About ten months ago I first heard about the weekly bondholder protest in Ballyhea in county Cork. I must admit couldn’t even find the place on a map, and even thought it was being mis-spelled by one of its local residents and that its correct name was Ballyhay, but no, the village and community of Ballyhea just south of Charleville is real enough and for the past 51 weeks, it has been marching week-in, week-out on a Sunday around the 11 o’clock mass. The Ballyhea-ers joined up with a similar march in Charleville in the second half of 2011, and they now march each week, alternating between Charleville and Ballyhea. A modest march, it takes about 10 minutes, no loud-hailers or chanting, with two simple signs at the front and rear of the marches, the one at the front saying “Ballyhea/Charleville says No to bondholder bailout” In July 2011 one of the marchers, Diarmuid O’Flynn launched a website, Bondwatch, which is a service to the whole country and which shows what bonds are being paid in Irish banks.
The 52nd weekly march is being held this coming Sunday, 4th March 2012 in Ballyhea at 11.30am. It’s a small enough place, the locals would tell you it’s hardly even a village, but the gathering will take place again in the church car-park before doing what they’ve done each week for the past year, stepping off the footpath into the road, to march in protest at the payment of the nation’s income to bondholders, and to redeem promissory notes. You can see photos of all their marches here, the seasons change, the white hawthorn comes and goes but except for a couple of families that have emigrated, the marchers have remained resolute, They’ve had a few special guests in their marches during the year and they’ve hosted RTE, Australian, French and German TV, they’ve hosted the Sunday Independent and Guardian. And on Sunday next they will again be joined by a few special guests including Dr Constantin Gurdgiev. The protesters seem generous to a fault in not wanting to claim any limelight and the biggest compliment you could pay them is to start your own local protest, but on this Sunday they’d welcome your support and presence in Ballyhea.
What follows is a brief interview today with one of the organisers of the marches, Diarmuid O’Flynn
NAMAwinelake: You maintain two Facebook pages, one for the Ballyhea protest, one for tracking bond repayments, you maintain “bondwatch Ireland” which is updated each week with the forthcoming bond repayments, you maintain a blog, the chattering magpie14, you march each week, in rain, hail or shine, you’ve run/cycled/crawled all the way from Ballyhea to Leinster House to hand in a petition, you’ve fasted for a week, you’ve had two sit-down protests on the Ballyhea to Charleville road – pictured here – you’ve dealt with the media, both domestic and international, to explain what is happening. After one year of marching, how do you generally feel and has it been worth it?
Diarmuid O’Flynn: It’s been worth it, yes, unequivocally, unqualified. It’s taken time and effort but when I look at what those across north Africa and in the Middle East are risking and sacrificing to right the injustices they are suffering, what we’re doing here pales by comparison.
NWL: What is it that has kept you and the communities in Ballyhea/Charleville persevering in your protest?
DOF: Even within our own parishes we’re a small group but this fight is on our own behalf, on behalf of our families, on behalf of our communities, on behalf of our fellow-residents in this Republic. We know the wrong that’s being done to us. Just as Ghaddafi and Assad and all the other despots were prepared to use their military might against their own people, so the ECB is using its financial muscle against us, so the Merkozy duarchy using its political muscle against us, forcing a debt that isn’t ours on the weak government of a weakened nation, extorting tens of billions from us. It’s as wrong now as it was a year ago – we’re a stubborn bunch!
NWL: You’ve published an article setting out how you organise your protest in Ballyhea/Charleville. Why do you think other towns, villages and communities haven’t copied your protests? [Bystander Syndrome or Effect is described here]
DOF:The Bystander Syndrome, the phenomenon whereby the more people there are who witness a crime (and extortion is a crime), the less likely someone is to intervene; the lack of media coverage of the real issue – Assad is bombing his own people and in outrage the media cry for him to stop; a government minister here, Leo Varadker, speaks of a metaphorical bomb going off in Dublin if we don’t do as ordered by the ECB and pay these bonds, but where is the outrage, where is the cry for the ECB to stop crushing the people of this Republic? Does the media here call on the people ofSyria to accept the dictatorship of Assad and thus avoid their suffering? No, they call on Assad to stop his brutality. Does the media here call on the ECB to cease its bullying of the Irish people, to stop its extortion of tens of billions, its infliction of more and more austerity and suffering on the Irish people? No, instead it focuses on what they’ve been assured the consequences will be if we DON’T pay up. Those are the two main reasons – bystanders, where they hope/believe someone else will intervene; the thrust of the media coverage, where fear and confusion has been spread wide.
NWL: Now that most of the unsecured, unguaranteed senior bonds have been fully repaid at Anglo and Irish Nationwide, do you have any plans to wind down the protest or change the focus of the protest to the promissory notes?
DOF: We will focus on the Promissory Notes from Anglo, for the coming month especially – burn those Promissory Notes, that will become the cry for March. But €55bn in bonds being taken from the Irish banks and by extension taken also from the Irish economy over the four years 2012/13/14/15, that too has to stop. Is that not hurting us? With that massive debt on their books, how can those banks function as normal banks? What have they got left to lend? ALL guarantees should be pulled, all bets off, all bonds treated on their individual merits/demerits. The ECB was worried about contagion if the Irish banks defaulted, the ECB should have itself assumed the debt, in its entirety.
NWL: What do you see as the future for the marches? Do you see yourself marching in a year’s time?
DOF: The future? A year ago we certainly didn’t see ourselves still marching this week, what can I say now? We will not give up, we will not just stop, that I can say for certain. Burning the Promissory Notes is a must – in fact I’d go so far as to say that we should now throw down the gauntlet to this government; burn those Promissory Notes or resign.
NWL: Your protests are non-politically aligned. Do you have any views on the role of politics in dealing with the bondholders or promissory notes?
DOF: I believe that at this stage we need another general election but one that returns a national government, a government which – without having to be in any way arrogant or confrontational – will stand firmly and immovably against the bailout of banks at the expense of its people, starting with the burning of the Promissory Notes.
NWL: You have been covered in the media, locally and internationally. What is your view of the media coverage of the bondholder/promissory note issue?
DOF: The Irish media have been abysmal, have actually been complicit in the extortion by the ECB. Lies, half-truths, misinformation, disinformation, these are the weapons of a propaganda war, these were the weapons perfected by Goebbels for the Nazis during the Second World War, these are the weapons still being used in getting the people of this Republic to accept what’s being done to them, to accept their own enslavement by the ECB. ‘We have no choice; we all partied; economic Armageddon if we don’t pay; we’ll grow our way out of this in a few years; we’re working hard behind the scenes and it’s looking good’ – etc. etc. The simple – very simple – fact is this: that was bank debt, for-profit deals done between consenting adults in the private commercial sector, deals which, when they failed, should have been dealt with in the normal private commercial fashion. The blanket bank guarantee of September 2008 was given under false circumstances, bad law based on bad grounds – it should be undone. Since then, in using its financial muscle to blackmail our government – now simply the overseers for our new masters – into assuming this debt, the ECB and the EU have grossly abused their own power. This bank debt is not our debt, will never be our debt, and yes, it is that simple.
NWL: What was the high point of the year for you?
DOF: There hasn’t been a high point, and until we start to burn those bank bondholders – starting with the Anglo Promissory Note due this March 31st – there will be no high point.
UPDATE: 27th February, 2012. Dr Constantin Gurdgiev who has confirmed he will be attending on Sunday 4th March in Ballyhea has sent the following message about the march.
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