The First Chapter
Beginning My Journey
A rural town on the border of the Republic / Northern Ireland.
towards the end of December 2013
'Bang!' A beautiful pink Princess bed is dropped hard on the
grass. Followed close behind is its owner, four-year-old Shauna.
She tries to catch up but the icy ground under her bare feet
prevents her from running as fast as she usually would. 'They
took my dollies', this sweet angel whispers as she looks up at
me with her deep, watering green eyes. With no time to dress,
Shauna stands shivering in her pale pink pyjamas. This
winter's morning her four years of life are cast into turmoil;
for like her dollies she too is now homeless.
Two hours earlier I had been working in Scotch Hall
Shopping Centre in Drogheda surrounded by fortunate
mothers and children with childhoods in the making. The
atmosphere was contagious as optimism and hope flowed, but
such joy was now alien to me seeing that each passing year
another Christmas had been lost. A time that was once
celebrated was only a reminder of the life that was gone.
The phone rang as I embroidered a Santa sock for an
expectant mum who stood radiant; and with a smile that
would melt a heart her delicate voice would soon soothe her
newborn child. How lucky she was, sheltered from this
shameful world that cares nothing for mothers or children, an
increasing number of whom are forced into homelessness at
this time of year. The voice at the other end of the phone
shocked me back to reality.
'Tom, please help me.'
It was a man called Kieran, who sounded desperate and
stripped of dignity.
'They're taking my home,' he said. Unlike Christmas
movies that depict happiness and heroism, the following story
holds a toxic memory for five young children.
Abandoning my Santa sock, Dillon my son stood in as I
left for a home in the middle of the countryside. It was my first
time across the Border and on stopping for directions soft,
friendly accents pointed the way. Travelling between two high
grass verges, I soon saw blue lights flashing in the distance.
Parking a couple of hundred yards away, I got out and walked
towards, the house. On approach, it was like a tornado had
emptied its bounty. Furniture was scattered on both sides of
the boreen in front of Kieran's home. Police Service Northern
Ireland (PSNI) officers stood like centurions with bulletproof
vests and automatic weapons in hand.
Among the steel guns, navy uniforms and yellow high-vis
jackets a beautiful pink Princess bed had been dropped hard
on the grass. It was followed by its owner, a four year old
blonde, sweet angel named Shauna, who having had no time
to put on socks or shoes stood barefoot on the cold ground.
She looked up at me. 'They took my dollies,' she said as
the tears dripped from her face but her little voice was muted
by the loud pleas from outside the front door she knew as
home. A man was kneeling, begging with hands clasped.
'Please in the name of God don't do this.'
His words filled the quiet country lane as he raised his
hands to the sheriff, whose band of heartless thugs were
removing all that once created a home.
Devoid of compassion and without thought, they emerged
from the door again and again with more worldly goods held
tight in their former military hands. With personal items
displayed for all to view, smirks grew wider and foreign tongues
blazed with conversation. All the while Kieran remained on
his knees with his heavily pregnant wife, Catherine, at his side.
'Kieran please get up,' Catherine said over and over,
clutching her belly. In full gaze of his children, it was an image
that will forever haunt their impressionable minds. The rain
fell lightly on Kieran's face, which dripped with tears and rain
and was soaked by both. I turned to look back at Shauna.
There she was asleep in her Princess bed on the side of the
road, dollies retrieved and held tight.
My questions found no answers from this sheriff as to
whether or not his paperwork was in order.
'Get out of my way,' he shouted in a staunch Northern
accent. The PSNI stood like soldiers in Afghanistan, watching
this tale of heartache with emotionless expression.
Friends started to appear, gathering up pieces of furniture
and filling open black plastic bags with the family's life. Fiftytwo
minutes later Kieran's family was displaced. A father, a
mother and five children were left on the side of the road days
before Christmas. My heart paused as Amie, Kieran's sevenyear-
old daughter asked me how Santa would know where to
deliver her toys.
A wall of belongings was now placed outside a home that
was once a shrine to a family's integrity. Items peeked out of
rubbish sacks - the razor and shaving cream that would find
no mirror or shelf the following day as Kieran tries to start his
day from a plastic bag. In what is now the new normality of
his family's life, his children will be teased and ridiculed by
classmates who are merely conveying their parents' opinions
that are worded by innocent minds. A mother clings to what
instinct demanded, as a van is filled with the last of the plastic
Kieran stood peering through the window of his desecrated
home. Clean floors were now marked with alien boots and
cupboard doors were emptied, as the contents had been spilled
out. His children looked to him for the protection he believes
he has failed to give, thereby reinforcing his growing selfloathing.
With the family home now gone, this husband and
father turned to expose his vulnerability for all to see. His
children's eyes now joined their father's ocean of tears.
Fake smiles were what left me that evening from a couple
who trusted their family's future in the hands of those who
could not be trusted. Kieran shook my hand and thanked me
for coming. I returned to my car and sat there thinking how
cruel and evil some men can be. I observed as the sherriff gave
the keys of Kieran's home to the banker who had watched
the destruction of a family from the comfort of his new Audi.
Six weeks later as the New Year was in its third week, I
received a call from Kieran's brother. His tone was quiet and
sad as he told me how Kieran had been found hanging from
a tree. His eyes had been pecked by birds and his clothes were
soaked in urine. A family picture was found on the ground.
Having held it tightly, he would have released it as life left
his body, a result of the mental anguish that was suffered in
silence by a man who did nothing wrong. All he wanted was
to raise his precious children, but his pain was exasperated by
ruthless bankers who act devoid of humanity. A lifetime of
questions has now started as a wife and mother is widowed
and her responsibility doubled, adding to the grief of planning
her husband's funeral.
Three days later I walked into the church in that quiet
community to see every pew filled. Kieran's coffin was decked
in flowers. His wee ones' hands were linked together like steps
of stairs and his wife Catherine was in black. Each child read
out a prayer. As Shauna walked up to the altar she reached
out to Kieran's coffin. 'I miss you, Daddy", she said. I instantly
joined every person present and wept.
An hour later I stood as Kieran was laid to rest. Forever
haunting is the image of Kieran's graveside where innocents
gathered to give their final farewell to a father they love. Their
little hands held red roses as each took their turn to place their
own flower on their Daddy's coffin. The silence of the
graveyard was interrupted only by their quiet sobs. Catherine
stood holding two roses while she gazed at Kieran's coffin. He
was her lover, her best friend, her world, the father of her
children and the man she still loves, though now with a
broken heart. Tears dripped slowly from her face as she kissed
the first rose and placed it softly on the coffin, then raising
the second to her lips she kissed it gently and rubbed it across
her belly. The last rose to be placed on Kieran's coffin was
from the child he would never get to hold.
As I shook Catherine's hand, conveying words of sympathy
she was no doubt too numb to hear, I looked at each small
angelic face beside her and thought of their life going forward.
No father, no home, a lifetime of questions, why? Then I
thought of the criminal bankers and all those complicit in
Kieran's forced suicide, hoping some day they would see the
evil they caused and the thousands of lives they destroy; their
crimes now paid for by innocent children and unborn babies.
It was these events at the end of December 2013 that
provided the catalyst to my ongoing involvement in supporting
people who face eviction in Ireland. I could relate to their
desperation and fear, for my family had also faced down the
sheriff. The following is my own story and how my personal
involvement with thousands of people facing homelessness has
led me to unearth the truth behind the alliance between the
Irish Government, the banks and the judiciary and their
attempt to reintroduce eviction into Ireland.
My story. Newly married in 1981, I delivered coal around
Dublin only for the introduction of a smokeless zone to force
me out of business. With a young family to support and little
formal education there were few options available, so I became
a taxi driver. Some years later, the opportunity to establish the
National Taxi Drivers Union of Ireland offered me an
alternative source of employment and new way of life.
However, due to internal conflicts within the taxi business
itself, followed by deregulation in 2000, I again found myself
with no income or pension.
Instead of looking forward to the comfort of our middle
years, my wife Clare and I had to establish new careers. We
agreed that I would support the family and she would realise
her ambition to qualify as an interior designer in an area where
she had already shown flare and creative ability. Once
employed, the roles would be reversed and I would go to
university to study law with the intention of becoming a
As Clare began her first college term, I started work on
building sites throughout Dublin, where regularly assaulted by
the weather I became strangely nostalgic for my years behind
the wheel. Soon, foreign workers arriving from the Balkan
States afforded me the opportunity to move into a
management role where, not unlike my taxi days, much of the
week was spent defusing potentially volatile situations. With
Romanians pitted against Moldovans, Lithuanians arguing
with Ukrainians and Croatians refusing to work with
Bosnians, my job description read more like a mediator than
Vergil, a Romanian worker, arrived on the site one rainy
morning. A qualified engineer back home, he now collected
bricks by hand and cleaned up after his former enemies. Midforties
and small in stature, his hands were scarred from
handling gazelles at Ceaus,escu's Palace. Always polite, he
would tell horrific stories about the kidnapping and selling of
local children into prostitution by men from bordering
Moldovan towns, and how elderly people regularly froze to
death during the winter months. It came as no surprise then
that Ireland was like a new world to him, as was his small
bedsit on the North Circular Road. In Romania he had lived
with his wife, a nurse, and four children on a set wage
equivalent to €20 per month in a town with no electricity.
Now he sent home as much of his wages as he could afford,
even walking to work to save the bus fare.
As the months went by suppliers and their contact details
passed through the site. Creating a rapport with sales agents,
I discovered where to find the best deals on materials.
Watching the men applying their trade, I also learned about
the skill of building itself so that by 2002 I was confident
enough to take on the construction of a small extension for a
local woman. Using the workers and architects from the site
in the evenings and at weekends, the building was complete
in under two months.
By early 2003 Clare had qualified as a designer; an
unforgettable day as she accepted her degree in University
College Dublin (UCD), the first in her family to achieve such
an honour. Ill health along with 4 a.m. finishes followed by
early rises had not dampened her ambition. Whenever
possible, we would read over her work, which gave an insight
into design and building construction from a different
perspective. Watching her on graduation day, I felt so proud
and looked forward to my own turn next. Little did we both
realise how everything was about to change, and that my own
aspirations would have to be put on indefinite hold.
It all began some weeks later when a planning application
notice was placed on the wall adjacent to our home: Belgrove
Football Club grounds had been sold to a local property
developer. Assuming that planning was being sought for
houses similar to our own, we ignored it at first. However,
upon further enquiry, it appeared that a block of six
apartments was to be built, so, with the prospect of our back
garden being turned into a fishbowl, we decided to sell up. As
the orange 'for sale' sign was firmly erected, we felt that we
were righting the evils of my past within the National Taxi
Drivers Union of Ireland and rekindling our life together. In
less than four weeks, our Clontarf home was sold and we
moved into rented accommodation.
Driving away from our home for the last time, I stared up
at the stained-glass windows and remembered the night the
taxi mafia had petrol-bombed our home, and how my crusade
for the rights of others had wrecked our lives. I also reminisced
about our first day arriving into this new housing estate and
hoped that life could be as good as that day again.
By mid-2003, with three building extensions on the go, I
noticed a site for sale in a quiet cul-de-sac in Howth. Climbing
over the wall and walking around, Woodview felt like home,
but according to the auctioneer certain problems had been
identified, namely that the site had originally consisted of two
semi-detached houses until the renovation of one had brought
down the other. After lengthy litigation, the site was split and
the demolished house was rebuilt on the new separate site.
However, an issue with the freehold had arisen, leaving the
remaining site without the prospect of a buyer - as a result of
which the asking price was 70% below the current market
Believing these issues could be resolved, I excitedly
brought Clare out to see the site, which she immediately fell
in love with. The direction of the sun was noted and how it
would illuminate the rooms, as well as how water features
could be used to similar effect. For the first time in almost a
decade Clare seemed happy, and for that reason Woodview
would be right for all of us.
A few weeks later, I was in the Property Registration
Authority office in Henrietta Street investigating the freehold
issue. Trawling through land registry books from the turn of
the century, it appeared that different people had held the title
of freehold as far back as the Earl of Howth. Finally, I
discovered that New Ireland Assurance had purchased most
of the freeholds around Howth in the late 1960s. Travelling
to London in search of these documents - that had been
drafted during my grandfather's generation - and after
hundreds of hours of investigation, I found the owner of the
freehold. Not wanting to inform him of the true value of the
dusty old files held in a safe of similar vintage, I concocted a
story about setting up a leasehold agency for which I needed
to purchase freeholds.
'Where are you interested in?' the young man called Jeremy
Guiding the conversation round to the area of Howth, I
mentioned that my grandfather had driven trams in the area,
at which point he went to his cabinet and chose a number of
files. Flicking through the bundles, he removed one entitled
Woodview, Grey's Lane. It was like divine intervention.
Attempting to conceal my excitement, I asked how much it
would cost, referring to my 'business partner' who still
remained to be convinced of this venture.
'I'll let you have these for €75,000,' Jeremy replied,
holding five bundles in his hands.
My heart sank.
'Tell you what, I'll give you €15,000 for say, this one.'
Appearing to randomly choose the file next to Woodview, I
then changed my mind and removed the file I wanted.
'I will buy this one and show my partner,' I said. 'Would
you like cash or bank draft?' Jeremy smiled. 'You get the cash
and I will draft the necessary.'
Running down the stairs, I found the nearest Bank of
Ireland and got the money. When I raced back up the stairs,
Jeremy was standing with the bundle of deeds. Counting out
the cash on the table, I examined the deeds and signed the
bill of sale. Now that I owned the freehold the value would
increase by €800,000. Although feeling a tinge of guilt, the
stress and difficulties that my family had gone through over
the years erased such thoughts immediately.
Weeks later we bought Woodview. Although our friends
believed that Clare and I were mad to purchase a property
with so many problems attached to it, we were nonetheless
looking forward to our new beginning. Such was our
excitement that we even ignored the comments of our new
neighbour, Pat who, unaware of my ownership of the freehold,
confided in us that he himself had considered buying it, but
such were the contentious issues that on investigation he had
dismissed it as an act of lunacy. As soon as the sold sign went
up, in what had become a tradition, Clare and I cracked open
a bottle of sparkling wine at the gate.
By mid-2005 our new home was complete save for the
interior and the gardens. With glass atriums to the front and
the back and a mezzanine over a hot tub with large glass panels
that allowed its occupants to view the night sky, it was referred
to by neighbours as the Glass House. The front area also
overlooked the sea and included a metal, spiral staircase that
had originated from the decommissioned Maze Prison; the
story was that Bobby Sands had walked the same stairs daily.
Such was the interest in our new home that Clare and I