To whom it concerns, and if you're Irish this concerns you:
The third protest march against the terms of the IMF/ECB agreement was held in Ballyhea today and again there was an increase in numbers over the previous week, nearly 70 of us on this occasion. Not exactly the ‘million-man march’, granted, but in our little community here in rural north Cork it represents a significant turnout. Even in that small number very element of our community was strongly represented – man, woman, child, from under nine months old to over 90, employed and unemployed, employer and employee, farmer, blue-collar worker, white-collar.
Our grievance is simple – last November, a discredited government with about as much mandate as Colonel Ghadafi now enjoys in Libya, was bullied/brow-beaten/blackmailed by the ECB (we excuse the IMF on this) into accepting a bailout agreement which coupled private bank/bondholder debt with national sovereign debt, all of which we – the Irish people – are now expected to pay.
On so many levels, that ‘agreement’ was wrong; it was unjust, immoral, probably illegal - to be binding, isn't an agreement meant to be entered into freely, willingly, voluntarily? According to Brian Lenihan subsequently, they were threatened with national bankruptcy if they didn’t agree to accept the private debt as a condition of the loan. On a purely practical level, however, it was unsustainable – our sovereign debt we can manage but with this millstone added, we will surely sink. The ECB knew this; they know also that when it happens, far from throwing us a life-line, they will be keeping us under, and our Corporate Tax rate, our level of pensions and social welfare payments that so annoy them, will all then be under their control.
In theory, we are members of a community, the EC – European Community. Community suggests to me a place where the strong take care of the weak; well, the EC took care of us alright. They gifted us this massive private loan, with interest, then with additional interest on top of that again. ‘Moral hazard’ was the reason quoted, the danger that if they didn’t punish us for our national recklessness we’d just go off and do it all again. Now, where we did hear that before?
When Lord Trevelyan allowed millions to die and/or emigrate in the late 1840s, ‘moral hazard’ was his reasoning – this was God visiting his displeasure on the reckless Irish, who had families too large and farms too small, and had become too dependent on the potato for life (there was no Famine, by the way, a misnomer always – this was genocide), and why would the British intervene? Let the Irish learn their lesson.
Well, have we? Let’s examine that ‘moral hazard’ as applied in the current circumstances. Where I live, up here in the hills in Ballyhea, none of my neighbours to left or right – the Nunans, Brownes, O’Regans, O’Briens, Duanes, McCarthys, O’Keeffes, Lanes – bought a single investment property between them, either in Ireland or abroad; there are no massive gas-guzzling 4x4 monsters on our mountain roads, no-one spending over the last few years other than as they have spent forever – prudently, carefully. There are those in this country who have been reckless in their individual spending, and they are now paying a price – no bailout for them. There are also those who have bought houses, many of them first-time buyers who were panicked into buying by all the blaring advertising (‘Get on the property ladder NOW, next month prices will have gone up again!’) before they wanted to buy, and certainly for more than they ever wanted to pay. They too are now caught; they may get relief, but they too WILL pay their debt, in full.
Now, look to the other side of this coin – from where did all this money come? Why, from Europe, from the Middle East, the Far East, from the USA, from all the usual high-finance high-octane sources, those very exclusive arenas where odds are calculated and risks taken, bonuses counted in billions. But where is the ‘moral hazard’ as applied to them? If you pour oil on an already over-heating economy, do you not risk becoming engulfed in the flames yourself, when it all explodes? I've been told here that blaming those who gave our banks the money is like blaming the bartender for your hangover, but in this instance the bartender kept feeding liquor to a crowd of arrogant yobs who were already well tanked, knowing full well they were then going to mount their massive 4x4s and cause carnage on the roads – that bartender you DO call to account.
So, our protest. How any government could agree to terms that so enslaved their own people defies logic – the bailout here is of the bondholders, and no-one else. Despite pre-election promises to the contrary our new government has agreed both in principle and principal (100%, no ‘haircut’) to the deal, arguing only over the interest rate – rearranging the deck-chairs as the good ship Ireland sinks beneath the waves. Here in this little parish, we say no – enough.
Our case is simple: the ‘agreement’ that was foisted on us, the Irish people, last November, is wrong. We can use any additional descriptive adjective we like – shameful, unjust, unjustifiable, immoral, etc. etc. – but that is the one word above all others to describe it; it’s wrong. The national debt - the money needed to run the country while we try to close the current deficit - is our debt, a debt we should pay, a debt we must pay; the private debt run up by our banks to the bond-holders, is NOT our debt. That debt must be decoupled from the sovereign debt, must be treated separately, and that must be done now.
Our march is short, from the church car-park to the speed-limit sign on the outskirts of the village. Disruption of traffic is kept to a minimum, no destruction of property private or public, all of which is counter-productive. We have one sign, out front, which proclaims what we’re doing, but there are no banners, no sexy slogans, no chants – it’s short, it’s silent, but it is seething with a suppressed anger. We’re a small parish, a small voice, and we’re still on our own, getting very little coverage over here. But through this voice, an Irish voice calling home if you will, we ask now that other parishes, other villages, towns and cities, join us; we ask that more of our own families in our own parish join us. As a returned exile, I know what it’s like to be thousands of miles from home, but in this modern age I know also how easy it is to stay in touch. I ask ye now – get in touch with your own friends and relations at home, ask them to join us. Ye might even start yere own protest over there, with the exiled Irish in yere own communities, and send that message back home. After all, it affects us all, doesn’t it?