Weekly Comment:
Longevity Is Power for Small Irish Protest

The Ballyhea protest, which is marking it's 250th week this Sunday, seeks a better deal for Irish citizens and Irish debt. (Photo courtesy Diarmuid O'Flynn)

By Julia Brodsky, Editorial Assistant
December 11, 2015

A small Irish protest called Ballyhea Says No has been marching every Sunday for nearly 5 years straight, in opposition to what it sees as the bailout of the creditors over Ireland following the 2008 economic crisis. Sunday, December 13th marks their 250th consecutive march.

Back in January 2012, at the height of the worldwide Occupy protests, Diarmuid O’Flynn, organizer of anti-bailout protest group Ballyhea Says No told The Guardian that no matter how many showed up at their weekly protests, the group would continue to march.

“At this stage it’s not about how many – it’s about how long,” he said.

This Sunday, December 13th, long after the Occupy movements have dissipated, Ballyhea Says No will march for its 250th week.

Every Sunday since March 6th, 2011, the group has met after 11am Mass in Ballyhea, a small parish in north County Cork, and marched down the hamlet’s main street without fanfare and with minimal traffic disruption, just letting their “feet do the talking.” On that first Sunday, there were 14 marchers, and aside from two who emigrated to the United States and an elderly lady, they all still form the core group and are regularly joined by citizens from the nearby town of Charleville.

In a 2014 letter to the Irish Times, O’Flynn wrote, “Our campaign isn’t founded on the shifting sands of hope or optimism, foundations all too easily undermined; our campaign is founded on determination.” Unlike other anti-bailout protests, the group’s determination to march at least once a week regardless of rain, hail, snow, or low turnout has given them extreme staying power as they enter their fifth year.

Naturally, their actions have progressed beyond marching and have morphed into a self-funded campaign, including trips to the European Central Bank (E.C.B.)’s headquarters and meetings with the E.C.B.’s Troika representatives, in which they are the first and only group to ask for Ireland’s debt write-down. O’Flynn himself is standing as an Independence Alliance candidate for Cork North-West in the upcoming general election, and if elected, his first order of business will be to create a committee solely for negotiating Ireland’s bank debt.

When the world-wide financial crisis hit Europe in 2008 Ireland was in the front-line. In the absence of any ECB structures to deal with troubled banks, the then Irish government took the baffling decision to offer a blanket guarantee for two years to the six major Irish banks, as opposed to a limited guarantee to depositors.

Just after that guarantee expired, in November 2011 the Troika were established in Dublin. They didn’t come bearing gifts, they offered loans of €67.5 billion on which they were making a handsome profit (€22.5 billion each from the I.M.F. and two E.U. funds).

These loans didn’t even cover the full bank bailout cost of €69.7 billion and thus, argue the Ballyhea campaigners, what is presented as a bailout for Ireland was in fact a bailout of the creditors (many of them U.S. banks and financial institutions) of the troubled Irish banks.

“This is the biggest bank robbery in history,” O’Flynn told The Guardian. “The difference is it’s the banks robbing us.”

Though Ballyhea is a small rural parish, described in the Guardian article as “a smattering of small farms and a small housing estate, pulled together by a church, petrol pump and school,” the community’s tenacity and size have helped keep the protest organized and motivated. In what could almost be considered a mission statement, O’Flynn writes of Ballyhea’s legacy and duty to Ireland:

“Next year we celebrate the centenary of the 1916 Rising. Those men and women of that generation knowingly and willingly risked life, limb and their liberty to break free of the shackles of what was then the greatest empire ever seen; successive recent governments tamely surrendered that freedom to a new empire, the EU. Their legacy to future generations – our legacy if we don’t resist this – is debt-slavery to the EU, four decades paying tens of billions of what had been private bank-debt to the various EU institutions. Knowing all this, how can we not protest?

“Our parish is renowned as a hurling parish, renowned also as a club that punches above its weight. It is also very rural, a farming community and thus very familiar with hardship, with hard work, with perseverance. We know, we’re just a pebble in the shoe of the ECB, of the European Commission, of the European Council, but sooner or later, even the smallest pebble begins to have an effect, must be addressed.

“We will have justice for Ireland; sooner or later, the huge injustice being done to Ireland will be exposed, and that wrong will be righted.” ♦

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