Don’t evict families, says Limerick protester nine months into repossession stand-off

Séamus Sherlock has been on guard since receiving eviction order

Life after Debt campaigner Séamus Sherlock, Co Limerick, has manned his log cabin outside his property for 265 days. Photograph: Valerie O’Sullivan

Life after Debt campaigner Séamus Sherlock, Co Limerick, has manned his log cabin outside his property for 265 days. Photograph: Valerie O’Sullivan

Sat, May 11, 2013, 01:00

The small wooden hut at the top of the driveway into Séamus Sherlock’s house seems cosy enough but not somewhere you would want to spend every day for nine months.

A gas camping stove, some fairy lights and pictures and postcards from well-wishers hide, to some extent, the fact that it must have been a very cold place to stay over the winter months.

Sherlock and up to 10 supporters have been manning the hut 24-hours a day since he received an eviction order last August. Few repossessions have taken place in Ireland following the property crash but Sherlock’s case could become more commonplace if a law clarifying the right of banks to take back houses in arrears is brought in, as expected, this summer.

Closed in
The banks will be hoping they won’t come up against people like this. The separated father of five was so determined to hold on to his home in Feohanagh, Co Limerick he barricaded the entrance, set up the hut as a watchout and vowed to defend his home.

“I’ll be here until we do a deal. I’m not leaving. I don’t mean that in a nasty way but I’ve nowhere to go,” he says.

Sherlock’s troubles began when an EU directive outlawing turf cutting wiped out 95 per cent of his income.

He could not meet payments on his €300,000 mortgage and the bank wanted to repossess his home. However, he was adamant this would not happen.

Meeting debts
Through his son’s wages and his sale of cattle on his 50-acre farm, he says he was able to cobble together between €10,000 and €20,000 as a way of meeting some of his debts. The bank was not interested. “The money is still sitting in my solicitor’s office,” he says.

But he is not against the banks and doesn’t think property debt should be written off. “There is a small amount of people who don’t want to pay anything. That’s rubbish; I am not one of those people.

“But I am totally against families being evicted. They should be given the chance to repay, even if it is only €50 a week,” says Sherlock, who ran unsuccessfully at the last general election as an Independent Life After Debt candidate.

Since beginning his campaign people have come to him for help – some owing millions who are unwilling to repay what they owe. But he also has people contacting him in desperate circumstances. Five of his friends committed suicide over what he suspects were money problems and he regularly gets calls late at night from people looking for help.

“I have people pulling up at the gate late at night and they are snow white in the face from fear and I’ll bring them in here and talk to them,” he says.

Shame of debt
As one of the few people who have gone public on debt and repossession, Sherlock says the shame of debt is a feature of these encounters. “People will ask, ‘can I come to see you at night’ because they are afraid to be seen. But no matter how much debt you have your neighbour is probably worse off,” he says.

There has been a lot of support for his stance and he says he receives 30 calls, emails and online messages a day.

One family forgoing a week of their holidays to buy him groceries and another family home on holidays from England driving down to spend a few hours with him, are among the stories he has built up over the last nine months.

Being featured in the New York Times and Belgian television has also brought supporters from abroad.

He says his children are firmly behind his very public stance at the top of their road but the threat of having their house taken is not easy. “Every day I promise my 13-year-old when she heads off to school I’ll be here when she gets back.”