'I Understand How Banks Can Drive People to Suicide' BROKE TYCOON BACKS DEBT PLEA

Article excerpt

Byline: MARIE KIERANS

A BUSINESSMAN who lost his entire empire in the crash said he can understand why people in debt who are being crucified by banks take their own lives.

Nightclub king and restaurant owner Robbie Fox, one of the most high-profile casualties of the recession, was speaking after the Master of the High Court said that borrowers struggling to pay back loans are being driven to suicide.

Judge Edmund Honohan yesterday reiterated his calls for the introduction of debt forgiveness for people being pursued by banks, saying Ireland can't afford any delays.

He added: "All we need to do here is to cut through the Gordian Knot. There are a number of very practical suggestions, back-of-the-envelope stuff that could be legislated within a month."

Mr Fox whose businesses came tumbling down one by one in June 2009, leaving him with debts of EUR4.5million which he is still trying to pay off, knows all too well how tough it is to go from boom to bust, from having it all to fighting to save your family home.

Although he never once contemplated suicide he admitted that "there might have been 60 seconds when I felt there was no way out".

He added: "All it takes is a moment of madness. I never thought about ending it all because I am actually very lucky in that I am by nature a very positive person.

"My world was falling apart but I had my wife and kids. I know a lot of people who aren't that strong, who really have gone into a state of despair because of the financial pressure they are under.

"Maybe the rest of their life isn't going too well either, a lot of people in my business are maybe married to their job so when their business goes they have nothing."

"I can understand why some people would be driven to suicide in these terrible circumstances, their whole life is torn apart."

He believes the country's antiquated mortgage and bankruptcy laws should be radically overhauled to stop banks and debt collectors hounding borrowers when they know they have no means to repay.

He added: "There is a difference between business people and those not in business. An ordinary worker who is in a nine-to-five job has no experience being chased for money.

"Suddenly they find themselves unemployed, unable to make payments and the next thing they are being chased for money they can't pay. That is hugely stressful.

"We managed to hold onto our house because it was in negative equity, otherwise the bank would have taken it."

"I thought Mr Honohan was quite brave because of the position he is in but he's obviously seeing it first-hand."

THE Government last night ruled out a debt forgiveness scheme.

Enterprise Minister Richard Bruton said: "Ultimately the relationship between banks and individual borrowers is something they have to work through.

"There is a genuine issue about moral hazard - you can't be writing off one person's debt and expect another person to pay their debt."

NEW LAW CALL TO STOP HOUNDING CUSTOMERS

REGULATION

LACK of regulation means debt-ridden customers can be hounded for not making repayments, a free legal aid organisation claimed yesterday.

Noeline Blackwell of Flac said that while it is a criminal offence under the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997 to harass a person in relation to any debt it is very difficult to prove. …