The 250th march by the ‘Ballyhea Says No’ protest took place in the tiny village just south of Charleville, County Cork, last Sunday morning as anti-bailout and anti-austerity campaigners seek to escalate their campaign in advance of the upcoming general election in the 26 Counties.
A small group of determined people have marched every week since March 2011 in protest at the imposition of private bank debt on the Irish people.
During that period the grassroots protest evolved into a powerful political campaign which brought it to Europe to argue their case with senior EU officials.
In Ireland they have twice met and argued their case with Patrick Honahan, then head of the Irish Central Bank. The have met and argued Ireland’s cause for nearly two hours with senior ECB Troika representatives, the first and so far only group to ask directly for debt write-down.
They brought a Private Member’s Bill before the Dublin parliament, hosted several major public information/conference events and have been featured on several international newspaper/radio/ TV and documentary programmes.
This week, the founder of the protest, Diarmuid O’Flynn, said that ‘a watered-down result is emerging from the watered-down Banking Inquiry’. He said that one of the proposals is that the Dublin government should bring the European Central Bank to court on the tactics that were used to force Ireland to accept the entirety of the bank debt without any possibility of burden-sharing with those international speculators who had fuelled reckless lending by the collapsed banks.
“We agree with this proposal but we go further. The government should immediately challenge the ECB on the continued sale of the Promissory Note bonds, should press for their destruction and, additionally, should demand the recreation of the 5.5 billion euro already destroyed,” said Mr O’Flynn.
Last Sunday, 13th December was week 250 of the protest march. The group formed up as usual at 10.30am outside the parish church in Ballyhea for their short march. Afterwards they met in the nearby Charleville Park Hotel to discuss how far they’ve come and to plan where they are going next.
“Our marches are quiet, dignified, without chants or fanfare, non-threatening, non-violent, minimal disruption to traffic. They should not, however, be underestimated. We have an iron determination, an unbreakable will, and the weekly march - small as it may be - underpins everything we do. We will win this battle,” said Mr O’Flynn, who is fighting the general election as an independent candidate in the Cork North-West constituency.
Separately, a national day of protest has been announced by the Right 2 Water campaign for January 23.
The organisation says the campaign has not gone away and this will be one of a number of protests held in the lead-up to the election. The creation of a water tax was one of the conditions imposed by the ECB and the other ‘Troika’ members following the bailout of 2010.
“We promised when Right 2 Water emerged as a protest, as a campaign about a human right to water, that it would be the number one election issue,” said organiser Brendan Ogle.
Meanwhile, other protestors continue to feel the brunt of a state backlash against their campaigns.
Anti Austerity Alliance TD and prominent anti-water tax protestor Paul Murphy is one of 18 who have been told they must stand trial over a protest in Jobstown, Dublin last year.
Mr Murphy is accused of “false imprisonment” of Tanaiste Joan Burton after the Labour Party leader’s vehicle was blocked in by a protest in which Mr Murphy was taking part.
Speaking outside the Criminal Courts of Justice, he said: “We know this is serious. These charges are very serious. We could be looking at months or even years in prison.”
Murphy called the charges “ludicrous” and said one teenager will “have it hanging over him while he prepares for the Leaving Cert”.
“The judge mentioned a number of times that the maximum sentence is life in prison.
“Everyone involved will go away and study the books of evidence with our legal teams and prepare, certainly in my case, to plead not guilty.”