Thursday 9 July 2015





JULY 1st 2015

The Ballyhea protest began on March 6th 2011 and has been maintained ever since with a weekly march that now alternates between the village of Ballyhea and the town of Charleville, every Sunday morning.

During those four years and four months of weekly marches the group morphed from simply protesting to actively campaigning, very quickly realising that neither our government nor our media were going to be of any assistance to us.

This was the group's fourth trip to Europe to meet with the various institutions but the first visit by invitation and the first also specifically to meet MEPs.

The invitation came from the GUE/NGL parliamentary group via Luke 'Ming' Flanagan MEP and involved making two presentations. The first of those was in the morning, to the regular meeting of the GUE/NGL Group; the second was at noon and was open to all other MEPs.

Fiona and Rob Fitzpatrick; Cathleen Quealey and Pat Moloney; Frances and Pat O'Brien; Trish and Derek O'Dwyer; Sadhbh O'Flynn; Ellen O'Regan; Phil Ryan; Darragh Ryan; Joan Collins TD; Peter Mathews TD; Dr Constantin Gurdgiev (economist).

First off it should be noted that even in the weeks leading up to our visit to Brussels, events in Greece were dominating  all else in the Parliament (understandably so) and in the GUE/NGL Group especially, of which Syriza is a member, with several high-profile MEPs. This then was always going to overshadow our presentation but so be it; our hearts are with the Greek people as much as our own, their struggle is our struggle and that was a point we would try to make.

We had 45 minutes to get our message across and so decided to focus on the most odious element of the bank-debt that has been forced on the Irish people, the Promissory Note bonds.

Luke introduced us to the gathered MEPs and/or their Parliamentary Assistants, and we were up and running.

I set the scene with a short Powerpoint presentation (Diarmuid O'Flynn by the way, penning this), which was split into three stages.

First, there was an introduction to who we are on the Ballyhea and Charleville campaign, those who had come to Brussels and those who would loved to have come but couldn’t.

Next came an outline of what we’re campaigning on, pointing out the symmetry in numbers between the total Troika loans to Ireland and the total bank bailout cost - €67.7bn and €69.7bn respectively – but more particularly, the symmetry in numbers between the bailout costs for three banks (Anglo mainly, but also INBS and Irish Permanent) and the entire tax take (income, corporate and capital) for the year 2010 - €30.85bn and €30.88bn respectively.
Neither pie very appetising - design Derek O'Dwyer

Finally, the big question – what was the point of making this presentation, where do we go from here?

Because it cannot initiate legislation but can only vote on legislation proposed by others (the Commission or the Council), the European Parliament has been described as the most expensive rubber stamp in history. Nevertheless MEPs do have influence and do have real clout.

In the first instance we asked that MEPs use every opportunity they can to include Ireland when they speak of countries affected by austerity and on this point, countering all the lies and spin about our phoenix-like 'recovery' from the ashes, we gave many current instances of real suffering and hardship in Ireland.

On a more practical level, we asked that they support a Written Declaration on the Promissory Note bonds that we will be preparing over the summer break. The reason for not doing so immediately is that once it's been initiated, you then have just three months to get the required 50% of MEP signatures if you want to bring this to Plenary. Getting it there will be a challenge anyway (there are hundreds of such Written Declarations doing the rounds of MEPs here, all desperately seeking a signature, many of which – despite their worthiness – fail to do so); losing a third of the time allowed before we even start doesn't make any sense.

Separately, we are also in the process of putting a Task Force together which will focus on ending the sale of the Promissory Note bonds, with the aim ultimately of either a) their total destruction of the bonds or b), holding them in the Central Bank until they all die a natural death. It would also be our aim to recover the billions already destroyed in that process, plus the €3.1bn from the 2011 Promissory Note.

Following this, and the couple of minutes that surely made the greatest impact on all those present, Ellen O'Regan read from one of the letters we've received over the years on the effects of the fallout from the economic crash, the bank bailout, the subsequent unequally applied austerity measures. The letter was on emigration or more specifically, the effect of emigration on one particular family, penned by the mother.

Finally, Peter Mathews, Joan Collins and Constantin Gurdgiev spoke in turn, with Peter (a Chartered Accountant and former banker) highlighting how rules were bent and twisted to foist the debt on the people, Joan outlining the history behind the case she has taken on the legitimacy of the Promissory Notes (she is still awaiting a Supreme Court date for a final ruling on that), and Constantin looking ahead, sketching suggestions on what can now be done to stop the sale of those Promissory Note bonds.

Because our own presentation had overrun there was no time for discussion, which was unfortunate. Nevertheless it was a positive meeting, elicited a very positive response.

Our second presentation took place at noon and didn't have the numbers we had at the morning meeting. Nessa Childers (S&D) was there, as was Marian Harkin (ALDE); unfortunately that was it from either of those Groups – disappointing but understandable, given all that was happening with Greece, given also that S&D especially were involved in trying to find compromise wording on ISDS on the TTIP submission to the parliament Plenary session on the following week in Strasbourg.

All four Fine Gael MEPs were there, Sean Kelly, Mairead McGuinness and Brian Hayes staying for the duration of the meeting, Deirdre Clune offering her apologies for not being able to remain for the presentation but offering to meet us at a later date.

Also present were three UKIP MEPs.

The introduction to who and what we're about on this occasion was much shorter, though Ellen's reading of the letter again brought the place to a standstill, a tear again in many an eye.

Constantin went into much greater detail on his proposal on stopping the sale of the Promissory Note bonds, including addressing any and all concerns the ECB, the Commission or the Council might foreseeably have.

With Luke in the chair, the discussion was then thrown open to the floor and first to speak was Brian Hayes. In the sense that he didn't point-blank shoot down what we're about, it was encouraging, and given that he was Junior Minister for Finance for a period in this government before being elected to the European Parliament, most of what he said was predictable, nothing that we haven't heard ten thousand times before, from our media especially.

It kicked off a lively debate in which Lynn Boylan (who had also spoken at the morning meeting) and myself both took issue with a few things Brian Hayes had said. 

Probably the most powerful intervention of all in this session however came from Peter Mathews, who didn't hold back in his assessment of how Fine Gael/Labour coalition has performed on the bank-debt issue, and on the Promissory Note bonds especially. There was a statement in there of how, biologically, men happen to be born with balls and a backbone but that in the case of this government, they have behaved like jellyfish. Doesn't read back as it sounded in Peter's very cultured south Dublin tone but believe me, it was all the more impactful for that!

Overall, and given the circumstances, we were satisfied with the visit, have come away with a lot of new contacts, new plans, very specific ideas.

There is a sad note though, a persistently disappointing note. Four years and four months now we've been fighting this battle, 228 weeks marching, every week. And a few staunch allies apart on the political, economic and media front, and in Ratoath and Dublin on the regular weekly protest-march front, we're still more or less on our own.

We have seen this week what might have been achieved if our government had done what they promised in the elections they would do, and stood up to the ECB and the others in the Troika.

We know now that in the IMF, when it came to burning bondholders we even had an ally within that Troika.


Tsipras and Varoufakis and his new government in Greece were in a much weaker position when they were elected five months ago than Kenny, Noonan, Gilmore, Burton and their new government – with its massive majority and massive mandate – was when they were elected in late Feb 2011; additionally, the Troika itself was in a much, much weaker position, as was the euro and eurozone.

Yet, judging that freedom, independence and dignity trumped the threats made by the Troika, Tsipras and Varoufakis choose to stand and fight for their people, while our government buckled, agreed to the debt slavery of generations.

Look, it's this simple:

  • In 2010, Anglo, INBS and Irish Permanent were already insolvent; 
  • The Promissory Notes were a workaround by all three of 1) the Irish Central Bank, 2) the then Irish government and 3) the ECB, of the ECB's own rule prohibiting use of ELA (Emergency Liquidity Assistance) for insolvent institutions; 
  • If the same thing were to happen today, a bank with solvency problems, there are structures in place at a European level to deal with it; 
  • It was the fault of the EU institutions, not Ireland's fault, that in the third year of the crisis there were still no such structures in place in 2010; 
  • Bailing out its creditors and saving those three banks – none of which was systemic in Ireland – was done to save the euro, the eurozone and even the EU itself; 
  • Halting the sale of the Promissory Note bonds would not impact negatively on anyone, anywhere, in the EU; those billions are already in circulation and forcing Ireland to borrow billions (which is what NTMA is doing, selling other bonds to buy out the Promissory Note bonds – have I lost ye yet???) to take those Promissory Note billions back out of circulation is simply a punitive exercise by the EU institutions at this stage; 
  • This can be done, easily and simply, and it would save future generations tens of billions in payments for debt that could hardly be more odious.

So why are we still so alone in this battle?