Last weekend, the communities of Ballyhea and Charleville in county Cork held their 80th weekly bank bailout protest, a dignified 15-minute modest display that demonstrates, for some at least in Ireland, they will not go quietly into the night and accept the 40% of GDP cost of the bank bailout being heaped onto the nation’s shoulders.
80 weeks is a long time, but in sunshine, frost, rain and in every other delight the Irish climate throws at us, they have maintained their weekly march which alternates between the town of Charleville and the village of Ballyhea. The photos chronicling their protest change with the hawthorn flowers of spring, to the lush green of summer, to the yellow-brown of Autumn, to frosty wintry mornings to be repeated again as long as it takes.
The protestors have varied their approach as they try to get the message across to a country which is traumatised by this crisis. They have cycled/run/walked/crawled from Ballyhea around Ireland to Leinster House to hand in a petition, there was a pilgrimage to the ECB itself in Frankfurt where they “nailed” our grievances – a copy of which is held aloft above by Vincent Browne on the Tonight with Vincent Browne show, screengrab courtesy of TV3 – to the door of the ECB HQ, this was followed by an appearance on the Vincent Browne show by one of the organisers, there was a fast and a sit-down protest on the main Cork-Limerick road. Where they could, they protested to An Taoiseach Enda Kenny himself (below in the black Mercedes). They have been joined by special guests along the way, most recently by Dr Constantin Gurdgiev, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, Caroline Simons and Declan Ganley. The protesters are not politically aligned, and their message resonates right across the political spectrum. They pay for everything themselves out of their own pockets.
The protest has been reported with a mixture of curiosity and pride in national and international media. The group has two Facebook sites, a blog and it maintains the bondwatch website which shows you what bonds are to be imminently paid in the state-guaranteed banks.
Seems like a lot of work, but what are they protesting about? They have been protesting at the repayment of bonds in Irish banks which to date have swallowed up €70bn of the nation’s wealth – this comprises €64.1bn given to the banks directly plus €5.6bn of state-aid given to the banks by NAMA whose bonds are guaranteed by the State. This represents 45% of our GDP or 55% of our GNP – a burden shouldered by no other country. The original focus of the protesters was bonds, particularly bonds which weren’t subject to a state guarantee and which weren’t secured against specific assets at the banks and which were repayable by utterly bust banks.
Why does it matter now? On 1st October 2012, AIB, a bank which is now 99.8% owned by the State – it would be 100% except the State wants to keep the shares publicly traded. AIB along with the tiddly EBS which merged with it last year have thus far received €20.7bn of the €64.1bn directly given to the banks. It has received another €1-2bn in state-aid from NAMA which paid a premium for the loans it acquired from AIB. By any measure, AIB is without the support of the State an utterly bust bank. And yet it is paying €1bn to bondholders who would be burned were it not for the State.
We will have one of the toughest budgets ever in December 2012, and with some economic projections deteriorating for 2013, we may have a similar budget in December 2013. Taxes will be increased and welfare and public sector costs will be cut – most of the adjustment results from an imbalance in our national finances after the property collapse, but a sizable portion is attributable to the bank bailout, so you can correctly point to the €1bn that will be paid by AIB on 1st October and compare that with tax increases or cuts to welfare and the public sector.
This coming Sunday will mark the 81st week of protest, and the communities have decided to extend the protest over three days to allow for protests in Cork and other counties and to conclude with a march on Tuesday 18th in Dublin from the national Garden of Remembrance at the top of O’Connell Street to Government Buildings where the Dail will be reconvening on the first day after the summer recess. The details and itinerary over the three days are here, they’d appreciate support along the way, a few minutes of your time to show that we are enlightened enough in this country to know how our money is being spent, and to protest at it being spent in utterly bust banks when the country is burdened with such austerity.
You can follow live developments on the protest with Diarmuid O’Flynn (pictured below on the Tonight with Vincent Browne show, screengrab courtesy of TV3) via Twitter here. The main Ballyhea protest site on Facebook is here. The bondwatch website with all bonds payable in Irish banks is here. The Ballyhea blog is here.