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25 May 2012 Edition

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It’s Frankfurt’s way or Ballyhea’s way

TALKING THE TALK AND WALKING THE WALK | THE TINY CORK TOWNLAND TRYING TO RALLY RESISTANCE TO EU AUSTERITY

‘I made phone-calls to family and friends in the Ballyhea area; 18 of us met on the Sunday morning at noon, and off we went. Every week since we’ve been marching’ – Diarmuid O’Flynn

EVERY SUNDAY for the past 14 months – every Sunday without fail – the people of the tiny Cork townland of Ballyhea have taken to the streets and marched to voice their opposition to the bail-out of bondholders with taxpayers’ money. And they’re on their way to Frankfurt.

TV crews and newspaper reporters have picked up their story from across the globe – from the USA to South Korea – to feature this doughty group of campaigners and their fierce opposition to  the policies of austerity.

The stand made in Ballyhea means that the town is a virtual no-go area for Government politicians out on the canvass. One of those who organises the campaign is DIARMUID O’FLYNN. An Phoblacht’s MARK MOLONEY talked to Diarmuid about the townland and the campaign that punches far above its weight.

Each week – rain, hail or the occasional shine – the residents of the tiny town of Ballyhea take to the streets. They step out on to the road to march the short distance down the main street with a banner that reads: “Ballyhea says NO to bondholder bail-out.” The protest takes little more than 10 minutes. But it’s not the time it takes or the number of people who take part that matters – that it happens, that they make their voice heard is what really matters.

“It all began on the first Sunday of March 2011,” Diarmuid tells me. “It was the first week after the general election.” Prior to this, Diarmuid had been busy emailing and phoning politicians, urging them to reject the Troika agreement in the run-up to the election.

“Like so many others, I voted for those parties and politicians – including Fine Gael and Labour – who had said they were going to fight that agreement, would ensure burden-sharing with the bondholders.” But even before Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny had formed a government, he made comments hinting that he wouldn’t burn the bondholders and would continue to force the burden of the speculators’ private gambling debts on the ordinary taxpayer. This was the spark that fired up Diarmuid to do something. “I made phone-calls to family and friends in the Ballyhea area; 18 of us met on the Sunday morning at noon, and off we went. Every week since we’ve been marching, with a few additional protests thrown in.”

The group grew quickly (some weeks it numbers more than a hundred), and now the residents of Ballyhea meet at 11.30am every Sunday morning for the march. In recent months the protest has merged with one in nearby Charleville and the weekly demonstration now alternates between the two locations. “It’s solely a people’s movement,” Diarmuid explains, “there’s no political paraphernalia tolerated.”

The demonstrators represent a good cross-section of Irish society – workers, employers, job-seekers, the elderly and the young – all people who are being forced to pay for the mistakes of gamblers, speculators and unsecured bondholders. As the protest makes its way through the town, passing motorists sound their horns while others lean out through the side-windows, giving the Ballyhea marchers a thumbs-up and shouts of support. Diarmuid says such displays are heartening but is dissapointed that so much of the support day-to-day is passive. “I get support when I bring it up in conversation – I bring it up a lot,” he laughs, “but so far people haven’t taken to streets en-masse.”

Television crews from France, Britain, Australia, South Korea and Germany have all descended on this little town in Cork that is putting it up to the Irish Government and the monolithic European Union. People in Ballyhea say this has been a bit of a surprise. While the town received brief coverage from a few media outlets in Ireland such as RTÉ, there has been more interest from foreign journalists. “Our protest is more or less ignored by our own media,” Diarmuid says.

While the group solely concentrates on the burden of bank debt, many members have been heavily involved as individuals in the campaigns against the Household Charge and water taxes. “It’s been great to see the number of people finally making the connection between the bank bail-out and the austerity measures,” says Diarmuid.

Diarmuid expresses his admiration for the hundreds of thousands of homeowners who are defying the threats from the Fine Gael/Labour Government and refusing to pay the unfair and unjust Household Charge.

Diarmuid says the current austreity policy simply isn’t working. “Far from it,” he says. “It’s exacerbating the crisis and the only beneficiaries have been the banks. In 2008, our national debt was less than €50billion, our National Pension Reserve Fund was at €20billion, our budget deficit was €13.1billion; now our National Debt is over €160billion and climbing fast towards €200billion, we have a mere €5billion left in our National Pension Reserve Fund, and our deficit has grown to €14billion.”

The people of Ballyhea say they want to see other communities across the state starting to take to the streets to show the Government how they really feel about the squandering of taxpayers’ money to pay off unsercured bondholders.

“March locally,” Diarmuid encourages people. “It’s just half an hour of your time every week. Spread the protest from parish to parish, from town to town, city to city, until the entire country is on the move.”

And the Ballyhea campaigners will be on the move in June, taking their message to the doorsteps of the European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund meeting in Frankfurt on June 6th – concidentally the anniversary of D-Day in the Second World War.

It will be interesting to see if the Ballyhea message will be allowed into the ECB/IMF post-summit press conference to give the alternative voice.

“Our message to the people of Ireland is ‘Stand up and Fight!’,” Diarmuid says defiantly.

“We’ll march until we see change, till the ECB stops the extortion and returns the money it has already forced from us.”

Ballyhea protest at Leinster House

Ballyhea protest at Leinster House

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An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
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