a nasty, nasty business. Politician­s who affect change, I find, always become the subject of some smear, rumour or campaign. Once you start taking on the establishm­ent, once you start costing them money, a different level of attention is put upon you by these bodies.

Did the banks come after you? I had a business loan that I used to do with a bank for six years consecutiv­ely, where I had a quarterof-a-million euro in the bank on deposit. I was borrowing money to insure the ambulances and the insurance that goes with the business. It’s the least risky loan you take out, to fund insurance in a company, because in the event of the company going bust, the insurance company repays the bank the balance of the money. That was stopped by the bank four years ago. So, I know. I’m surprised more rumours haven’t circulated. One rumour that did circulate was allegation­s of racism made against you. Someone tried to blackmail me during that campaign. The Sunday World published a frontpage story where someone produced a selected part of a video with a friend of mine. He says, ‘Every house should have a bald fat Irishman’.

And I stupidly say, ‘Every house should have a black lad!’ This was a black friend of mine! That video was presented to me and I was asked for €10,000 to not give it to The Sunday World.I reported it to the Guards. And they gave it to The

Sunday World. That was a seven-year-old video in 2014. But that’s what you are up against, Jason. If you want to affect change there are consequenc­es to your family, there are consequenc­es to you. There are people spreading malicious rumours that are completely untrue. One of the things that does flush out skeletons is running for a byelection because all the other political parties tend to go find the skeletons. Before the by-election in 2014, one newspaper ran a piece on your personal business, saying you had made €1.5 million profit from a company. I think that article ran well before I even declared for election. I personally had nothing to hide. I don’t believe it’s relevant, but others do. I don’t know: is it an effort to undermine you? I don’t know what relevance it has. I’m fortunate enough to have a successful business – it wasn’t always successful. It is a tragic symptom that when you stick your head above the parapet, you become a target for people who have fuck-all else to do, and – also, I find – people who have contribute­d fuck-all to society. You set-up the Marie Keating Foundation with Ronan. Do you think he got a raw deal from the Irish media after his marriage broke up? He did. I don’t know if it’s a raw deal that was deserved or not. But he did have an affair with a dancer. He did embarrass his wife and family. You know, that comes with the territory: when you want to do something stupid you have to deal with the consequenc­es.

How did you start out doing charity work? I used to bring the kids from Crumlin Children’s Hospital in the ambulance, and I’d rob tickets off Peter Aiken from Aiken Promotions. I used to drive him cuckoo by calling him and saying, ‘Give me some tickets. Just give me the fucking tickets, Peter!’ (Laughs) I’d also get tickets off UCI Cinema in Tallaght. And I used to bring the kids there in the ambulance on little day trips. You establishe­d the Irish branch of Make-AWish Foundation? One morning I got a phone call from a nurse called Barbara Kelly and she said, ‘I’ve got a girl here Susan Fleming. She’s 16 and very sick. She would love to meet Jon Bon Jovi. There’s a competitio­n on with 2FM to meet Jon Bon Jovi. Would you try and contact them and see if we can get Susan to meet Jon Bon Jovi?’ So I rang. Your man says, ‘I can’t do anything for you.

There’s policy here, blah blah blah. But I can give you the contact name of the lady in the record company'. And I tormented her for a week and she agreed Susan could meet Jon Bon Jovi. She met him in the then Point Theatre and Jon gave her a leather jacket – his own leather jacket, not a tour jacket or a band jacket. She was on a stretcher. She wasn’t well enough to walk. She was over at the side of the stage for the concert and he came over to her on a number of occasions. She died, unfortunat­ely, three weeks after that.

Did they play a Bon Jovi song at her funeral? At the funeral mass, one of her favourite songs, ‘Bed Of Roses’, was played when the coffin exited the church. These two lads come up to me and said, ‘Dave, will you go and talk to the priest for a minute and distract him? The ghetto blaster we used, we robbed it – we want to give it back

(laughs)!’ Then Make-A-Wish was born, which has grown to be a fantastic national organisati­on. I was a voluntary CEO, and then I sat on the internatio­nal board of Make-A-Wish. I was the first non-American president of Make-A-Wish Internatio­nal, which at the time had 34 countries registered. I then set up the Marie Keating Foundation with Ronan. I chaired his board for 10 years. I think 10 years is probably the maximum amount of time for a founder – otherwise the founder starts fucking up the charity!

“WHEN YOU STICK YOUR HEAD ABOVE THE PARAPET, YOU BECOME A TARGET FOR PEOPLE WHO HAVE FUCK ALL

ELSE TO DO.”

 ??  ?? (Clockwise from left) Ronan Keating; U2 live; David Hall with TD Joan Collins; Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora with the late Susan Fleming; and Hall with the Spitting Image puppet of Margaret Thatcher.
(Clockwise from left) Ronan Keating; U2 live; David Hall with TD Joan Collins; Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora with the late Susan Fleming; and Hall with the Spitting Image puppet of Margaret Thatcher.
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