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Column I’m in debt and my children have emigrated. Who am I?

‘I borrowed too much, and I wasn’t qualified.’ recently received this strange letter… recently received this mysterious letter. No name was given, but the sender should become clear if you read to the end…


Oh, we borrowed way too much a few years ago. Most of it was not my fault, it was due to a dodgy business investment. Well actually it wasn’t me really – I am embarrassed to say it was a couple of lively lads I hardly know had borrowed the money from some moneylenders, and I stupidly said one night that I would pay it back. I thought I was clever, but I just got some half finished unfenced properties! They are costing me now.

It was twice as bad as I thought it was. The stupid thing is that I wasn’t qualified to make that decision, and my advisers said if I didn’t take on their borrowing everything would be a lot worse. My eldest sons are in Australia, but we talk on Skype. We have a nice bit of land, but things are fairly bad right now, so we are wondering what we can sell. There’s someone coming soon to buy all the timber off the land.

We’re pretty remote, but we have about one week’s oil in the tank. We’re not sure though whether our supplier will keep bringing us oil, and boy is it getting expensive. We have a bit of gas in the cylinder but actually it isn’t ours – we thought we didn’t need it a while ago so we sold it.

Our belts are severely tightened now, and each week we have less and less spending money. We were hoping to give the younger children a better education but we’re afraid their opportunities are looking fairly grim right now. Some of the teachers are gone. The local garda stations are closed. We just hope that we don’t get sick or need to go to the dentist as we just can’t afford it.

‘The ‘other half’ is finding it very tough’

This lack of spending means we can’t eat out as often as we used to – well in fact hardly at all. Restaurants and shops are closing down all over the place. We’ve reduced our weekly spend considerably, by buying in cheap German stuff.

The ‘other half’ is finding it very tough, so there is quite a lot of tension brewing in the camp! She doesn’t want to pay half of it back. She says it wasn’t our borrowing in the first place. But hey, the money we get for the timber and the gas will pay off about one per cent of our borrowings and hopefully it will leave us a little bit to help the other children get jobs.

The problem is we won’t have any fuel next winter, if we don’t get, or can’t pay for, any oil. We’re depending on maybe producing more next year, but we all know that is hardly going to happen if we haven’t any oil in the tank. The machinery is getting fairly shook, and the fuel light in the car seems to be on all the time. Our biggest repayment yet is due this month.

My sister works in a pharmaceutical company but they say even that industry will be under serious pressure in a year or two. We have plenty wind, and the river could drive a turbine but for some strange reason the ‘powers that be’ will only pay us half what others are getting elsewhere for it. Our land could produce a hell of a lot of food, and I guess that will be much wanted in the near future, not to mind our water. The neighbours will be damn glad of it in a year or two. Even a Chinese man came here the other day to see what we have. It’s funny that they all seem to realise what our land can produce, except ourselves!

Anyway the good news is the moneylender came by again recently with a new plan. I’m not sure where he got the money in the first place but many say he’s OK – well, the advisors say he is OK. We have to decide soon whether to sign up for the new plan or not. If we do we have to pay back all of our income over the next three decades, leaving virtually nothing to develop the land. If we don’t we will have to paddle our own canoe and possibly have a rough couple of years. So we are really between a rock and a hard place.

‘My grandfather fought hard to get this place, and his brother lost his life in the struggle’

If we sign up everything is actually out of our control. If we don’t pay the moneylender exactly what he wants when he wants it we’re in trouble, and the payments increase. If it all fails I guess we lose everything. What really galls me is that my grandfather fought hard to get this place, and his brother lost his life in the struggle. My father worked really hard to build up this land.

When I was offered a loan the last time I stupidly spent it on luxuries, building a new house, and bought a new car. What do we do now? What would you do? Should we borrow more? And we may need to borrow more again? My advisors say we won’t need to. Although I am beginning to realise that they have been wrong every time. Why do I keep taking their advice? (Actually I do think some of them are very genuine and good, but unfortunately they work in different offices.)

What would my forefathers do in this situation? Borrow more and more? Or would they roll their sleeves up and work hard together and build up the place in a sensible way, under their own control? That way at least they would be sure not to lose the place. I guess the moneylender would like to get his hands on it.

What should we do? Do we work for what we have or take a huge risk with the moneylender? What would be best for our children? We changed our advisors a year ago, but this lot seem to also think it’s still all about money. They say signing up to this plan is simply about being able to borrow more at a lower interest rate. I have my doubts. What about thinking about the family’s health and happiness, our food, water and shelter, our spirit, our land, our traditions, our education, our culture, our heritage, the future of our extended family, and the other lands around us?

Can we think for ourselves? Can we put up with a little short-term hardship for long-term gains? Are we fit and able to work? Sure, we have everything going for us. Land, people, clean water, and natural energy supplies. Are we absolutely useless, or do we have confidence in ourselves? What will we pass on to the next generation?  Who am I? Is mise Éire.

Walter Ryan-Purcell is the director for the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas, the founder of BioPower Group and Local Campus. He is the organiser of the New Energy Era Forum coming to Ireland in May 2012. Full details on

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Walter Ryan-Purcell
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