October 22, 2008
Today, Breakfast Roll Man is looking at his ghost estate. Not one sold. The three auctioneers don’t return his calls. Nothing is working
A bewildered Breakfast Roll Man can’t quite believe his eyes. It’s like watching Paul McShane at right full for Ireland; he’s got to pinch himself and ask how it happened. How did the banks pull the rug from under his development in Kells? Two years ago when he paid (admittedly, a fair whack) for the site, they told him they would stand behind him. He remembered that little twerp from the bank’s head office with the shiny suit and buckets of gel in his ‘fin’ haircut.
In ‘fin boy’ strolled to give Breakfast Roll Man the spiel about how the demographics of the country were excellent and how the Irish fundamentals were sound. He laughed as he described County Meath as Ireland’s ‘baby belt’, where young children outnumber the elderly four to one. He chummily patted Breakfast Roll Man’s shoulder and forecast that ‘they’ would be able to sell the houses, no bother.
Even then Breakfast Roll Man was a bit worried about the spec. He’d explicitly chased the market upwards, sparing no expense, with ‘islands’ in the kitchen, expansive decking, hot tubs and second faux-marble bathrooms downstairs.
But the bank assured him that they’d finance the first time buyers — who apparently were getting ‘more demanding’.
There’d be no problem and we’d be out by Christmas 2007, they said. Even if there was a bit of ‘resistance’ as they called it, the bank would roll over interest payments, ‘kick’ out the maturity a few years and wait for the buyers to snap them up.
Sure anyway hadn’t everything worked for him before? He was sorted. Breakfast Roll Man had it all going on.
Today, he’s looking at his ghost estate. Not one sold. The three auctioneers — all of whom told him that they’d sell the houses off plans — don’t return his calls. Nothing is working, not even the idea of paying the first three years’ interest for first time buyers. Prices are dropping like a stone and there is still no floor.
As for the banks, they are squeezing every last penny out of him. Worse still, the personal guarantees — or ‘PGs’ as ‘fin boy’ called them — mean that everything he worked for since 2000 is tied to this field on the N3. His whole world is cross-collateralised.
Back in 2001, he took some politician’s advice and started to shop around. He started dealing with all the banks, thinking he was smart. But the bank’s insistence on personal guarantees meant that everything was now tied up, nothing was his. All his properties were weaved together in a web of debt and he — Breakfast Roll Man — was sitting squarely in the middle, facing bankruptcy.
How did this happen?
Had you told him in 2005 that he’d be facing ruin and his only parachute was to go back to the US to work on jobs in the freezing New York winter, undercutting Hispanic builders, he’d have told you where to go. Back then, during the last years of the Bertie Boom, Breakfast Roll Man was the subbies’ subby. He was employing Polish lads, driving a blacked-out Touareg, flipping apartments in Dunshaughlin and buying off plans in Bulgaria. The only way was up. He had a full Bose ‘surround sound’ home entertainment system, Katya, the exotic Czech ‘dancer’ in the master bedroom, a season ticket at Old Trafford in his back pocket and a direct line to bank credit whenever he wanted.
He’d never again work for anyone else. He was free and what’s more, he was the first one in his family to be free. He and his younger brother — a chippy — laughed when they remembered their Dad talking about loyalty. Well check out what loyalty did for him after thirty years at Dunlops in Cork!
Credit and his own hard work had liberated him from the snobby class of bankers, insurance men and doctors who ruled the Ireland of the 1980s. He felt vindicated driving past them in his 06 Jeep, bidding for their houses at auction and eyeing up their daughters at Lillies.
Breakfast Roll Man voted for Bertie. He only got the vote in 1994, just as Bertie was coming to prominence. He benefited from the tax cuts, the builder bias in every Budget and when he started ploughing surplus cash into tax-free car parks no one could argue with him that Bertie wasn’t the man. After all, even Katya — who didn’t say much, between the pouts — claimed that he looked like an honest man in the VIP ‘exclusive’ of ‘Bertie at Home’ that she kept beside the king-sized waterbed.
Bertie had a social contract with Breakfast Roll Man. The Taoiseach did everything he could to keep house prices rising and this gave hundreds of thousands the impression that they were getting rich.
This illusion acted like a prosperous conveyor belt, which we could jump on and in so doing avoid the heavy lifting of hard work. Bertie promised Breakfast Roll Man a get-rich-quick scam and in return Breakfast Roll Man gave Bertie his support and ignored the blatant deficiencies in our public services. All this carry-on on Joe Duffy about class sizes, waiting lists and trolleys on corridors passed him by. The only thing that got him texting was the bleedin’ toll bridge.
He even voted for Bertie last time because although house prices were beginning to wobble, he trusted Bertie to sort things out. As far as Breakfast Roll Man was concerned he voted for Bertie not Fianna Fail. But he realises now he was sold a pup. He doesn’t know what to make of Cowen.
Breakfast Roll Man was never ideological. He knows nothing about the civil war. Sean Lemass might as well have been Brian Boru as far as he is concerned. Wolfe Tone sounds like a children’s Halloween character and his Ma couldn’t stand De Valera. He is now a floating voter, with allegiance to no one.
Whoever wants to win the next election has to get inside Breakfast Roll Man’s head. He wants security, not risk; familiarity not novelty and above all he wants to be given a second chance. Like thousands of others, he deserves it. But who is going to throw him a lifeline? Can you afford to pay for his parachute?