Irish unions to hold bank debt protest

By Caroline Hammargren

 

This Saturday the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) hopes to assemble up to 100,000 people across the country to protest against the country’s 64 billion bank debt that was run up by private banks.

The debt has strained the Irish economy since 2010, when the government had to seek an emergency bailout from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.

(AP Photo/Peter Morrison)

Under the theme “Lift the Burden: Jobs Not Debt”, the ICTU and protesters across six Irish cities tomorrow plan to plead for a different solution.

“We are not prescriptive in what has to come out it. But what we have now is unsustainable. It is causing hardship, and it has to be amended or ameliorated significantly,” Macdara Doyle, spokesperson for the ICTU, told Equal Times.

“The idea that Ireland is an EU success story is nonsense. In a few years this will collapse. It is in the interest of Europe. One weak link in the chain will affect everybody.”

According to the ICTU, the debt does not belong to the Irish people.

“It is not our debt but was the cost of ‘saving’ the Irish banks, whose collapse brought down the whole economy. Our bank bailout prevented the collapse of the European banking system and probably saved the Euro. The whole EU benefited, but we are expected to foot the 64 billion EUR bill alone,” the protest webpage states.

The organisers consider the debt burden “unsustainable and unjust” and warn that it will cripple Ireland for generations to come.

Ireland, once known as the Celtic Tiger for its economic growth in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s,has now become one of the countries most affected by the financial crisis.

The public debt is the fourth highest among the EU 27 and it is the fastest growing according to recent figures from Eurostat.

Five years of austerity budgets have brought unemployment close to 15 per cent and forced hundreds of thousands of young people to emigrate, Financial Times recently reported.

English speaking countries such as UK, USA and Australia are the most popular destinations.

Apart from the experienced deadlock for job seekers at home, most Irish private sector firms have responded to the crisis by freezing salaries at pre-crisis levels. Some have cut basic pay levels.

Overall, the average worker’s wage has dropped 4.5 per cent since 2008.

The trend is falling in both private and public sector.

Not only trade unions are looking to relieve the Irish debt.

The Irish government is also trying to leverage on the spotlight of the Irish presidency to get a better deal.

The Fine Gael-Labour Party coalition was elected on promises to ease Ireland’s bank-related debts and is under pressure to act.

In line with the current plan, Ireland has to pay the ECB 3.1billion EUR every year the next decade and smaller amounts after that.

The deadline for the next payment is 31 March.

But before then, Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny hopes to renegotiate and extend the timeframe for payback to over 40 years.

The ICTU does not take a standpoint on the government’s proposal.

At least ten possible scenarios have been discussed, such as reducing the payment to a symbolic amount for hundreds of years.

Regarding protests, Congress General Secretary David Begg said, “We need to send a very clear message to Europe: without a serious and significant deal on our debt, there is no prospect whatsoever of a recovery in Ireland.”

Unless the debt is lifted, Begg thinks there is no chance at all for the country to get through the economic crisis.

 

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