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Archive for June 5th, 2011

With most of our media here incorrectly claiming the deal has been done between the troika and Greece, you could be forgiven for thinking the crisis has passed and it is business as usual for Greece and Ireland, in terms of dealing with the bailout. Of course the only agreement at this stage is “staff-level”, that is, the troika teams on the ground in Athens who apparently flew out of town Friday, agreed that if Greece follows the privatisation and austerity programmes proposed by the Greek prime minister and his immediate team, then Greece should get the next €12bn tranche of its €110bn bailout (bringing the total to €65bn overall). What happens now is that the principals at the troika organisations need to assess Greece’s plans for feasibility. And in Greece itself, the prime minister and his immediate team needs to convince his own PASOK political party as well as the country that the new measures are acceptable. As the saying goes, “there’s many a slip betwixt cup and lip”

InGreeceitself protests continue each evening outside parliament in Athens. So far protests have lacked focus but once the tangible austerity and privatisation programme is laid before parliament, that’s likely to change – to be clear, the agreement with the troika has not been published and most of the Greek parliament and the Greek public have still to learn the detail of what has been promised on their behalf. And the immediate prospects for peace on the streets is not good as Athens heads into another sweltering summer, with 15.9% unemployment in April 2011 (May’s figures will be released tomorrow) and with previous rounds of austerity already causing pain. Also this week we should get provisional Q1, 2011 GDP figures which might reveal deeper problems than hitherto recognised. The unionists will be marching this Thursday 9th June and also the following week 15th June, and so far in Greece it is the unionists that attract huge crowds.

Outside Greece, you can expect to hear from the principals in the troika as the details of what has been agreed at staff-level gets thrashed out. There still remains the mystery as to how Greece will fund maturing debt – another bailout? private bondholder agreement? Vienna Initiative? And if there is another bailout, will German/Dutch/Finnish national governments have difficulty getting local parliamentary approval?

The ECB said today, or rather one of 17 of its governing council members, the Dutch central bank governor Nout Wellink said, that private banks are being pressed to roll-over maturing debt.

The troika report should be published in the coming week, and that should set out in detail how Greece will meet targets. Thus far it seems that at the very least, the handing-over of the next tranche has been deferred from 29th June 2011 to “early July”. Greece has substantial debt maturing after 15th July and that would seem to be the real crunch date. This temporary GreekWatch feature will conclude tomorrow.

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During the week, I was reminded of the Simon and Garfunkel 1960s song “America” when reading the daily updates by Diarmuid O’Flynn, the Corkman who ran/walked/cycled from the village of Ballyhea in Cork through Munster and Leinster all the way to the Dail, collecting signatures on the way for a petition which aims to change the present stance with dealing with bondholders. He was accompanied at various stages by Ballyhea villagers who have been holding weekly bondholder protests every Sunday for three months. During the week, at each stop along the way, they collected signatures and held a small token march like the one they hold each week in Ballyhea; in other words, short, non-political and peaceful.

The daily updates make for an absolutely engrossing read which on a human level graphically illustrates the cramps and the pains faced by a man in his 50s in taking on the equivalent of an Iron Man challenge (they started off by running downhill from Ballyhea and it didn’t take long for the cramps to get a foothold). It is also instils a lot of pride in our fellow countrymen and women as he gets assisted along the way by locals, by his children and by his array of contacts in the GAA (Diarmuid is a sports journalist with the Irish Examiner). He needed a short pit-stop in a hospital as well.  And in the main, he seems to have been welcomed and treated well, even by Gardai in the middle of Dublin who might have been otherwise sniffy with an unsanctioned protest but instead gave a helping hand. On the other hand, you might feel angry when reading the treatment of the group at Barack Obama’s pub in Moneygall. Diarmuid also paints a picture of Irish society with towns and villages looking deserted, and where people are upset and angry with the financial crisis but just not ready to demonstrate their feelings.

You can read about their weekly protest in Ballyhea at their Facebook page which has plenty of photographs to illustrate their efforts. There is a blog which records progress here. And there is an online petition here which has over 500 signatures and is separate to the Olde Worlde technology, that is paper, petition which was completed during the week and handed in to the Dail.

The Ballyhea protest is unconnected with NAMA wine lake but their efforts have been followed closely here. There’s nothing madcap or fanatical about the protest. It’s an ordinary, you might say, “typical” village which suffers from the same effects of this financial crisis as elsewhere, it was poignant to read a few weeks ago that they lost a family in the weekly demonstration, who had emigrated to Canada.

There is a wider debate about paying off €60bn of bondholders which on one side points out that it is a condition imposed by the ECB which is presently allowing Irish banks to remain open by providing over €100bn in funding at very low interest rates. On the other side, you have a nation paying the colossal debts of private institutions, and whilst getting the day-to-day deficit in running the country eliminated will be painful, it is unacceptable to pile additional debt on top which will only exacerbate the pain. The debate isn’t over and Minister Noonan still hasn’t put that €24bn into the banks. And despite the mass media here reporting that Greece has agreed the way forward, it hasn’t, there has merely been staff-level agreement and now the principals, the boards and governing councils of the IMF, EU and ECB have to decide a way forward. From this perspective, a Greek default looks probable. And if the Greeks default and stay in the euro with the ECB still in charge, then why can’t we repudiate senior bondholder debt?

So well done to the villagers of Ballyhea. And to Diarmuid himself, I’ll leave you with that line from “America” which might seem to have some relevance this Sunday morning after you’ve completed the 13th weekly demonstration

“I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why”

but I hope you continue, and receive the support to continue.

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