Bank debt protest village hits above its weight

By Jennifer O'Leary
Dublin reporter


Locals admit that Ballyhea is hardly even a village.

A Catholic church stands on one side of its main road, a small petrol station on the other that also serves as a useful pit-stop for commuters between north County Cork and Limerick.

But the sleepiness of Ballyhea on a Sunday morning belies a simmering anger.

For a year now, locals have been taking a stand.

"Eighteen of us the first morning stepped onto the road below and off we went" explains Diarmuid O'Flynn.

"We felt slightly foolish at first, but we did it and the following Sunday we had a few more and within a few more, there were up to 60 people."

It is the small print of the Republic's bank guarantee that is causing those taking part to step off the footpath onto the road -the pledge to repay unguaranteed bondholder debt.

"There's a sculpture called Survival of the Fattest, where you have a big fat man on a skinny man's back," explains Diarmuid O'Flynn,.

"He's saying, 'I'll do everything I can to lighten your load, but I'm not getting off your back' and what we are saying is that until this bank debt burden is taken off our backs, we are going to be crushed."

The Ballyhea protesters believe that the international financial institutions who gambled on Ireland's failed banks should take a hit and not be rescued by the Republic's tax-payers as part of the European and IMF bailout.

In other words, 'burn the bond-holders'.

image captionThe original 18 protesters have now increased in number to about 60

"I don't think I have words to tell you how angry I am," says Fiona Fitzpatrick.

"I have three children and I want them to have a future in this country, if that's what they want, and right now the chance of having a future here is being stolen from them."

The protest march, from the church to the speed limit sign, takes little over 10 minutes and is quiet only in tone.

"Let us speak for our country, instead of the politicians," says Kathleen Quealey.

"I hate to say it but I have no faith in any one of them anymore and I wake up every morning with a knot in my stomach thinking these people represent me and my family.

"I'm tired of it, I'm frightened I really am."

On his second Ballyhea bondholder march is Declan Ganley, the man behind the 'No' campaign in the Irish referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.

"There's a real nobility of spirit in these people, it's an example for all of Ireland and for all of Europe," he said.

"People here understand the immorality of bailing out failed private bank debt that has nothing to do with the Irish people, it is not money that we borrowed and these people need support."

They are now a year on the road.

But the people of Ballyhea say they will continue to quietly register their anger in the Sundays to come.

"You feel braver because people are laughing at us, they've been mocking us from the day we started this," says Kathleen Quealey.

"We are here some Sundays as its freezing cold but we feel empowered, it allows us a voice and for that we will keep walking."