Saturday, 7 December 2013


Thomas ‘Tip’ O’Neill, former Speaker of the US House of Representatives, had a saying for which he gained some renown – ‘All politics is local’.

Nelson Mandela was a living reminder that in fact all politics is also global – such was his influence. We can all get caught up in our own local affairs but meanwhile, on another level, that which affects one affects all. Take, for example, the current austerity being imposed on Ireland.

We know of its effects - mass emigration, mass unemployment, rising depression and suicide rates, rising numbers caught in the poverty trap, cuts across the board in all the vital public services, gradual erosion of decades of gains in employment conditions, increased regressive stealth tax, privatisation of public assets – the list is endless. 

But this austerity isn’t confined to Ireland; in truth it’s not even confined to Europe, nor is it anything new. It’s the result of deliberate policy and planning, the effect of which sees more and more of the world’s riches and assets being concentrated in the hands of a few.

A few startling facts on global wealth distribution (if you could call it that), focusing on population and wealth:

Working from the cream to the crème-de-la-crème

  • 10% own 85%
  • 5% own 71%
  • 2% own 51%
  • 1% own 43%

Looking at the other end of the scale

  • 80% own 6%
  • 50% own 1%

On an individual basis

  • The richest 300 have the same wealth as the poorest 3bn (3,000,000,000, that’s more than the combined populations of India, China, USA and Brazil);

  • 200 years ago the countries of the so-called first world (Europe, North America, Australasia, Japan) were ‘only’ three times richer than the rest 
  • At the end of colonialism in the 1960s they were 35 times richer 
  • Today, they are 80 times richer.
The stream inward:
  • Those ‘rich’ countries ‘give’ €130bn in aid annually to our brothers and sisters in these poorer countries;
The flood outward:
  • Large corporations take over €900bn out of those countries annually (tax avoidance schemes called ‘Trade Mispricing’) 
  • Poor countries are paying €600bn in debt-servicing to rich countries (South Africa, ironically, caught up in that) on loans already paid off many times over 
  • Trade Rules drawn up and enforced by the first-world are estimated to cost these poorer countries over €500bn/annum;
Net flow:
  • That’s €130bn going in, over €2tn (€2,000,000,000,000) flowing out from poor nations to rich, every year.
You've heard of the ripple effect? That growing wave of debt in nations worldwide is resulting in a veritable tsunami of default. From a study by Ugo Panizza for the IMF in 2008, the following figures emerged.
Number of governments who have defaulted on any debts, including any kind of debt restructuring:
  • 1941-1970: 6 
  • 1971-2004: 129
Nelson Mandela died this week. He was 95, a long life but a life in which he lived every moment, cherished every minute, a life fulfilled. Most of those years Mandela gave to the fight against enslavement, the fight against injustice.

In his speech from the dock at the conclusion of his trial in 1964, before being sentenced to life in prison with hard labour, these were his concluding words: “I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

How we could do with a Nelson Mandela in Europe today, a Europe in which a new apartheid is being enforced, the separation of the Haves from the Have-Nots.

Mandela spent 26 years in prison, 18 of those in remote Robben Island. As part of the effort to suppress his cause the apartheid government of South Africa made it illegal to mention either his name or the name of his Party, the ANC. Didn’t work of course as first his own people, then people from around the world, took up the fight on his behalf.

He himself, meanwhile, had never given up the struggle. Even towards the end, after those years of deprivation, in negotiations with the all-white government he was offered his freedom in return for an unequivocal condemnation of the violent means being used at that stage by the ANC; he refused, telling his people “Only free men can negotiate; prisoners cannot enter into contracts. Your freedom and mine cannot be separated.”

We are now prisoners of Europe, debt-slaves for the next 40 years at least.

For 145 weeks in Ballyhea we’ve been marching in protest against the imposition of private bank-debt on the Irish people; that’s two years and nine months, a hell of a lot less than the 26 years Mandela spent in jail, a hell of a lot less personally demanding and by God a hell of a lot less dangerous. If he could persevere in the face of all those dangers and hazards, all that loss of liberty, we can surely persevere with our own particular crusade. 

The €69.7bn that we’ve ploughed into our banks is a very immediate contributory factor to this growing wealth imbalance, our enforced little offering to the coffers of the few, the Promissory Notes debt of €31bn the most glaring element of all. Lifting that debt burden, that is our goal.

In our campaign to date we have met our own problems with suppression of the truth, the latest example being the absolute absence of coverage from our national media of the two-evening debate of a Motion seeking bank-debt writeoff, put down by the Technical Group in the Dáil on behalf of the Says No groups from Ballyhea and elsewhere.

We saw first-hand the attitude of our government to any opposition to its policies, to even this simple request, the jeering, sneering frontmen sent out to speak on their behalf; we also saw the disdainful attitude of two prominent RTE journalists to those of us who were gathered outside the Dáil in support of the 36 TDs who were backing our Motion.

In the pursuance of our goal we don't need to quote the great and the good, the likes of Nobel-prize-winning ecomomists Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman who have castigated what's been done to Ireland – a just cause is its own validation. Still, a few words of encouragement never went astray and in the following few lines, Nelson Mandela could have been speaking directly to us:

“I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one's head pointed toward the sun, one's feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.” 

“Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.” 

“There is no passion to be found playing small - in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.” 

“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn't leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I'd still be in prison.” 

“I am the captain of my soul.” 

“It always seems impossible until it's done.” 

And my new favourite -
“After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.”

I say now to Enda Kenny, to Michael Noonan, to Eamon Gilmore, to Brendan Howlin, the big four who have taken power unto themselves in this country; all your flowery rhetoric does not - and will never - do honour to the memory of Nelson Mandela. He was a man of action; your current actions do his memory a great dishonour.

One of Mandela’s final causes was the ‘Make Poverty History’ campaign. The EU/ECB policy of enforcing austerity on the people while enriching the few, to which our government have shown unbending commitment, flies in the face of that campaign. Far from making poverty history, your policies will make poverty universal for all but yourselves and your fellow elite.

We call on you now to stop fighting your own people on behalf of the EU and the ECB in the cause of the bankers, the financiers, the elite few, and start fighting the EU/ECB in the cause of your own people.