Saturday, 26 July 2014

MEETING WITH CENTRAL BANK GOVERNOR PATRICK HONAHAN JULY 2014



That was a day. It started at 8.30am, picked up in Ballyhea by Rob and Fiona Fitzpatrick; it ended when we got back to Charleville more than 12 hours later and we were asked  - what was the low point, what was the high point?

Where to begin.

We headed for Dublin via Cork (short diversion to have a few staples removed from my shoulder, result of a recent shoulder operation), final destination the Central Bank on Dame Street and a meeting with the Governor himself, Patrick Honahan.

THERE ARE MORE QUESTIONS THAN ANSWERS
We had prepared for Mr Honahan a list of questions (see below) relating to the Promissory Note sovereign bonds he now holds in his vault, bonds of over €28,000,000,000 in value (the insertion of all the zeroes is deliberate - that's what €28billion looks like).

The two big questions: 1) what happens to the billions raised from the sale of the Promissory Note bonds? 2) As a sitting member, Ireland's representative, would Mr Honahan use his influence to set up a meeting for us with the Governing Council of the ECB?

It would be our second meeting with Mr Honahan (the first took place last year) but this one was different. Accompanying us would be MEPs Luke Ming Flanagan and Nessa Childers from the European Parliament, along with TDs Stephen Donnelly and Peter Mathews from our national parliament, Stephen there representing the Technical Group.

Yet another MEP, Marian Harkin, wished to join us but was unable to do so.

Most of the groundwork for the meeting had been laid by Fiona and she had also organised a pre-Central Bank meeting with Sinn Fein MEP Lynn Boylan, who reiterated her party's support for what we in the Ballyhea/Charleville campaign group are doing, along with those in the various other centres around the country (Ratoath and Dublin getting very honourable mention here for their relentlessness).

THE MEETING
Having been signed in, we were escorted to a boardroom in the upper floors of the Central Bank (fantastic view over the south city) where we were immediately joined by Patrick Honahan and another Central Bank official, David Cronin.

ATTENDEES
Fiona Fitzpatrick & Diarmuid O'Flynn (Ballyhea/Charleville Says No); Luke Ming Flanagan & Nessa Childers (MEPs); Stephen Donnelly & Peter Mathews (TDs); Patrick Honahan & David Cronin  (Central Bank of Ireland).

The meeting lasted for over an hour, got hot and heavy on more than a few occasions, everyone having their say bar Mr Cronin. Consequently there was too much in it to offer a blow-by-blow account so herewith, a summary (quotes from own shorthand record of the meeting).

Peter Mathews
From the perspective of all those of us in our group, as a Chartered Accountant and former banker himself no-one understands the whole Promissory Note debacle more than Peter Mathews and the pain he feels at what is happening in the name of his former profession is palpable. He sympathised with the position Mr Honahan found himself in on his appointment as Governor in 2010, likening him to the fabled little boy in Holland with his finger in the dyke, doing his best to stop the floodwaters from breeching.

There, however, his sympathy ended, and Peter made very clear his anger with how bank-debt of nearly €70bn has been forced on the Irish people. "The details of the Promissory Notes have never been properly understood by the commentators at home," he fumed, "So the true story of what has happened has never been told in Europe. It's a story of bank-debt losses. The Promissory Notes have been replaced by Promissory Note bonds and we're told that because we're now in better shape, we can pay these bonds." Peter's final question was telling - "Are we a society or are we an economy?"

Stephen Donnelly
His fellow TD, Wicklow's Stephen Donnelly, with the kind of straight-talking straight-to-the-point attitude to which we've become accustomed in his Dáil performances, had a number of questions for Mr Honahan. "Is it possible for the ECB to destroy these bonds and if not, who do we go to next?"
Well, we established that even if they don't have the ultimate decision the ECB does indeed have a major say in what happens to the bonds, in which case Stephen had a very practical suggestion - "Rather than sell them, can we not just hold the Promissory Note bonds until such time as they all mature, thus costing only the minimal interest rate we're paying on the loan at the moment, around €45m/annum?"

Luke Ming Flanagan
For Luke Ming, a face-to-face meeting with the ECB is an imperative. "I hope to meet the ECB and ask them to do what is morally right. We're being forced into a marriage with these people but it's like Ireland of the 70s, no divorce option. I'm not sure what kind of people we're being tied to; I want to meet them and know, are they worth dealing with? Their answers will define that. We need a meeting, we need assurances, we need to see if they understand that Ireland took this Promissory Note debt on board to save the European banking system. The ECB cheered us on and why wouldn't they, but the people made no profit from any of those banks – well, the debt isn't going to come our way either. I need to meet those people, I need to be able to go back to the 124,000 who voted for me and let them know what the ECB is like."

Nessa Childers
Nessa Childers outlined her fear not just for Ireland, on how the Promissory Note deal has been handled, but for Europe itself. "The European Parliament has no power over the ECB but we do meet them. I remember at our last meeting with Jean-Claude Trichet (former President of the ECB), when asked about progress he made a fingers-crossed gesture. The decision taken by Mario Draghi (current ECB President) to provide a backstop to the euro, when he said he would do whatever had to be done, has led us all into a fools' paradise. We've been pushing the debt out but are we now close to the limit?"

THIS PARROT IS NOT DEAD, IT IS SLEEPING
When Mr Honahan got to respond (the meeting was chaired and controlled by Fiona), what we heard was not in the least encouraging. He did confirm what was happening to the billions being raised through the Promissory Note bonds, what has already in fact happened to the full €3.06bn from the 2011 bond, plus to all the €350m raised from the partial sale of the 2012 bond - it has been destroyed, or to use Mr Honahan's own quaint description, it has been 'extinguished'.

BURNING THE BONDS, NOT THE BILLIONS
On the question of the possible destruction of the remaining bonds as opposed to the 'extinguishing' of the billions associated with them and the subsequent burdening of the next several generations of Irish people with that debt, not an inch from the Central Bank Governor.

"Everything I'm doing has been about protecting the Irish taxpayer from the consequences of the blanket bank guarantee," he said; "The Promissory Notes came from that. The Central Bank is bound by strict laws; within those laws I'm doing everything I can to protect the Irish taxpayer."

On Stephen Donnelly's suggestion that if he won't destroy the bonds, he could at least just hold them, let them die a natural death rather than sell them and then destroy the money, burden future generations with the subsequent debt - no dice. "I know this line will fail; already we're right up against the line of what is legal, the ECB speaking of monetary financing."

THE FALLOUT
None of this came as any great shock to any of us on our side of the table. Along with Finance Minister Michael Noonan, Patrick Honahan was one of the main architects of the Promissory Note 'deal'. I'm not going to use this forum to castigate the man – in the first instance, he can’t defend himself. Suffice to say, Patrick believes he’s doing a great job; I don’t.

For Patrick, there appears to be no objection to the idea of a nation – even his own nation – being forced to shoulder a debt incurred to save not the two Irish banks involved but their creditors across the globe, to save the European banking system, perhaps even to save the euro itself (suggestions which he appeared to accept). Whether or not it's right? Not relevant.

MEETING THE ECB
We moved on to the major reason we were there, to ask Mr Honahan if he'd use his influence to set up a meeting between this representative group and the ECB Governing Council.

Again, no. "I'm not inclined to do that" he said, point blank; "I feel I can achieve more for Ireland by not arranging that meeting, but I won't stand in your way."

Fiona was having none of it. "I don't believe in not asking the question and that's why we want to meet the ECB, to do just that. Look at the people in this room, the mandate they have; look at those who are not here but who are backing what we're doing; look at the result of the recent elections; it is now the will of the people of Ireland that the ECB must be challenged on these Promissory Note bonds. I'm asking if you'll do the will of the people and facilitate that meeting. You said you were Ireland's representative on that ECB board so I'm asking again, will you facilitate that meeting?"

Again, Patrick wasn't for moving. "I'm not sure I want to push for a set of meetings that won't go anywhere, I don’t want to use up whatever remaining credit I have on that. I think I've achieved quite a lot and I can achieve more. I don't want to (set up that meeting)."

Many times already the meeting had become heated – this was another flashpoint. Peter Mathews had a bit of advice for Patrick, along the lines suggested earlier by Stephen Donnelly. "If you really want to concentrate their minds, tell them you're not going to sell the bonds, that you're thinking of controlling these bonds yourself. This is like being asked to pay 'protection money'."

Luke Ming was incensed. "Do you take any notice of election results, of the will of the people? We're not getting any benefit from this capital, from those bonds – I don't care how little interest we're asked to pay, or what terms we're being offered. If you can arrange this meeting, surely this can only help your cause? Prior to the last election it could be argued there was no objection in Ireland to what was being done – after the results of those elections that is obviously no longer the case. In my constituency there are two independents (himself and Marian Harkin), in Dublin there is Nessa, in Ireland South now there's Brian Crowley, while Sinn Fein have an MEP in every constituency, all against the Promissory Note debt. That election was the most recent taking of the temperature of the Irish electorate; it should tell Europe, we're about to pop. Play your card – us!"

Eventually, reluctantly, definitely against his own better judgement, Mr Honahan agreed, but it was a grudging agreement. "They're (Europe) sick and tired of the Irish bank-debt story," he claimed, "I'm happy to write a letter to the ECB board but won't be pushing for the meeting."

THE HIGHS AND LOWS
So, getting back to the opening paragraph, the low point, the high point.

That the money raised from the bonds was being destroyed I already knew, so that came as no surprise; that Mr Honahan would also not be keen to have our new group – no matter how many people were now represented – meet the ECB, again, no surprise. For me though, the low point was the confirmation by Mr Honahan that in all of what has been done to the Irish people in this entire bank-debt imposition, the fundamental human law of right over wrong simply doesn't apply.

The high point? After the meeting, during interviews in front of the Central Bank we met Conor McGregor, the soon-to-be world champion in the fast-growing sport of mixed martial arts cage-fighting and a true son of Dublin.

Conor's motto, adopted on behalf of several other up-and-coming Irish fighters, is 'We're not here to take part, we're here to take over!'

Would that the man with whom we'd been talking for the previous hour-plus had even a scintilla of that attitude. I trust though that he is a man of his word and will put through that request. Along with this new alliance, I really want to sit in front of that ECB board and ask them to justify what they're doing to Ireland.

Those bonds must NOT be sold, those billions must NOT be 'extinguished', that debt-burden must NOT be imposed on successive Irish generations, debt-slaves to Europe for the next 40 years and beyond.

NB: The above is my own opinion, neither formed nor endorsed by anyone else who attended the meeting.

Regards,
Diarmuid O'Flynn.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

SUMMER SUMMARY - A CRITICAL TIME



Going to be out of action for a few weeks (date with a knife tomorrow, July 17th, old war-wounds that couldn't be ignored any longer!) so a quick update on the Ballyhea campaign.

EUROPEAN ELECTIONS

The recent European elections threw up a very positive result for us, the election of three independents (Luke Ming Flanagan, Nessa Childers and Marian Harkin), now joined by Brian Crowley, all of whom have stated unequivocally that they will be working towards the alleviation of the bank-debt burden on Ireland. Already, since the election, we've been in touch with all those MEPs, have met with a few, and in the coming months we will be working with them on the bank-debt campaign.

Sinn Féin also had a very successful European campaign, returned four MEPs (Liadh Ní Riada, Matt Carthy, Lynn Boylan, Martina Anderson), and Sinn Féin too have indicated that bank-debt writedown for Ireland will be a priority. That's eight Irish MEPs now actively campaigning with and for us (the people, not just this campaign group), a quantum improvement on the previous Parliament.

PLANNED MEETINGS

On Friday week (July 25th), Central Bank governor Patrick Honahan has agreed to meet a delegation which, along with ourselves, will include representatives from those MEPs, plus representatives of the Technical Group in the Dáil.

At the moment we are also pursuing meetings with a) the ECB (accompanied again by elected representatives from both the national the European Parliaments), b) the new chair of ECON and c), representatives from all the major groupings in the new Parliament.

IT’S NOT TOO LATE – IN FACT NEVER MORE TIMELY OR URGENT

For those who believe that it's too late to address the bank-debt, that everything is done and dusted, I can't stress enough - nothing could be further from the truth. In fact it was never more immediate, never more stark, than it is now. Why? The dreaded Promissory Notes, or more accurately, the Promissory Note bonds, the instruments used by Finance Minister Michael Noonan to transfer responsibility for payment of those Promissory Note billions from this generation to the next, and to the generation after.

PROMISSORY NOTES IN A NUTSHELL

In a nutshell the situation is this: in 2010 two Irish banks - Anglo Irish and Irish Nationwide - had entered zombie stage, had €31bn in liabilities between them and only junk assets to cover those liabilities. If they went under, however, the fear was that this would start a domino effect across a number of other deeply troubled banks and would bring down not just the major banks in the so-called core European countries (Germany and France especially), but would bring down even the euro currency itself.

To avoid this very real possibility the ECB accepted from the Irish government as collateral for the €31bn issued to those two bust banks the now infamous Promissory Notes; theirs was the final say in this and in doing so, they bent (and possibly broke) their own rules.
 
Critical to note here, this money did NOT go to the Irish people, it went to bail out those two banks and by extension, to bail out their creditors. Now, however, the ECB wants its pound of flesh. 'The Central Bank of Ireland printed that extra €31bn,' goes their logic; 'The Irish government acted as guarantor; now we want that €31bn taken back out of circulation.' 

No mention of their own role in accepting the Promissory Notes; no mention of the fact this possibly saved the European banking system, if not the euro itself; no mention of the fact that all those billions went to banks, not to the people. Just this insistence that the entire burden must be borne by us, the Irish people.

Of course we don't have that €31bn (we're broke like - in fact we're over €200bn in debt already!) so, we're forced to borrow it.

THE PROMISSORY NOTE BONDS

We're doing this in the form of sovereign bonds and we're doing it in stages. This year the Central Bank will sell a bond for €500,000,000. That's almost exactly what the government expects to raise from water charges for the year; it is also the projected shortfall in the HSE budget for 2014, a shortfall that will necessitate further cuts in an already critically-stretched health service.

What will the Central Bank do with this €500,000,000 - invest in our water services, in our health service? Neither. It will destroy it, every last cent, the ECB insisting on its pound of flesh.

WORSE TO COME

As noted above however, that is merely the first step. Next year, another €500,000,000 raised by the Central Bank, another €500,000,000 destroyed, then likewise for another three years. And it gets worse.

For each of the five years after 2018, €1,000,000,000 raised by the Central Bank, then destroyed; for each of eight years after 2023, the figure increases to €2,000,000,000, raised and destroyed; finally, in 2032, €1,500,000,000, making a total of €25,000,000,000.

These are telephone numbers, I know - even beyond telephone numbers. On their own they're difficult for people to take in but even more difficult for people to absorb, the fact that all this money, all those badly-needed billions, will be destroyed.

The story doesn't even end there: As each of the bonds are sold, we start paying the interest to the new bondholder, and we pay it annually for the lifetime of that bond. Then, when the bond 'matures' (and the first chicken comes home to roost in 2038), we have to pay the principal, the full original sum of each individual bond, again a total of €25,000,000,000 - again a figure and a concept almost impossible for people to grasp.

CRISIS POINT – A CALL TO ARMS

But that is the plan, that is the vaunted Noonan Promissory Note 'deal', that's how 'gone' those Notes are. The debt remained, in its entirety; the billions are still destroyed, in their entirety; all he has done is this – rather than challenge the ECB on the legitimacy or even the morality of the debt itself, he shifted the payment burden from this generation to the next, and the generation after. Would you, as an individual, do that to your kids, and to their kids?

It can be stopped. It can be stopped now. It can be stopped without cost. It can be stopped without consequence (that money is already in circulation; taking it out of circulation now will have no effect in Europe, it WILL have an effect here).

That's why this campaign is now so critical, that's why there has never been such urgency. The sale of those bonds must be stopped and for this, we need a coming together – of the media, of our politicians local, national and European, of our stars of stage, screen, music and sport, of our people in every organisation at home and abroad. Because this affects us all.

Regards, Diarmuid O'Flynn.


Thursday, 10 July 2014

THE MINISTER AND HIS MINSTREL BOY



The following is a transcription from an interview conducted by Pat Kenny with Finance Minister Michael Noonan on RTE radio on February 8th 2013, a couple of days after Minister Noonan’s lauded Promissory Notes ‘deal’.

Pat Kenny: What changed, why did the ECB then change its mind about the whole principle of this which I think was described –  Phillip Boucher Hayes reported from Frankfurt or he was talking to people from Frankfurt, they described it as 'barely legal'.

Michael Noonan: Well I don't think that's right, you see the legal people would say that the existing Promissory Note arrangement was totally contrary to, ah...

PK: Was illegal?

MN: Totally, you know, so any –  I mean my argument all the time was...

PK: So it's an improvement in its legality?

MN: Yeah, I mean some of the bank people were saying to me 'Look, what you're saying is illegal'; I used to say to them 'It's an awful lot more legal than what you agreed three years ago!'

At this point they both had a little laugh, the Minister and his Minstrel Boy; that laugh was at our expense.

      A question that simply screams out from the above exchange:

  • When Michael Noonan admitted the original Promissory Notes arrangement was totally illegal, why didn’t Pat Kenny – the highest-paid broadcaster on RTE – not ask Minister Noonan why he hadn’t challenged that legality in court before transforming those Notes into sovereign bonds, effectively condemning generations of Irish people to 40 years of debt slavery? Hell, why didn’t Michael Noonan challenge the ECB, why didn’t he even ask the ECB for debt writeoff?

When the narrative of this entire sorry period in our history finally comes to be written, that little exchange above will loom large. To ease the budgetary pressure on his own government for the remainder of its tenure, Michael Noonan took a debt he believed totally illegal and rather than face down the ECB, shifted the entire debt burden, plus interest, to the shoulders of his own nation’s children and their children. And was lauded and applauded for it by those such as Pat Kenny above.

In Ballyhea and in Charleville, in Ratoath and a few other places around the country, we continue to protest, we continue to campaign, Sunday after Sunday. We can still reverse this. Join us, write your own piece of history.

Regards,
Diarmuid O’Flynn.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

TWO YEARS ON FROM ENDA KENNY'S 'SEISMIC SHIFT'



 LETTER TO OUR EDITORS
Ballyhea
Co Cork
June 25th 2014
Dear Sir/Madam;

'Lions led by donkeys'; nearly a century on, that's how the British infantry (including tens of thousands of Irish) and its officer corps are remembered from the First World War.

I wonder, a century from now how will we and the current Irish political leadership be remembered?

Cast your mind back two years ago, to June 28th 2012 and yet another Eurozone summit meeting, the short statement issued at its conclusion on the separation of bank debt from sovereign debt, which included the following: 'The Eurogroup will examine the situation of the Irish financial sector with the view of further improving the sustainability of the well-performing adjustment programme.'
 
Remember Enda Kenny's 'seismic shift' boast – ‘I’m a hard grafter and, as some of them found out, they shouldn’t tangle with me too often’? Remember Eamon Gilmore's 'game-changer' bombast?
Two years on, what has shifted, what has changed?

For starters, we've had Michael Noonan's acclaimed Promissory Notes deal, Notes Michael himself described in an RTE interview as ‘illegal, totally' but which now sees that €25bn of disputed debt transformed to sovereign bonds. 

The first of those bonds are sold this year, €500,000,000, that money then destroyed by the Irish Central Bank; €500,000,000 a year in fact for the next five years, borrowed and burned, then €1,000,000,000 a year for the following five years, €2,000,000,000 a year for eight years and finally, in 2032, the last bond, €1,500,000,000. 

A total of €25,000,000,000 that had been used at the behest of the EC/ECB to bail out two bust banks, now borrowed by this broke and broken country and burned at the behest of that same EC/ECB, all set up by a compliant, obeisant Kenny/Gilmore government without even a murmur of protest. They didn't even ask, never mind confront.

Then there's the vaunted ESM from which we were to receive the billions refund of the 'legacy' bank-debt arising from the June 2012 statement - what has actually happened there? Well the fund has been established and Ireland has already contributed a €1bn share to that, which of course we also had to borrow and on which we are now paying interest. What have we received? How much 'legacy' debt relief? Not a single cent.

The actual legacy of this government, the legacy this generation leaves to those who will follow us, is debt piled on debt, 40 years of debt-slavery to our new European masters, all uncontested.

In Ballyhea and Charleville we have been campaigning since March 6th 2011 against this debt imposition, this sovereign surrender. This Sunday in Charleville at 10.30am, week 174, we're joined by three of our recently elected MEPs, Luke Ming Flanagan, Nessa Childers and Marian Harkin. New leaders, same cause; lions needed.

Regards, Diarmuid O'Flynn.