Monday 25 March 2013


The 'Ballyhea says NO! to bank debt' protest campaign started on March 6th 2011 and is now over two years in existence. On March 3rd this year, entering our third year of marching and with protests springing up in various other villages and towns, we launched the 'Ireland says NO! to bank debt' initiative.

Every Sunday morning we march, alternating between Ballyhea and Charleville. We are a strictly non-political group, made up of people from all parties and none. We are young, we are on the cusp of life, we are well into life, we are the venerable; we are male, we are female; we are employees and employers; we are employed, unemployed, self-employed, home employed. In sum, we are everyman and everywoman, we are the most ordinary people imaginable.

Our cause is great but simple: we reject the imposition of private bank debt on the Irish people, all €64.1bn of it (and this excludes the €5.6bn contribution from NAMA), a burden of €14,244 per capita; we want to see that money returned. 

The following table shows how much a selection of other European countries would have had to contribute to bail out their banks, on a similar per capita basis.

TABLE 1: What other countries would have paid using Ireland’s per capita basis
We understand that much of what has happened to us has been because of ill-advised decision-making by our own governments, this one and the last, but we understand also that at a time of great national vulnerability those successive weak governments were bullied by the EU and coerced by the ECB into assuming debt that is not ours.

The most blatant example of this is the €30.6bn of Promissory Notes that were issued to two institutions at a time when they were already insolvent, Anglo Irish Bank (25.3bn) and Irish Nationwide Building Society (5.3bn). These banks weren't systemic, they were a millstone round our necks; nature should have been allowed take its course, in this case capitalist nature, and those banks should have been allowed fail, protection offered only to depositors of under €100,000. The ECB intervened – no bank would be allowed fail, no bondholder, unsecured or otherwise, left behind, thus the Irish government was forced to act as guarantor for the entire €30.6bn.

The government of the day should have refused, should have faced down the ECB. ‘Better to die on your feet than live on your knees’, that is our philosophy, and many good men and women over the centuries have sacrificed their lives for Irish freedom and independence. To us these are not mere words – freedom, independence. Whether on an individual or a national basis this goes to the very root of existence but here we are as a people being forced into decades of debt slavery to bail out banks and major financiers around the globe. We reject this.

That error by the last government has just been compounded by the current Irish government, those very questionable Promissory Notes now transposed into sovereign bonds, interest-only loans with final bubble payments decades hence, the troubles of this administration eased but only by passing them on to future generations.

Before we address what we would now like to see happen, let’s go back a little.

There are many who say the root of Ireland's problem lay in the Blanket Bank Guarantee of September 2008; it doesn't. The root of the problem lay in the launch of the euro itself – good idea, poor execution. It was conceived in the Maastricht Treaty of 1992, launched electronically on January 1st 1999, actual paper money issued on January 1st 2002. From conception through inception, however, it was a monster currency, incomplete, out of control, no-one at the helm.

The ECB's main brief was (and remains) to maintain price stability within the Eurozone, keeping inflation low and preventing deflation. As Europe's new Frankenstein currency began its rampage through Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Ireland, not alone was the ECB not concerned about the damage being done, not alone did it not take steps to lower the temperature in rapidly over-heating economies, it wasn’t even aware of what was happening and in fact added fuel to the fire, kept reducing the headline interest rate which made it cheaper and cheaper for governments and banks to borrow.

And did they borrow, by the tens of billions. When they had their own currencies those economies paid a premium for their borrowings on the money-markets, now they were getting money for jam.
In Ireland it was our banks doing the borrowing, the government actually paying down the sovereign debt (stood at a mere €47bn in 2008, while we had nearly €20bn in savings, in our Pension Reserve Fund).

Those borrowed bank billions fuelled an epic property bubble. Everywhere there were warning signs but everywhere too there were vast profits being made and greed ruled the roost, blinded the lender banks in Europe's core, and in the UK and the USA, to the looming disaster. Just as they had taken their profits in the good years the lender banks should now have taken their losses. They didn’t.

When the Troika came to Dublin in November 2010, the EU and ECB element had bailout on their minds but not a bailout for Ireland – it was a bailout for the Irish banks’ bondholders. 

Ireland got no 'bailout', we got additional debt. On every cent borrowed from the Troika we pay interest, added interest on what the ECB itself pays for its borrowings.

Despite having done absolutely everything asked of us to date by the EU and by the ECB, we have never had a cent of debt write-down.

Despite having been on the frontline in the defence of the euro, we have never had a cent of debt write-down.

Despite the statement issued after the Eurozone heads of state meeting last June in which they stated ‘We affirm that it is imperative to break the vicious circle between banks and sovereigns’, the policy which has left us with this €64.1bn of so-called legacy debt, we have never had a cent of debt write-down.

Despite all the various statements over the past few years recognising Ireland as a 'special case’, we have never had a cent of debt write-down.

Every year our banks continue to pay every bond in full (coupon included and that alone is a considerable drain), billions bled from this economy, from our banks, even as those same banks suffer a major domestic mortgage crisis, even as our Small and Medium Business sector is dying on its feet for want of access to investment funds.

The effect of the EU/ECB policy in Ireland is this: those who contributed most to the current financial disaster pay the least, those who contributed least to that disaster pay the most. At the grand table where all these things are decided the world of finance has the loudest voice, is best represented whilst we, the people, are dismissed. Banks, bankers, financiers, the money markets, they are the ones who created this mess; we, the people of the various nation-states, are the victims. Yet even as they still thrive we are forced to pay their losses.

This has got to end. Meeting after crisis meeting has been held over the last five years and central to all the decisions taken has been the primacy of the markets, the primacy of the banks, the primacy of money. We, the people, are forgotten, sidelined, voiceless.

When we first joined the EU we thought we had joined a community, then under Lisbon we were assured that small nations like ourselves wouldn't be steamrolled into submission on issues with which we didn’t agree – we were wrong. Ireland and its people has been debt-enslaved, saddled with a 40-yr mortgage on a house we never owned.

Through the last five years of negotiations with Europe we, the people, have not been properly represented. Starting today, we are negotiating directly. We do not claim that we’re speaking for all of Ireland, we don’t claim even to speak for all of Ballyhea or Charleville. But we do represent a growing number of people, in Ireland and across Europe, who are becoming aware of and are rejecting the injustice of what has been forced on us.

Time and again our government has said that it didn’t ask for debt write-down, that it is happy just to negotiate terms and conditions such that the burden on themselves for the next few years is eased and transferred to future generations. That is not our way.

      The €64.1bn we’ve put into our banks is made up approximately as follows: 

  • €30.6bn in Promissory Notes, of which €25bn is now held by our own Central Bank in the form of sovereign bonds. 
  • €21bn taken from our National Pension Reserve Fund. 
  • The balance (around €12.5bn) in borrowings from the ECB.

Based on the statement of last June, that the connection between bank debt and sovereign debt must be broken, based also on simple justice, as much as possible we would like to see that money returned to the Irish exchequer, the Promissory Notes especially odious. 

As an MEP, as Chair of ECON, you are in a position of unique influence. We’re asking you to please use that influence to put people back at the top of the agenda in Europe. Right from the outset of this crisis the ECB and the EU has had its focus on saving banks, on saving bondholders, on appeasing the markets, on facilitating the very people and the very institutions who have caused this crisis. ‘Too big to fail’ has been their catch-cry as bank after bank was bailed out; what of the people, are we not too big to fail?

To justify what’s been done a compliant media has demonised the people of Greece, categorised them as lazy, slothful and overpaid; they have demonised the Irish, categorised us as being an irresponsible race, even our own Taoiseach going to Europe and expounding the lie that ‘we all partied’. We did not.

The only way out of this mess for Europe is to stop bending before the will of the markets and to start practicing true democracy; governance where the good of the people overrides all. Under current policy, with the primacy of the ECB and its purely monetary outlook, nation by nation the people of Europe are being crushed, subjugated to the money markets. 

It is time for politicians to do their primary job and act on behalf of their constituents; it’s time for politicians to take back the power they have ceded to the bankers, power those bankers have used and abused for their own narrow gain, at the expense of the people.

Do this and the Irish people will soar, which can only be good for Europe; leave things as they are, not just here but across Europe, and there will be chaos. That is not what the EU is about. There’s a human face to all this, we’re here to represent it.

Finally, we would welcome an opportunity to put these points directly to the ECB.