62 weeks now (and counting) we've been marching in Ballyhea and Charleville in protest against the ECB-ordained government-sanctioned bank bondholder bailout.
The numbers are stark and staggering: €103bn paid out by the Irish banks since the ill-founded blanket guarantee of 2008, another €40bn to go (figures per Parliamentary Question to Michael Noonan, mid-April 2012; we reckon the latter figure is more like €55bn); €62.8bn thus far invested by us, through the government, in those banks (again, figure courtesy of Michael Noonan). Add in the interest paid and yet to be paid on the borrowings to pay that €62.8bn, add in also another likely recapitalisation, that figure will exceed €100bn.
We were told it was to save our banking system - for what? To pay bondholders - nothing more, nothing less, those banks standing idly by even as local Irish business grinds to a slow halt. Four years of austerity budgets and we’re immeasurably worse off than we were when we started.
Last Friday week - by appointment - we met a local TD to outline the reasons for our protest and perhaps have our views relayed to the aforementioned Mr. Noonan. It was an experience none of us who were there (seven in total) have any wish to repeat.
The meeting had barely started when the TD outlined to us the difficulty of making ends meet on a salary of €92,672 plus expenses (this individual claimed over €50,000 last year), reeling off in rapid succession the list of outgoings, starting with a €10,000 pension contribution (and oh, wouldn't we all like to be contributing to that pension!), ending with the statement - "Thank God we get paid today."
Later in our exchange, after I had suggested that a third rate of tax starting perhaps at €100,000/annum would be one way of raising the money needed to close the deficit gap, the TD instantly jumped in - "Take a couple in Dublin who have gone to the trouble and expense of going through college; he now has a job let's say as a doctor or solicitor earning €120,000, she has a job where she earns €80,000; they have a big mortgage, a lot of extra outgoings, and you want to take more tax from them?"
At this I got a little hot - the government of which this individual is a party member can introduce without question universal levies, household charges, property tax, water charges, crushing those who are on lower and middle incomes, but mere mention of a third level of tax to spread more of the load on those who can most afford it and immediately this fictitious couple in Dublin is fabricated, struggling to get by on €200,000/annum, just as this poor TD is struggling to get by on a gross income (and boy, is it gross) of nearly €150,000.
I'm deliberately not naming the individual involved, simply because I believe the attitude we met is symptomatic of the whole lot of them, Fine Gael, Labour, Fianna Fáil and the Greens before them. They pretend sympathy, the members of the governing parties (these and the previous) but there is no empathy - not a shred. As is evident above, they live on a different planet.
The Deputy outlined out to us the government policy, their hope that in three or four years, when our debt has become utterly unsustainable, we will get a write-down "of up to 50%" from Europe. We pointed out that at that stage the bulk of the bank bonds will have been paid and the one major bargaining tool we still have will be gone, surrendered, the private bank debt now all transformed to sovereign. This will then be sovereign default, for which we will pay a massive price. The guidelines we get to meet the current EU/ECB deadlines? Forget it - sovereign default will mean the troika now dictating line-by-line and top of their list will be our Corporation Tax rate, followed by our old-age pension rates, social welfare baseline rates, and so on and so on.
Before we left, in reference to the above, I stated that a huge number of eminent economists at home and abroad are on record as stating that the bank debt burden is what is sinking Ireland and that the time to strike is now, that it's still not too late. I mentioned one economist in particular, Constantin Gurdgiev. It was like a red rag to a bull, the TD taking off on a rant - "The best thing he can do for Ireland is get on a plane back to Moscow," going on to state that Constantin had a good job in Trinity and inferring he should then not be criticising the Irish government policy, suggesting he had bought a house in Dublin that was now in negative equity, mentioning something about investments in Switzerland.
As a group we were disappointed with the meeting, astonished at the outburst – Constantin has been down to our march on two occasions and though none of us would claim to know him, we have all been impressed with what we've seen of him, wouldn't question his commitment to this country. This was too damned close to xenophobia for our liking.
Afterwards we decided that trying to get anything done through our own politicians is a waste of our time and effort. Now we're going directly to Europe. Early next month the ECB is meeting in Frankfurt, after which they will have a media conference; we'll be there to ask a few questions of our own.
We have politicians in this country, so many politicians, all of whom put themselves and their party first – witness Ó Cuív and his pathetic efforts of the past week; we don't have a single statesman or stateswoman, no-one to represent the people. In that case people are forced to represent ourselves. We will.