Once upon a time in Ireland there was a family, a father and mother with kids from school-going age through college, to those in their first jobs.
It was a hard-working family, living within its means in a modest home in a modest area. Attached to their house they had a few modest outbuildings which they rented out for a little extra income.
Then came a boom time and father – working in the private sector – got a major pay-rise, while mother – in the public sector – benefited hugely from the benchmarking process. The two older kids – both in full-time employment – also benefited in their jobs, were now making good money.
Encouraged by all the experts they were reading and hearing from in the media, warned that if they didn't get on the property ladder sooner rather than later they would end up paying a bigger and bigger premium the longer they delayed, the kids each bought a new house, sooner and for far more money than they had ever intended.
Then came the bust.
Within months father lost his job, mother's pay packet diminished as a plethora of new taxes and levies hit home.
Adding to their woes they learned that one of their tenants was in major trouble with a big-time money-lender, being threatened with serious repercussions. An emergency meeting was held to try and sort the problem, during which the parents were duped into guaranteeing all the loans of the tenant, were told that it amounted to nothing, assured that the guarantee would never be called on.
Shortly afterwards the truth began to emerge. The debts were substantial, the results of massive failed gambles by others in the various property wheelings and dealings of the tenant. The loan sharks moved in, called in the loans and sent in their enforcers to ensure the money was collected.
Now under enormous stress to handle even their own growing problems, the parents protested, pointed out how they had been misled, stated that this was not their debt, that at a time of crushing hardship for themselves they were now being forced into paying the reckless and failed gambles of others.
No-one listened. The media turned a deaf ear, the local police a blind eye, the local authorities were themselves being looked after by the loan sharks.
The family began to fall apart. Several of the kids emigrated, some leaving behind a house mortgage they would never be able to repay; one of the kids sank into depression, eventually took his own life; those who stayed were left with less and less as the parents – despite their protestations – were strong-armed into diverting badly-needed funds to meet the payments on this new odious debt.
In time, everything now cut to the bone, things began to look up a little, a few hours of work here and there for the father.
And now the media was once again heard. ‘Sure what are ye complaining about, haven’t ye still got a roof over your heads, aren’t there fewer mouths to feed, isn’t there a few extra bob starting to come in – with new deals extending the terms and conditions, sharing the burden with the next few generations, hasn’t all that debt been made manageable for ye?’
The police were still turning a blind eye – “Nothing to see here, move along now and keep on moving!”
The authorities? Through it all they had maintained their own high standards – of living. High standards of governance? The same loan sharks who were strong-arming the people were bank-rolling the authorities, insulating them from the hardship they were imposing on their own people. There was no dissent there.
In the meantime however, one small but determined voice was making itself heard, joined eventually by several more. On March 6th 2011 the people of Ballyhea first took to the street to protest against the imposition of this odious debt on the Irish people. On Sunday March 2nd 2014 we mark our third anniversary of weekly protest, a protest that has now become a campaign. Our aim? First, highlight to the world what’s been done to Ireland, on the truly toxic Promissory Notes especially; then have that odious debt repudiated.
We will not be silenced. Join us please, March 2nd, Ballyhea, 10.30am.