Irish Builder Suicides
This story came to us from one of our Twitter followers, and it makes for disturbing reading. For some months, if not years, we have been tracking the fallout from the 2008 banking crisis. Our coverage and interest has most often followed the banking scandals as they emerge into the public domain. But this story, although widely reported in Ireland, did not break into the mainstream media on the UK mainland. We’re about to change that.
Although this story touches on the wider picture in Ireland after the crisis, which is a landscape of profound recession in the construction industry, it does also touch on the way customers of RBS in particular were treated. These are business customers, so they are building and construction companies of various sizes. You may already know that through its Global Restructuring Group (GRG), RBS forced some perfectly healthy companies to seek the protection of its West Register turnaround team. This team sought to profit from the demise of those healthy companies. This aspect of the story has been covered in depth elsewhere.
The person at RBS with ultimate responsibility for GRG was one Nathan Bostock. He was the group finance director for only ten weeks in late 2013. At the time we all believed he had simply found an amazing job offer somewhere else. Although that may be part of the story, it seems conveniently timed to avoid being in command when the GRG scandal hit the press. His cohorts at RBS were Chris Sullivan and Susan Allen. All three characters are now harmoniously toiling away together over at Banco Santander.
In 2015, a detailed study reported in the Irish Examiner found that 1,000 Irish builders had committed suicide at the height of the construction recession. The number is staggering. Not one thousand very annoyed or depressed builders who soldiered on. But 1,000 who actually killed themselves. Think how many more might have suffered in silence, perhaps even still. The study found that, for the years 2008-2012, the height of the meltdown, half of all male suicides in Ireland were builders.
Our contact’s main allegation relates to activities at Ulster Bank, one of the main retail and small business lenders in Northern Ireland, and a part of RBS Group. It is clear from more recent press coverage that the deplorable antics of GRG extended to all parts of the retail group, including Ulster Bank. As for other companies in the rest of the UK, the GRG team pushed solvent businesses into liquidation with the aim of profiting from such antics.
What we cannot prove with the documentation available to us, is a link between the antics of RBS and the suicides. But the circumstantial evidence is strong. It doesn’t seem beyond the realm of possibility that some of the builders, especially those who were essentially sole traders or family businesses, felt the pinch even more than the larger organisations. Desperate for help, they found their bank hell bent on driving them out of business, rather than offering support. Feeling that there was no way out, they killed themselves.
This banking scandal makes for some very eye-catching headlines. Perhaps we, along with the banks, have sometimes overlooked the human side of this crisis. For every loan that is cancelled, a person or a business suffers. Some of those victims plainly felt very depressed, and were unable to get the help they needed. One of the sources of help might have been their friendly bank manager. But not so at Ulster Bank. They were just trying to squeeze as much money from each failure as they possibly could.