Tom McFeely doesn’t look much like a hunger striker these days, but in his IRA phase, back in 1980, he went 53 days without food in support of demands for political-prisoner status. Those were the times when the Provos justified every murder and robbery they committed on the grounds that they were fighting for Irish freedom from the tyrannical jackboot of the United Kingdom.
When McFeely came across the border in 1989 after 12 years in jail, he had just £240 to keep him going but he was a busy and industrious young man and before long he had created a lucrative construction business. Unfortunately for Tom, his years in jail deprived him of many opportunities, and when he came out, he had no idea how to build anything but we Irish are forgiving people. We’ll buy any old junk as long as it’s packaged properly, with a glossy brochure and some Flash Harry salesman touting it as the last word in elegant living.
Tom’s £240 proved remarkably elastic, allowing him to grow and grow, and not only in the waistband department. Sadly, however, by 2006 the strain was beginning to show. His Priory Hall building site was closed down after the Health and Safety Authority secured a High Court order. The HSA inspector described the site as one of the most dangerous he had ever seen.
That same year, Offaly County Council took High Court proceedings to force McFeely’s company, Coalport, to carry out remedial work on Na Cluainte, near Portarlington, an estate where 88 houses had been flung together.
As we speak, bankruptcy proceedings are before the courts, taken by Theresa McGuinness who won a High Court award of €100,000 in 2009, because of structural defects in a house constructed by Coalport.
Isn’t it ironic then, to learn that McFeely, patriot, freedom fighter and hunger striker, has sought the protection of the United Kingdom courts whose bankruptcy terms are far less penal than those in the Republic?
Isn’t it remarkable that a man who once took up arms against the Crown should now throw himself on the mercy of that very same oppressor, while at the same time there is no escape for the hundreds of homeless people who can’t live in his death-trap apartments but who must continue paying the banks for them?
After a year, Tom McFeely will be discharged from bankruptcy and free to start again, unlike those people who are burdened with crushing mortgages for the rest of their lives. It will be a tight year for Tom, but at least he can fall back on that endlessly elastic £240 he brought across the border with him back in 1989.