This relates to the case of a man who approached me some time ago with a problem. I hoped I might be able to do something. This Minister is a humane and decent person who is prepared to be flexible. Previously, I dealt with an analogous case of a blind student who was accepted to do a PhD in Trinity College. He secured a grant but the blind pension was subtracted from the grant – it might have been the other way around – which made it impossible for the unfortunate person to take up the opportunity offered.
The case before the House tonight involves a gifted student. I have a copy of his work with me. It is a beautiful production, part of the thesis he wrote for his diploma in fine art called "Social Interaction Among The Ascendancy And Its Influence In The Development Of Their Estates In Eighteenth Century Ireland With Special Reference To Newberry Hall And Carton House Demesnes In County Kildare". It is a wonderfully illustrated and literate production, the facts well marshalled. That is surprising in a sense when one considers that although he is intellectually gifted, this man suffers from dyslexia. It is a serious difficulty.
He also has a problem with a personal situation which I will outline as delicately as possible. He contracted a marriage with a member of the well known building family, the Gallaghers. He found himself enmeshed in the difficult financial problems surrounding the collapse of Mr. Pat Gallagher's business interests and his personal financial circumstances were greatly complicated. Nevertheless, he continued his studies in Trinity College and he is now anxious to do a PhD. In order to do that, however, he had to take out further loans.
He was already embarrassed by the difficulties in his personal circumstances. He took out a loan from the Ulster Bank which was guaranteed by his elderly parents. There has been considerable pressure in this regard and there is severe correspondence from the bank. At one stage it indicated that it proposed to call in the parents' guarantees. This is a nasty way for a bank to behave, particularly in these circumstances.
As a result of this pressure the person's entire life is in difficulty. It also causes difficulty for me because I had hoped to receive a detailed briefing from him. I had requested that he send me bullet points for the debate, although I believe I have covered most of them anyway. However, due to his circumstances, contacting him has become problematic. He usually calls fairly regularly to see what is happening and he suggested it would be a good idea to raise this matter on the Adjournment. He has been out of contact, I am sure through no fault of his own, and I have not got the bullet points. His mobile telephone is ringing out. I have presented the case as well as I can but I feel a little bit like a barrister who does not get the final briefing from the desperate client or the full instructions from the solicitor. This person is surrounded by complex difficulties which are manifested dramatically by my inability to get hold of him. My secretary has been trying all week to get hold of him. I tried Trinity all day and the man in charge of fine arts is off on a sabbatical and does not want to hear anything about troublesome issues such as students. The Department is marking exams and I could get hold of no one throughout the day to get further information on the case.
This is the case of a gifted person, a mature student, someone who suffers from dyslexia and who has had family difficulties. Despite the financial difficulties surrounding his life, he has managed to produce good work and wishes to go on doing so, although I am sure there may be difficulties. I am not suggesting all the problem lies at the feet of the granting authority. However, in these special circumstances, perhaps some flexibility, some human approach, some contact initiated by the authorities to this person, would mean the talent of someone who could contribute a great deal to our understanding of the cultural history of this country, in particular eighteenth century architecture and the surrounding social phenomenon, would not be lost. If we could throw a lifeline to a man of these years in this situation, who has been brave, is a very charming and decent man who now finds himself on his own – as far as I recall his marriage has run into difficulties – and indicate that discussion and negotiation could be part of the scene, we would have done a good day's work.
We might also send a little rebuke to the banks. I conclude by relaying a story which was told to me by someone the day before yesterday. This relates to someone whose daughter wanted to buy a motor car. Despite the fact that she has a reasonably good income, she was £750 short of the price of the motor car. She was a bit upset and her father rang the bank and said, "If you can write off £1 million for a former Taoiseach, the least you can do is give £750 to my daughter who will pay it back." She obtained the money within an hour. Perhaps that is a little lesson for banks. I think it is a particularly malignant practice to try to call in guarantees of elderly parents. In fact, elderly parents should be warned against signing these guarantees if they can avoid it. Therefore, I hope the Minister can do something in this case.