Spreading the word to stop repossessions

Numerous groups are fighting to prevent home evictions but can this campaign achieve success where others have failed, asks Jennifer Hough

THEY are scenes reminiscent of the land wars of the 18th century.

Men in suits seeking to evict people from their homes on behalf of an unseen landlord — or as is the case now, the banks. The people revolted against it then and they are mobilising to do so again.

Irish people have always been strongly tied to their land and property, and now with more and more under threat of losing their homes, ordinary people are standing up and taking action.

This week a group of about 30 gathered at the home of a stranger in Co Laois to prevent a representative of the county sheriff from executing a court order sanctioning repossession of the property.

Although not happening in large numbers, when an order for possession is made against someone, they tend to voluntarily give up the property. However, if they do not hand over possession, the order may be enforced by a sheriff or the county registrar. After eight months of being threatened by the banks, this was the process set in motion last Friday in Co Laois when a Mountrath homeowner was informed that an agent, acting as an officer of the court, was coming.

The homeowner sent out the call — he needed help to defend his property. Members of the Anti-Eviction Taskforce, Freedom from all Debt, and the Defend Our Homes League, along with Joan Collins of the United Left Alliance, turned up.

Different organisations yes, but they all seem to be singing from the same hymn sheet — they want to stop repossessions and prevent evictions. They reject the notion that there is a “moral hazard” in assisting homeowners who had to buy family homes at hugely inflated prices as a result of a property bubble brought about by the greed of bankers and developers with the assistance of previous governments.

The clear hero from the Laois incident is Defend Our Homes League member Ben Gilroy, who has become an overnight internet sensation.

A YouTube video documenting the event was heading for the 25,000 mark yesterday, and the 48-year-old electrician is the star of the show.

The father of three showed great knowledge in challenging the power of the registrar who turned up with a folder of documents. However, he maintains that Irish people simply lie down when they see someone with official papers and don’t ask questions.

He challenged the man who arrived to the Laois home, who would not give him a name but said he was not the sheriff, but a representative — a court official sent out to take a home.

“I asked to see the court order but he didn’t show it. He showed us an order from the county registrar but I told him he could not act unless he has the court order with the signature of the judge.”

There is no doubt the bank will be back. Will the task force, league, or whichever other group is on hand that day be able to stave off the men in suits forever? That remains to be seen.

Mr Gilroy said if the man does return with the “signed and sealed” court order, the people under threat of eviction will have to comply.

“We are not going to break the law but we believe the law is being broken in the way these things arebeing carried out.”

That is his perspective whereas the Anti-Eviction Taskforce maintains it will not allow the repossession on any grounds.

According to Mr Gilroy, he and another man are planning to take an injunction against the Government to stop them from paying out any more money to bondholders.

He calls himself a “nerd” who has been studying in meticulous detail the downfall of the banks and the legalities around what the Government is doing to bailout the banks. “Do the people not remember Labour telling us not one more red cent? Is this country gone past caring?”

Mr Gilroy cares though, and he is determined to do everything in his power — and he points out he is sticking to the letter of the law — to stop people from losing their homes.

He maintains he has “mountains” of papers lodged in the High Court which are attempts to get banks to show their full hand, to bring everything about the mortgage they are seeking to reclaim into the open. He believes they won’t want to go down this route and is trying to mobilise people to take on the banks.

But how do you try to get this across to mortgage owners who are stressed out and have the banks knocking on the door?

“We are going to set up information and education sessions around the country and explain these things to people.

“We have hundreds of people contacting us, and we want them to deal with the banks, but they have to have something on their side when they go into these negotiations.

“They have to ask questions: was the price of their mortgage inflated and why? Does the bank still own the loan or has it since been sold on and to whom? We need to instil into people that these are the kind of questions they need to ask.”

Ben Gilroy is but one man, and though there seems to be a plethora of disparate groups saying the same thing, can they come together with one voice and one clear message and make a difference? At the moment they are gaining traction by staging events such as that in Laois, but how successful will they be?

We have already seen the demise of the much-vaunted Occupy movement — no doubt hundreds if not thousands of struggling homeowners will be hoping this fight is more successful.

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