"You've motor vehicles with a net book value of €125,500," says a grim-faced man sitting near the door, studying the directors' estimated statement of affairs. Before the 10.30am creditors' meeting commenced in the bowels of Bewley's Hotel, Ballsbridge, somebody discreetly identified the man as the Revenue Commissioners (owed €123,150) liquidations expert. Now he is going through the details with forensic dispassion. "What sort of vehicles are they?"
"Mostly vans," answers Tim Foster, a director, along with his wife Grainne, of Irish Truck 'N' Tank (Precision Testing) Limited, "and there's a Land Rover Discovery and a Mercedes E class. Yes, all leased."
The taxman keeps reading. "How many people were employed?"
"Seven, plus my wife and myself. We let everyone go two weeks ago."
What was your salary?
The other half-dozen creditors listen impassively.
"Funnily enough," explains liquidator Ken Fennell of Kavanagh Farrell insolvency specialists, "the most philosophical people are usually the creditors because they have a realisation it could be them next week."
Foster, who started the company as a tank testing business (turnover of €1.4m in the first year), has opened the meeting with an apology "to all our creditors and customers for the detriment to your business". Once he finishes, two people in the audience ask why their names are not in the list of creditors. "I'm sorry," says Foster, "I was trying to do it myself. I haven't done anything like this sort before." He and his wife had run "a successful little business" in Chapelizod until they started experiencing cash flow problems and, in mid-January, an investor withdrew. The company decided to liquidate.
When the meeting is over and his creditors have scattered, English-born Foster, who is emigrating to the US with his family, elucidates: "I had to go for a meeting with the bank (Bank of Ireland, owed €50,000). I was expecting a complete dressing down but it was like they were expecting it too. They're obviously aware of how people feel about the banks at the moment. There were two of them. They said they first noticed the slow down in cash flow in January '08. We found in the last two or three months, nothing was coming in. People weren't even promising anymore. There's a massive logjam in cash out there and there's no credit at all. Everybody's in this circle waiting to be paid. It's frightening."
For Ken Fennell, on the other hand, business is booming. His firm has gone from "doing 40 or 50 assignments a year to doing 80 to 120 now". He says: "I had a meeting with a guy yesterday. He's had a good business for the last few years. Played golf a couple of days a week. He's captain of his club. He's going to have to walk into that club with everybody knowing his company's gone. That's a tragedy. A fellow in his 50s – what's he going to do. People losing their jobs at that age now, many of them won't work again, certainly not in the professions.
"Last year, this was very much confined to the construction sector. What we're seeing this year is a lot of professionals like architects, civil engineers and solicitors struggling. These were well-paid and highly qualified. The knock-on effect is that it's hitting people like web designers and software providers. That's showing now in the retail sector. There was an awful lot of perceived wealth around. Everybody seemed to have a property portfolio. Now there's nowhere to emigrate to."