Bankrupt woman challenges election lawsFriday 21 March 2014 22.45
A woman who is bankrupt and wants to contest this year's European elections on a debt relief platform has brought a High Court challenge to laws preventing bankrupts contesting Dáil and European elections.
Jillian Godsil, whose house was repossessed last year, wants to run as a candidate in the Ireland South constituency in the European elections, which includes her base at Coolroe, Tinahely, Co Wicklow.
She also intends to run as a local candidate to represent Baltinglass on Wicklow County Council and ultimately contest for a seat in the Dáil.
Because she filed for and was adjudicated bankrupt last month, she may only legally contest local but not Dáil or European elections.
She is challenging the constitutionality of provisions of the Electoral Act and the European Parliamentary Elections Act preventing bankrupts contesting Dáil and European elections.
Ms Godsil alleges the exclusion of bankrupts breaches the constitutional principle of equality and impermissibly interferes with her right to a free choice as a voter on her own behalf and on behalf of all electors in the constituencies where she wishes to run.
The provisions have no legitimate aim, are unnecessary in a democratic society and amount to indirect discrimination on grounds of socio-economic status, she claims.
She says she has proactively campaigned on social and economic issues, particularly personal debt and insolvency and wants to campaign for families and individuals "bearing the brunt of the financial crisis in Ireland".
She is also deeply concerned about the number of suicides occasioned by the recession, she said.
Richard Humphreys SC, with Dr Michael Forde SC, for Ms Godsil, told the President of the High Court, Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns, the matter was urgent as the closing date for nominations for the elections is 3 May.
His side had written to the State stating they intended to apply for directions for the hearing of the case, counsel said.
Mr Justice Kearns listed the matter for Monday next for the purpose of making directions for a hearing.
Ms Godsil, a divorced mother of two who describes herself as an Irish citizen, writer and undercharged bankrupt, says she had no other option but to file for bankruptcy last January because she had unsecured debts of some €1m.
The court was told she has no life savings and is in receipt of social welfare payments with income of about €1,300 a month.
Before that, she "fought tooth and nail" to find a solution to her indebtedness, she said.
Bank of Scotland last year repossessed her former family home, Raheengraney House in Co Wicklow, valued at €1.65m in 2007 and with a mortgage of €800,000.
She claims the bank "inexplicably" refused an offer of €500,000 for that property, which she obtained in 2011 after making a video about the property that "went viral". That property was repossessed and sold by the sheriff last month for €160,000, she said.
Before the financial crisis, she was a successful, self-employed mother-of-two who had been financially independent since she was a student, she said.
She incurred financial difficulties from 2007 as a result both of the financial crisis and the breakdown of her marriage, she said.
There were expensive commercial court and family law proceedings and, after their separation, her husband moved to the UK where he became bankrupt, which had the effect of leaving the entire mortgage debt to her, she said.
She struggled to meet those debts, moved out of Raheengraney and rented it for a time but the rent was insufficient and arrears grew. She then lost her tenant and the house was not in a fit state to rent again.
From April 2011 until the house was repossessed in March 2013, she worked hard to find a solution to her growing debt but nothing worked out and her public relations consultancy business began to suffer.
She closed her business in August 2012 after which she suffered six months severe depression. Bank of Scotland initiated legal proceedings and the house was later repossessed.
She was unable to avail of the personal insolvency regime because her debt was too high and her income too low to facilitate any arrangement with creditors, Ms Godsil said.
She had to file for bankruptcy here rather than the UK as that would have caused severe disruption to her children, one of whom was doing the Leaving Cert.