Friday, 6 January 2012



 We all deal with the Global Financial Crisis in different ways, some suffered and continue to suffer more than others, but above all else, many of us simply feel helpless... this story is about the people of an Irish village, who have simply had enough...

The Irish village that said 'no' to austerity | World news | The Guardian

As the bus pulls up on the empty road to let me off, the driver smiles at me. "This is rush hour," he jokes. "This is the most exciting thing to happen here all day." If there is one thing people know about Ballyhea, it seems, it's that it is in the middle of nowhere and nothing much happens. The taxi driver who drove me to Cork warned me of its sleepiness, and the woman sitting next to me can't understand why I am here. But the reason is simple: Ballyhea may be quiet, but it's angry.
Residents have started marching in the hamlet – a smattering of farms and a small housing estate, pulled together by a church, petrol pump and school. The demonstration isn't long – starting from the church they walk along the main road, which connects Cork to Limerick, for a little over 10 minutes, turning back when they reach the speed-limit sign. Yet it has happened every Sunday, through rain and sun, with rising then dwindling numbers, for 43 weeks.
The march's organiser, Diarmuid O'Flynn, says he was inspired by the Arab spring, but it's hard to think of a place further from the heat and turmoil of the Middle East than the misty fields of County Cork. Which isn't to say the inhabitants' fury isn't real.
Dubbed the "Celtic tiger" in the 1990s, Ireland is struggling under savage austerity measures. The property boom, fuelled by banks' massive lending and foreign investment, collapsed spectacularly when the financial crises plunged the country into devastating recession in 2008. "Personal wealth has been destroyed, thousands of people are sinking into poverty, emigration has returned and unemployment is far too high," finance minister Michael Noonan admitted in December as he announced £1.4bn in tax and charge rises in a bid to drive down the country's debt from a shocking 10.1% of the country's GDP to 8.6% this year. Unemployment has risen to 14.4%, with those unable to find work leaving the country in droves; next year, the Economic and Social Research Institute predicts, 40,000 people will emigrate.
But the part that has got the blood of the mild Ballyhea marchers boiling is the bond-holder bailout. In 2008, fearing a run on the banks, the country's former finance minister Brian Lenihan agreed to give an unlimited guarantee covering most of the bonds issued by Irish banks. At the time, it seems, he was unaware how much this could cost. The IMF, on the other hand, believed the bondholders should be "burned" and made to pay for their own mistakes, but pressure from the European Central Bank ensured this guarantee was retained. Morgan Kelly, professor of economics at University College, Dublin, has said the true cost of the bank debt could amount to €100bn and warned: "Ireland is facing economic ruin."
Since O'Flynn, a sports reporter at the Irish Examiner, realised the scale of the problem, he has been posting on his blog the ominous amounts the banks must pay out as bonds mature – this month the total will be €3bn. "Where is the money going to come from?" he asks. "Our banks are bust. So it's going to come from us."
Yet while the motives may be close to the Occupy movement, whose anger has swept through the US, UK and now arrived in Ireland (Cork's Occupy camp proudly displays one of Ballyhea's two banners), that's where the comparison ends. While the Occupy camps have been criticised for being too unfocused, and characterised as anti-capitalist, Ballyhea's campaign is determinedly single issue and non partisan. "We are not trying to save the world," O'Flynn tells me. "And it is not about the left and right. It is about right and wrong."
Denis McNamara agrees. Aged 64, he had never been on a march. A farmer and businessman, from one of the parish's well known families, his concrete business felt the full effects when the the construction market collapsed. Yet it is not this that angers him. "I don't object to the fiscal adjustments in the economy; we can't spend more than we earn. What I do totally object to is repaying the bond-holders – who we had no responsibility for. We object to the government, without any consultation with the people, securing the money owed to those people [the bond-holders]."
McNamara agrees many people in the traditionally wealthy "Golden Vale" that Ballyhea sits in are "very conservative". The timing of the march is dictated by the end of mass and attendance numbers by the fixtures of the Gaelic Athletics Association; hurling, a traditional Gaelic ball and stick game, is hugely important in the area and gives the parishes their strong identity. Which is why there are no chants, whistles or drums on the protests. "We are a pretty dignified people," says O'Flynn, "so I thought, 'Have it dignified and quiet'; just the fact we are marching – just let our feet do the talking."

 For the full story, please read here...

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