The Ballyhea Bondholder Bailout Protest, now in its 40th week and joined with Charleville (their 25th week) is about one issue, and one issue only – the transference of private debt to the public purse. In one word, and very pure, very simple, it’s wrong.
On a fateful weekend in September 2008 Taoiseach Brian Cowen and Finance Minister Brian Lenihan were called to a crisis meeting with Ireland’s banking elite and fed with false/incomplete information (take your pick); they declared a blanket Bank Guarantee, three words that will haunt us for generations, three words that will define the history of this whole debacle.
The fear they were force-fed was that if drastic measures weren’t taken that weekend there would be a run on deposits in Irish banks when the doors opened the next morning, thus causing institutional collapse and financial chaos. Brian Lenihan could have guaranteed deposits only, should have guaranteed deposits only, but he was pushed/panicked into guaranteeing everything – deposits, liabilities, the whole kit and cabondle. He was also blinded; €5bn was the initial cost estimate, ‘the cheapest bank bailout in history’ his confident boast, but that, alas, proved false, a figure he based on the false numbers fed to him by those superbankers.
How false? It took a while for the true picture to emerge but when it did it was truly frightening. €5bn quickly became €20bn, €30bn, €40bn; at this stage, and taking the odious Anglo Promissory Notes into account, it’s gone over €70bn, and with another €55bn due to ‘mature’ in the next four years, we’re not done yet (directly – through more ‘injections’ – or indirectly – through penal interest and bank charges – we’ll be paying for those bonds). Add to that figure the interest costs – the interest lost on the €20+bn taken from the Pension Reserve Fund, the interest to be paid to the ECB on the money already borrowed and on the Promissory Notes – and the cost of those bank bonds to us, the people of this once-sovereign start, is set to climb to over €100bn.
As a State we were already in trouble. Criminally crazy decisions taken by the Fianna Fáil/Greens governing parties during the boom years saw public expenditure escalate to totally unsustainable levels, the opposition parties trying to outdo even that expenditure with promises of what THEY would do if they were in office – benchmarking, anyone? That expenditure was being financed by the take from the property bubble; easy money skimmed from house purchases (stamp duty), from all the construction (VAT, income tax), but when that well ran dry, well, we were in trouble, weren’t we?
Bank bond debt
But oh, now there is this bank bond debt, this odious bank bond debt, this immoral, unethical, unprecedented, unwarranted, rotten-to-the-core bank bond debt, a debt we – the people – were given no choice but to assume, a debt with which we now find ourselves saddled, a debt under which we are being slowly crushed. Growth? Dammit we can’t even stand up!
Here’s the scenario: You go into your local bank for a €100,000 short-term loan, the banker says ‘fine, but as a condition for that you MUST assume this €72,000 loan on which your neighbour has defaulted; don’t worry, I’ll stretch it out over time for you but of course I’ll have to charge extra interest for that little facility.’ I wouldn’t accept that, would you? But multiply that scenario by ONE BILLION, and that’s what our government have signed us up to.
From the outset the argument forwarded was that if we didn’t pay the bank bonds the ECB would pull their loans to our Central Bank, and what would happen to us then? That, my friends, is the smokescreen, the debate they want us to have, which is one remove from the debate we SHOULD be having: a) Is it right that failed bonds should nevertheless be redeemed in full? b) Is it right that the ECB should pervert the course of capitalism, as they’re doing in this instance? c) Is it right that the ECB should use its muscle to bully a smaller member state into accepting a debt that’s not its own? d) Is blackmail now an acceptable way to do business at national level? e) With even the IMF, the original bailout merchants, willing to insist on burden-sharing by the bondholders, is there any precedent for what the ECB have done to us? f) Is it right that the bottom-feeders of the secondary bond markets, the life-blood-sucking vampires, the dead-flesh-eating vultures, should gorge themselves on the billions of profits from these beaten bonds, even as old people in this country fear being moved from their nursing-home beds, even as families with young kids are being squeezed more and more, even as EVERY vulnerable sector is being hit with low blow after low blow? THIS should be our debate, not the smokescreen of what might happen if all these great wrongs aren’t allowed to go ahead.
They say cutback, we say fightback
Michael Noonan says he hopes our ‘best-in-class’ attitude will be rewarded, urges us all to think positively – hope isn’t enough in a situation like this. In the face of a tsunami you can hope, or you can run to higher ground; in time of crisis you think positively but you must also act positively. Did Munster recover from losing two Heineken Cup finals because they hoped, because they thought positively? No, they went on to win two because they had a long, hard, honest look at themselves then did what they had to do. They stood up, they fought overwhelming odds, they kept on punching ’til the final bell, an attitude since adopted by Leinster. We must do the same.
For many centuries we were treated as second-class citizens in our country by a foreign empire, our people laughed at, lampooned, belittled. But we’re a strong, vibrant, resilient people, with the intelligence not to take ourselves too seriously, with the wit to see humour in even the blackest situation. Those qualities sustained us through those centuries; they will serve us again as we work our way out of this, and we WILL recover.
But there is no humour in what’s happening to us here. We are being conquered again, by a new German-Franco empire, and when all comes to all the Germans and French will look after their own – we are not their own. We owe it to ourselves to fight this battle, we owe it to all those past generations who never gave up the fight, we owe it to those future generations who will otherwise have to pay the price of our inaction.
Every Sunday, at 11.30am, do what we’ve been doing in Ballyhea and Charleville now since the first Sunday in March, 2011; meet in your local parish/village/town centre and march. A short march, but a march; half-an-hour a week, that’s all, but let Leinster House know, let Frankfurt and Brussels and Strasbourg know, let Merkozy, the new two-headed monster of Europe know – no, no more pillage. Banks too big to fail? No: we, the people, are too big to fail, we the people of Ireland, of Greece, of Portugal, of Spain, of Italy, and yes, we the people of France and Germany. We are the 100%, and WE will decide.