Article Published in the Irish Examiner, July 4th 2015.

GREECE is being told to follow Ireland’s crisis solution of harsh austerity and acceptance of bank-and-bailout debt. This narrative conveniently ignores that the Irish ‘recovery’ has been built on major human rights violations and the undermining of long-term social and economic development.

There is a dark side to Ireland’s ‘success’ that requires discussion about the most effective responses to financial and fiscal crises.

The eight austerity budgets between 2008 and 2014 involved €18.5bn in public-spending cuts and €12bn in tax-raising (revenue) measures. Key public services, in particular health and housing, have been weakened as a result.

Public service staff have been reduced by 10% (37,500). Health spending has been cut by 27% since 2008, resulting in an 81% increase in the number of patients waiting on trolleys and chairs in emergency departments. One-third of all children admitted to hospital suffering with mental-health difficulties have been put in adult wards and the waiting lists for youth mental-health services have increased to 2,818 people.

Funding for local authority housing was cut from €1.3bn, in 2007, to just €83m, in 2013. This meant a loss of 25,000 social-housing units. This is a major contribution to the homelessness crisis, with 1,000 children and 500 families now living in emergency accommodation in Dublin. Because of the decision to prioritise bank recapitalisation and developer debt write-down, homeowner mortgage arrears have escalated.

There are 37,000 homeowners in mortgage arrears of over 720 days, and legal repossession notices were issued to 50,000 homeowners.

The cuts to welfare have had devastating impacts.Affected areas include lone-parent supports, child benefit, youth payments, fuel, back-to-school clothing and footwear, rent supplement, and disability and carers’ allowance.

But charges were introduced where they did not exist before — putting a further burden on lower-income households. These charges are ‘regressive’, in that they were not tailored to income level. These include water, property, school transport, prescription, A&E and chemotherapy charges. Fees have effectively been reintroduced at third-level (increasing from €1,000 to €3,000). This will have major implications for participation rates from lower-income households.

Funding for local community development, youth organisations, drugs prevention, family support, and to combat rural and urban disadvantage was disproportionally hit. Programme funding was reduced by 50%.

We are likely to see the long-term social impacts of these cuts in the further exclusion from the labour force of youths in disadvantaged areas. Issues of drugs and crime will surely worsen.

An EU report on the impact of austerity showed that the quality of secondary- and primary-level education has also been reduced, with fewer teachers, rationalisation of teacher/student support services, and the abolition of school grants.

The report links early school-leaving to austerity measures, which are highly concentrated in low-income areas. This, along with the cuts in funding to third-level, will seriously damage our education system, the core of the country’s economic development.

Hundreds of thousands of families and children have been pushed into poverty. The child-poverty rate rose from 18%, in 2008, to 29.1%, in 2013.The deprivation rate increased from 26.9%, in 2012, to 30.5%, in 2013, while for lone-parent families it has risen to 63%. Food poverty affects 600,000 (up 13.2%). Austerity has also devastated rural areas and small towns, with unemployment levels remaining much higher in the south-east.

In one of the most disturbing pieces of research into the impact of austerity, UCC and the National Suicide Research Foundation found an increase in self-harm rates of 31% in men, and 22% in women, between 2008 and 2012, while the male suicide rate is 57% higher (that’s 500 additional deaths). They cited a number of factors, including reductions in public expenditure, cuts to welfare, substantial healthcare cuts, falling house prices and personal debt.

Capital expenditure on important public infrastructure, such as hospitals, schools, roads, transport, broadband, water and wastewater was drastically reduced, by 60%, between 2008 and 2014.
Such spending on infrastructure is the bedrock of sustainable and competitive economies, and the lost decade of investment in these will leave Ireland’s economy much more vulnerable into the future.
Don’t forget, also, €17bn of our national pension reserve — which was available to fund infrastructure development and future pensions — was put into the bailout.

The commitment by Irish governments to pay all the bank- and crisis-related debt will damage our long-term social and economic development, and result in ongoing crises in health, housing, and mental health, and in rising poverty and inequality. This is because funding that should be going to these much-needed public services will, instead, be going on debt interest payments. Debt interest payments rose from €2bn (3.4% of tax revenue), in 2007, to a staggering €7.5bn, or 18% of all tax revenue, in 2014. These interest payments will enforce a form of permanent austerity in the coming decade.
Then, there is the often-forgotten issue of forced emigration. Almost 10% of Irish young people emigrated during the recession and emigration worsened as austerity intensified. It rose from 20,000, in 2009, to 50,000, in 2013. Without emigration, the unemployment rate would be 20%.

Finally, almost half of Ireland’s dramatic increase in GDP is from multinational activity, which does not take place in Ireland.

Thus, much of Ireland’s growth is based on facilitating some of the most profitable global corporations and financial services in reducing the tax they otherwise would have to pay to countries across the world. This is an unethical, unfair, and ultimately unsustainable form of economic activity.

It is clear, as highlighted by a recent assessment by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, that austerity hit the most vulnerable and marginalised the hardest in Ireland. But there was, and remains, a choice about how countries such as Ireland and Greece, and the Troika, respond to debt and financial crises. Debt relief is an important option, as is taxing the wealthy, financial services or higher incomes, rather than taking it from public services, the poor and middle-income earners. The Troika and Irish governments favoured the latter and we can see the human misery and economic damage caused, as a result.

The Irish austerity-and-recovery model is being misrepresented on the international stage and should not be followed by Greece or other crises countries.

The Irish case actually points to the human and economic necessity of debt relief and alternative approaches to fiscal crises.

Rory Hearne


Previously published in the Irish Examiner

AUSTERITY, unemployment, and the recession have affected some groups in our society more than others.

A generation of Irish youth has been, and remains, disproportionally impacted.

Almost 10% of our young people emigrated during the recession. That equates to over 30,000 young people, aged between 15 and 24, leaving each year.

Emigration has steadily worsened the longer the crisis has dragged on. Just under 20,000 Irish emigrated in 2009. This rose to 30,000 in 2010 and then reached over 50,000 in 2013. Some have questioned if this is actually “forced” emigration.

The Higher Education Authority has emphasised that not everybody emigrating is doing so because they have to and, in fact, the increasing employment of graduates overseas shows that the higher education system is producing graduates who are in “high demand” internationally.

Michael Noonan, the finance minister, also captured the views of the so-called insider classes when he glibly remarked that many of those leaving have been doing so as a “lifestyle choice”. This attempted dismissal of “forced” or “economic” emigration downplays the impact of government policies such as austerity and the failure to provide decent employment opportunities here in Ireland.

Last year’s study by the department of geography in University College Cork showed the majority of emigrants were between 20 and 29 and the majority were emigrating in order to find a job. It also found that almost half (47%) were employed full time before leaving, 13% were working part-time, 23% were unemployed and 15% were students.

Almost 70% of emigrants had a third-level qualification such as valuable IT or health professional skills. Young people are, therefore, being forced to emigrate not just because of a lack of jobs in Ireland (the unemployment rate among those 15-24 is 30%) but also because of under-employment — low pay, insecure contracts, and poor career prospects. The public sector reduction in recruitment levels and pay for new entrants has added to the problem. At third level, for example, there is an increasing issue with the use of short-term and non-contract teaching staff.

For those young people who do not want to leave or cannot leave, austerity has hit them hard. The Fianna Fáil-led government in 2009 cut jobseeker’s payments for those aged 22-24 by €44 (to €144) and for those aged 18-21 by €88 (to €100).

The Fine Gael-Labour government reduced it further for 22-24 year olds to €100. Work incentive initiatives such as JobBridge have been criticised for exploiting young people and worsening the inaccurate narrative that youth are lazy and to blame for their own unemployment.

It has resulted in the displacement of employment opportunities. Public and private-sector employers are using the JobBridge and internship schemes to replace what used to be fully paid entry-level positions. Thus the jobs market for young workers increasingly resembles that of the United States, where working for free or for little pay as an intern is becoming an essential part of a modern curriculum vitae.

Furthermore, almost 20% of 15-25 year olds are NEETs (not in education, employment or training). Ireland has the fourth highest NEET population in the EU. Many of the integral supports to such young people have also been radically cut, such as community and youth workers in disadvantaged areas.
Their possibility of attending third level has been further reduced by rising fees and reductions in the availability and amount of the student grant.

All this shows the way in which the insiders in Irish society, ie the “older” generation and existing “order” — those in power, in senior positions in civil service, business, and civil society organisations have protected themselves at the expense of our youth. It is not an exaggeration to say they have imprisoned and sacrificed a generation of young people with the costs of austerity and the banking crisis.

Young people are an easy target They traditionally do not vote. They don’t have a voice in the media. Most commentators are closer to 60 than 20. They have been outsiders in a system that sought to protect its privileges at the expense of those more vulnerable and the young and future generations. They are the victims of an acceptance of emigration as a “natural” phenomenon.

It is sad to see how recent developments are being warped into a celebration of the international ‘competitiveness’ of our graduates. But our education system just turns young people into commodities. They are taught at secondary and third level to study as an individual, in its narrowest sense. To focus on getting the highest mark and making themselves marketable and employable as their primary aim.
They are rarely taught to be critical thinkers, aware of the challenges faced by their surrounding society, nor are they inculcated with a passion or idealism of commitment to better their country. And so they pursue the strategy they are taught. They leave. We export them to a country that wants to purchase their commodified skills.

But they are not products. They are our children, they live in our communities. Their leaving represents our collective destruction as a nation and the slow rotting of our communities. Of course it suits the political system that potential critical and radical youthful voices leave. Throughout Irish history emigration has provided a very useful political safety valve. Figures suggest that without it the unemployment rate would be around 20%. It removes the problem of angry young people who might demand alternatives.

Just look at the streets of Spain and Greece — young people dominate the protests. A new youth campaign, called We’re Not Leaving, has been campaigning against what they have termed the “social catastrophe of forced emigration”. They explain that the crisis has had a detrimental impact on the mental health of our young people.

The cut to guidance counsellors at secondary level hasn’t helped in this regard and neither has the on-going underfunding of mental health services.

The legacy of this crisis in creating a lost generation of youth is already profound and its implications are likely to be devastating for decades to come.

Rory Hearne


A shorter version of this article appeared today on the

On Wednesday 27th of November the Ballyhea Says No movement achieved an incredible step along the journey to rid the Irish people of the odious bank debt imposed since 2008. Their motion was put to the Dail calling on the Irish government to ask the ECB to have the Anglo bonds written off. Outside the Dail, last Wednesday night I, along with hundreds of other protestors from across the country, watched the Government TDs vote against that motion. But it is clear that this is far from the end of the campaign against one of the biggest injustices in the European crisis. I have been deeply moved and inspired by the way in which they have marched, every single week, in their small rural town in Co. Cork, since March 2011, in such a determined and dignified manner. Unfortunately, due to a form of media censorship, too few people have heard of the Ballyhea debt group. Even worse, many people have been convinced by government and media mistruths that the Anglo Promissory Notes were done away with in a ‘deal’ in February this year. This article is an attempt to contribute to the spreading of the Ballyhea campaign and provides some thoughts on how we can move forward together to end Ireland’s debt slavery and achieve an Ireland of equality and solidarity.

They were just a small group of residents who got together in the rural town of Ballyhea in Co Cork, in March 2011, and began a weekly march declaring, “Ballyhea says No! to bond-holder bailout” against the imposition of private bank-debt on the Irish people. They started after the newly elected Fine Gael-Labour government reneged on one of their most fundamental election promises, that there would be burden-sharing with the bank bondholders. The key organiser, Diarmuid O’Flynn, a local sports journalist, explained that he was inspired by the Arab Spring “to fight to have returned to us, by the ECB, the money they have forced us to pay out in pursuance of their failed policy…which has resulted in mass unemployment, emigration, misery for the Irish people…Until such time as that has happened…we will continue to march, every Sunday.” The group has brought their campaign to the national and European scale, submitting a petition for bank-debt write-off to the European Parliament Petitions Committee.

Significantly, the Ballyhea Says No! group encouraged other communities to march as well. There are now groups of people marching in Tralee, Killarney, Charleville, Listowel, Rathoath, Clonmel, and elsewhere. While in Dublin, the Anglo Not Our Debt campaign has organised protests in solidarity. A marcher from one of the groups explained to me on the protest on Wednesday night, how he had never been interested in politics before but was so angered by the bank bailouts and austerity that he felt he had to something. He has marched every single week and describes how it has changed him: “I have been reading up on economics and politics and trying to understand what is happening to us. All the political parties are the same. They don’t represent the people. We have been sold out. I was at one of the marches and one of the people said to me to say a few words. I had never spoken before in public and I said a few words about why I was there. Then I went off and read more and spoke again the next time about the debt and austerity. We are tired but we are going to keep on going.” Some also spoke of how they had linked up with anti-eviction protests. They feel completely alienated, abandoned and disillusioned with the government political parties, the state and its institutions.

The interesting thing is that these are the so-called ‘ordinary’ people of Ireland. They are not seasoned left wing activists and have not been involved in politics before. They are the voiceless people of Ireland. The excluded and ignored. Many of them are working full time and trying to do this in their spare time. Others are unemployed and doing it out of frustration and anger. They are doing it because they care about their family, their friends, their community and the people of this country. It is this that gives them their legitimacy, their power and potential.

It is worth reiterating that the Irish people have paid 42% of the cost of the bailing out the entire European banking system. The bailout of the private banking sector has cost us €64bn. We also gave €17bn of our National Pension Reserve and cash reserves to our own bailout by the Troika! The impact of this bailout, the debt interest repayments and austerity policies can be seen in rising poverty in Ireland with the deprivation rate rising from 11% in 2007 to 25% in 2011. Unemployment has risen from 5% in 2007 to 13% in 2013, while Ireland has gone from having the highest net immigration rate in 2006 to having the highest net emigration rate in 2013.

These are the reasons that have motivated the Ballyhea group. Their persistent work resulted in a significant achievement of getting the Technical group in the Dail to put forward the motion last Wednesday night which called on the Government to

“immediately lobby the European Central Bank for a one-off exemption from the rules of monetary financing, to allow the Central Bank of Ireland to destroy the €25 billion in sovereign bonds issued in February of this year, in lieu of the remaining Promissory Notes, plus the €3.06 billion bond also being held by the Central Bank of Ireland in payment for the 2012 Promissory Note; and
— to cease any and all interest payments currently being made on those bonds.”

The Ballyhea, Anglo Not Our Debt and the other Says No! groups, through this motion, and their ongoing work, have shattered the myth that Ireland achieved debt forgiveness on the Anglo promissory notes in February this year. The reality is that one of the biggest injustices of this crisis, the forcing of private banking debt onto the backs of the Irish people, was continued in that so-called ‘deal’. The Anglo Promissory notes were converted into sovereign (Government) debt, of which every cent of the €28 billion is due to be paid back by the Irish people, with interest, through the issuing of government bonds in the coming years.

The acceptance by the establishment organisations like the Labour Party and some of the larger trade unions that we should prioritise the requirements of the financial institutions in Ireland and Europe over society’s needs, and implement savage austerity and debt repayment policies, was made clear in their attitude to this campaign. Unfortunately, Unite were the only trade union present at the protest on Wednesday. It is a sad reflection of the Irish trade union movement that they have not given more support to this campaign. It casts a shadow of tragedy and farce over the commemorations of the 1913 Lockout.

Derek Nolan, a young Labour Party TD spoke in the Dail debate, where he showed a dismissive attitude toward the Ballyhea campaign stating: “I have lost count of the number of times slogans and empty rhetoric have been bombasted as the quick-fix solutions to all our country’s very real ills. Populist, easy to chant slogans included “Austerity isn’t working”, “Default, default, default”, “Bailout the worker” and so on. Those slogans are devoid of meaning and are not grounded in economics, finance or political reality.”

So the Government believes it is unrealistic to expect debt forgivenes or debt write-downs from the European Central Bank but it is realistic to expect the Irish people to accept the destruction of social and economic recovery, push thousands more people into poverty, destroy jobs, force emigration and fuel mortgage distress in order to pay back this illegitimate debt? It is economically ridiculous to think that Ireland’s debt is sustainable. It is morally wrong and unjust that this odious debt is expected to be repaid.

The continued imposition of this debt also makes a nonsense of the ‘celebrations’ of Ireland’s bailout exit. It will trap us in austerity for decades. It is an enforced debt slavery for us and our children.

The United Left TD, Clare Daly’s statement to the Dail on the debate is worth restating as it captures many of the issues that Ballyhea are raising:

“In a Chamber (i.e. the Dail) noted for its brass necks, tonight’s performance almost beat all. To have to listen to Deputy Spring (Aurthur Spring, Labour TD), who is a former Anglo Irish Bank employee and who contested an election on a programme of Labour’s way or Frankfurt’s way, ridicule this motion takes some beating. This individual bragged about the Greek economy being on its knees and somehow thought that was something to crow about to his friends in PASOK but I can tell him there is nobody in Ireland who takes comfort from the situation in the Greek economy. We stand in solidarity with the ordinary people of Europe, whether in Greece or in Iceland, when they stand up and say “enough”……Last night, the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy O’Dowd, when speaking against the motion said we follow through on our commitments and that this is the message we want to deliver to the international community. What commitments and to whom? What message do we want to deliver to the international community? Is it that it can hit us with whatever it likes and we will bend even lower and take it? That is not a message I want to deliver. That is not our commitment nor is it that of the people of Ballyhay, the student nurses, the 100,000 young people who are now in Australia, the 400,000 people who are still out of work, the secondary school teachers, the children with special needs, the survivors symphysiotomy and all of the other people who have been shafted by this debt deal. It is not a message people want to deliver”.

It appears that the current Irish government have not pushed for any debt write down for Ireland. Just like many wealthy nationalists did the bidding of the British empire when Ireland was colonised before, so now their contemporaries in the Dail are bending over backwards to show that they are the good obedient children (or perhaps more accurately, colonial whipping boys and girls) of our new imperial powers, Germany, France, the European Central Bank etc. The Government TDs continue to act as if the European Central Bank has been a friend of Ireland. Let us not forget it was the ECB that refused us permission to burn the bondholders in 2010 which forced us into the bailout. It is the ECB who continue to impose on us unsustainable debt levels which, no doubt, the markets will begin speculating on again in the future and we will see our bond yields rise again and be forced out of the markets and into another bailout. The ECB are clearly not an ‘independent’ institution but a tool of the big European powers. They want us to pay back our debt, not because of some principle of debt repayment, but because it is going to French and German banks.

It was highlighted again and again by speakers at the protest that it is no accident that the politicians are not standing up to the ECB. They, and the wealthy and highly paid classes in Ireland, are doing just fine, and have no idea of the impact of this crisis. They have their well-paid, secure, jobs and do not want large scale protests or alternative politics or approaches that could jeopardise that cosy consensus.

The Ballyhea campaign also raises the question of what is the end game, the purpose, of all this austerity and debt repayments? Our economy is unsustainable and inequitable, dominated by an over-reliance on foreign multinationals who are here because it is one of the most profitable countries in Europe. A majority of people are affected by low wages, insecure employment, poverty, unemployment, and various forms of exclusion as a result of discrimination on class, gender, or disability. Austerity has hit the poorest the hardest. The European Central Bank, private markets and bondholders are insisting we live in penury and debt slavery for decades to come. Despite the demands for reform from the Irish public in the 2011 general election the political and state institutions remain as before the crisis began. We have been failed over and over by our political and state institutions and our model of economic development.

Our youth are emigrating, giving up on this country, turning to drugs and suicide. Notably, there wasn’t many young people on the protest. Emigration is clearly a useful political pressure valve for the elite. Then there is our health system which is becoming an apartheid system where access depends on ability to pay. We are not ‘turning a corner’ we are becoming a social wasteland.

The impact of Celtic Tiger neoliberalism has, as John Bissett, the community worker and organiser of the Spectacle of Defiance and Hope, has accurately described, turned us into individuals trying to fight each other to survive, rather than collectively responding as a community. As we ‘exit’ the bailout and enter a supposed ‘recovery’ the key question is what sort of society and economy are we now aiming to develop? It appears that it is business as usual for the elite who want the Irish people to suck it up and have austerity for decades in order to get us back to the days of unsustainable and inequitable Celtic Tiger growth.

The danger we face as a nation is the return of our dark history of division, silence, and acceptance of oppression. In more recent years the process of social partnership has resulted in civil society becoming part of the establishment, no longer challenging the system and offering radical alternatives.

But there is hope in what is going on at present and the action of the past provides some inspiration to keep us going.

Irish civil society has a long history of struggle from the land league, to trade union struggle, to the tax marches of the 1980s, the civil rights movement, stopping nuclear energy, the massive anti-war marches, co-operatives and community work. In particular, it seems strange and tragic timing that we are only a few years away from the 100th anniversary of the 1916 rising. Connolly, Pearse and other leaders read the proclamation of the Irish Republic at the steps of the GPO in Easter 1916 declaring an Irish Republic which read: “We declare the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland, and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies, to be sovereign and indefeasible…The republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all the children of the nation equally…”. Despite their small numbers they challenged one of the largest empires in the world at that time.

We are constantly being told that the system would collapse if we didn’t pay back our debt, or if we left the Euro, or if we left some banks go bust, or if we taxed multinationals properly. But the truth is our society is collapsing. Isn’t it time to ask why we are destroying ourselves to save a system that has failed us and offers only further suffering into the future? Wouldn’t it be better to get rid of this system and rebuild it again in the interests of ordinary people, in the interests of the planet and based on the values of equality, environmental sustainability, participation, accountability and solidarity which were identified by the Claiming Our Future assembly of 1000 people in the RDS in 2010?

People claim that the Irish haven’t protested and that we are conservative and apathetic. Yet the ordinary people of Ireland have resisted the crisis, from the Ballyhea Bondholder protests, to local hospital campaigns, the hundreds of thousands who have marched against austerity and the majority who refused to pay the household charge.  We also have retained a strong sense of community, social justice, alternative value systems and our experience of colonialism provides an understanding and memory of oppression and resistance. But we have not done what the Icelandic or Cypriot or Greek people have done in mobilizing opposition in ways that forced the system to stop, even momentarily, and make the government and elite change direction.

We have the power to do it. We just need to figure out what will work for us. There will be moments in the coming months and years where the anger that has been internalised by the Irish people into passivity, depression, suicide, and emigration will erupt when the naked injustice of what has happened to us is revealed.

At those times we should be organised to maximise the potential resistance. Such moments include the local elections, the issuing of the first Anglo bonds next year, worker’s strikes, the local elections, water charges, the General election of 2016, the commemorations of 2016 itself. It was great to see the encouragement of the local campaigns to stand as independent election candidates in the local elections by Luke Ming Flanagan TD at the protest on Wednesday. It would be great to see dozens of councillors elected on an anti-debt and anti-austerity basis. The establishment parties cannot be relied upon to bring forward these issues. Another idea would be to try get a co-ordinated day of action before the first Anglo bonds are issued next year. Public buildings could be occupied for the week running up to it like the Spanish Indignados and Greek movements of the squares.

It is time for new approaches in Ireland. It is time for the Irish people to break the silence and rise up to demand the implementation of the values of the 1916 proclamation. We are not alone. We have friends in every community, town and city in Ireland. But we need to come together and realise our strength. To do this we need to unite the various campaigns and movements from Ballyhea, We’re Not Leaving, to the property tax to workers on strike in a broad campaign for a Ireland of equality, social justice, communities and solidarity.

It is important also that we develop our key demands and vision for what type of Ireland we want to see. People will demand that if we want them to take action.  We could start with the Ballyhea demands on ending our debt slavery and add to that the creation of real jobs, for equality, for affordable and social housing, for a quality public health system and for the reversal of cuts to communities, disabilities, and carers. Others I am sure will have other ideas to add. But it’s a start. It is clear that a radical transformation of our political system, economy and society is required if we are to achieve the values of the original Republic. Remember: we are the majority, they are the minority.

As Jim Larkin is quoted as saying “The great appear great because we are on our Knees: Let us Rise.”

Rory Hearne

Published today in The

THE CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin’s recent appeal for food for the large numbers of children and students going hungry in Dublin highlights the scale of suffering and human rights abuses that have resulted from the imposition of austerity. It is a good time to look at what austerity has done, who it has affected most, and what those who stand up against human rights violations are doing to stop it.

The burden of austerity has been on the lower-income and the most vulnerable groups in Irish society; there have been regressive taxes and cuts including a property tax and savage reductions in social welfare for the most vulnerable.

These include cuts for under-25 year olds, cuts to fuel allowances, child benefit, back to school clothing and footwear, home help hours for the elderly and sick, reduced disability allowance and carers’ allowance, reduced allowances for the elderly, cuts to lone parents’ support, increased health charges, and third level student fees rising from €500 to €3,000. The most at-risk group of poverty in Ireland, lone parents, lost the highest percentage of income in Budget 2011.

Cuts hitting our most disadvantaged communities

Two particular examples of the cuts hitting our most disadvantaged communities are the reduction in the regeneration plans for social housing estates and the cuts to the community development projects that work with disadvantaged communities. There has been a destruction of the social infrastructure of the Irish welfare state as the amount of public service workers delivering public services has been reduced by 37,500 over the period of austerity, from 320,000 to 282,500.

The level of social devastation is shown by the fact that over 1.5 million people have €50 or less left over at the end of the month after their essential bills have been paid; there are 100,000 households in need of social housing; the deprivation rate is 22.5 per cent (an increase of 5.5 per cent in one year); and there are 730,000 living in poverty with 1 in 5 children in poverty. On top of this you have the huge family and community affects of 90,000 emigrating in 2012, as well as 97,874 homes in mortgage arrears.

Austerity has clearly exacerbated inequality. The Central Statistics Office showed that the gap between the richest and poorest in Ireland increased by 25 per cent in 2010. The top 20 per cent of the population’s average income is five times the income of those on the lowest 20 per cent, and yet the top 10 per cent of households only pay an effective average tax rate of 25.6 per cent. Similarly many corporations are only playing an effective tax rate of 4 to 6 per cent.

Austerity is a political choice

But austerity was, and is, a political choice made by the government, state, and financial elite. There were, and remain, alternatives to austerity including getting a fair contribution of tax from those on higher incomes and multinational corporations, as well as using the billions in national cash reserves to implement a jobs creation programme.

The evidence of austerity in Ireland backs up the findings in Oxfam’s recent report, A Cautionary Tale; The True Cost of Austerity and Inequality in Europe. It stated that, “Europe’s handling of the economic crisis threatens to roll-back decades of social rights… and… if left unchecked, austerity policies could put between 15 and 25 million more Europeans at risk of poverty by 2025 – nearing the population of the Netherlands and Austria combined. This would bring the number of people at risk of poverty in Europe up to 146 million, over a quarter of the population.”

Austerity in Ireland has clearly breached a number of human rights treaties that the Irish government has signed up to. For example, the Council of Europe Revised European Social Charter (RESC) at Article 30 states that: “With a view to ensuring the effective exercise of the right to protection against poverty and social exclusion, the Parties undertake… to take measures within the framework of an overall and co-ordinated approach to promote the effective access of persons who live or risk living in a situation of social exclusion or poverty, as well as their families, to, in particular, employment, housing, training, education, culture and social and medical assistance.” And Article E states: “The enjoyment of the rights set forth in this Charter shall be secured without discrimination”.

Yet there have been disproportionate cuts to supports for the most vulnerable in our society such as those with a disability, the elderly, and children.

The European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights which applies to the EU’s institutions and member states when implementing EU laws has been completely disregarded in the European Central Bank policy of enforcing debt slavery on peripheral countries like Ireland, as it did not allow governments to ‘burn’ bondholders but insisted the state and its people pay for the losses of the private banks.

Furthermore, the bailout programme fundamentally breaches human rights in the way in which it has forced the cost of adjustment on to the Irish people rather than financial institutions. While the Irish and European banks and international bondholders were bailed-out to the staggering amount of €64bn, the Irish people have had eight austerity budgets since 2008 that have cumulatively involved over €30 billion in public spending cuts and tax increases.

Human rights infrastructure is in tatters

But none of these human rights treaties have stopped austerity. Furthermore, the government, state and political system, have been allowed to use the crisis as an opportunity to dismantle the human rights infrastructure and organisations that critically highlighted inequality during the ‘Celtic Tiger’ such as the Combat Poverty Agency, the Equality Authority, and the Irish Human Rights Commission.

Austerity has thus left the human rights infrastructure in tatters and huge questions remain over its relevance. The social partnership, polite-lobbying, ‘defend your patch’ approach of many of the organisations tasked with defending human rights such as NGOs, charities and trade unions has resulted in civil society becoming part of the establishment, failing to resist austerity in any meaningful way and abandoning the principles of social justice and solidarity.

The most significant human rights opposition has come from grassroots movements and organisations including the anti-household charges campaign, local hospital action groups, Shell to Sea, the Ballyhea debt campaign, the We’re Not Leaving youth movement, and the Dolphin House Human Rights campaign. These use the methods and approaches of the civil rights movements and original human rights struggles which follow self-liberation and people power, empowering rights holders to take political action themselves.

Austerity is far from over as we face years of debt slavery and recession. It’s time for human rights to be observes – for, just like Martin Luther King Jr said:

“Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom… Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”

Rory Hearne


Why have the Irish not protested the crisis and austerity in Ireland?

People are debating why the Irish have not been more like the Greeks and Spanish protesting against unemployment, the bank bailouts, austerity Budgets and cuts to public services? This article delves into that subject and offers some suggestions as to why this is the case and some indications for progressive social movements in Ireland. Firstly, it provides a short overview of the history of protest in Ireland and how this, along with successful state strategies of control, and the decisions of key political forces of opposition have stopped us from protesting the biggest economic collapse in the history of our state. This article is based on my practical experience and academic research into the politics of protest*.

Austerity Kills

History of Protest in Ireland

Protest and opposition has had varying aims and forms and involved a range of groups and classes in Ireland. This has included the poor, working class, the Catholic Church, middle classes, tenant farmers, factory workers, women, teachers etc. Here is a snap shot of some of most well-known protests in the last three centuries of our history.

1840-1880s: Daniel O Connell and the struggle for catholic emancipation which involved ‘monster meetings’, where it is reported between 100,000 and one million people attended one such meeting on the hill of Tara.  There was also the Fenians, the Young Irelanders and the Land League in this period. The Land League fought for the right of tenant farmers to own their own land and organised resistance to evictions, withheld rent, and held monster meetings of tenant farmers with 15,000 to 20,000 reported to have attended some.

1890s-1920s: There were campaigns/movements/armed insurgency for Independence and alternative structures set up parallel to the colonial state administration including the Gaelic League and community co-operatives. Alongside and within these independence struggles was action by the working class for social rights, against exploitation for a fair distribution of wealth. Through trade unions and the Labour Party workers organised the 1913 Lock Out, a General Strike in 1918 against conscription, workers councils (soviets) in Limerick and Belfast in 1919, and a General Strike in 1920. Many were motivated by Connolly’s argument that an independent republic of Ireland would be worthless unless it was built on freedom from exploitation – a socialist republic.

1930s to 50s: The newly independent state was controlled by conservative middle class nationalists and the Catholic Church.

1960s & 1970s: Emergence of civil rights movements; particularly the ‘Free’ Derry (‘Battle of the Bogside’) in relation to housing discrimination against Catholics in 1968, there was the 1971 ‘contraception’ train involving former President, Mary Robinson, and others, then in 1978 over 20,000 people marched against the destruction of Viking Dublin Wood Quay and city council tenant held a series of rent strikes.

Early 1980s: The Dublin Council of Trade Unions organised the massive tax marches and general strikes with150,000 marching in Dublin in 1979. In 1980 350,000 attended in the probably the largest demonstration in the history of the state. There were also the Hunger strike marches in Dublin in 1981 and protests at the British embassy. In 1984 10,000 protested at the visit of US president Ronald Reagan protests. Between 1978 and 1981 anti-nuclear protests and festivals were held at Carnsore Point in Wexford. While in 1984 and 1985 the Dunnes stores worker’s held the anti-apartheid strikes and protest.

Then in 1987 the trade unions entered social partnership agreements with the Government led by Charles Haughey. The unions agreed to ‘industrial peace’ and wage restraint in order to achieve economic development in Ireland and to try avoiding an Irish ‘Thatcherism’ attack on the trade unions.

1990s: There were the on-going Dublin inner city drugs and poverty marches, the anti-water charges campaign from 1994 to 1996 and the X case abortion protests.

2001-2003 There was a significant working class protest against the inequality of the Celtic Tiger through resistance to the imposition of bin charges but social partnership dominated at a national level.

2003: Anti- Iraq war march with 150,000 in Dublin

2004: Anti -globalisation EU summit protests in Dublin & May Day protests with 5000 people attending

2005-present day: Corrib gas, ‘Shell to Sea’ community campaign and protests. The Jailing of the Rossport 5 led to thousands marching in Dublin. Also protests by Ringsend community against a proposed incinerator and similar in Cork.

2005: December. 100,000 people took part in protests and strikes across the country in support of Irish Ferries workers and against outsourcing and exploitation of workers.

2008: First austerity protests: Senior citizens protested against the withdrawal of the medical card

2009: In February 100,000 people protested at the Irish Congress of Trade Unions ‘There is a Fairer Way’ protests. A public sector General Strike was held in November and Community, youth and drug projects held a massive 12,000 demonstration in September.

2010: November 40,000 students march and 100,000 attend ICTU protest.

2011: Election of Fine Gael/Labour government. Ballyhea ‘anti-anglo debt’ protests start, Occupy Dame Street commences, Vita Cortex workers organise their ‘sit-in’ occupation, and the Roscommon Hospital Action campaign protests.

2012: Over 50% non-payment of the new household charge. 15,000 protest at pre- Budget march against austerity, teachers protest over cuts and salaries, in Waterford 15,000 march against hospital downsizing.

2013: In February 80,000 protest across the country in the ICTU organised ‘Anglo Not Our Debt’ protest.  Public servants oppose then agree to Croke Park wage agreement, the Wood Land League protest against sale of our Forests, Special Need Assistants, parents and teachers protest education cuts.

Understanding Protest in Ireland

This short snap-shot of protest in Ireland reveals a number of features of the nature of protest in Ireland and helps explain our (lack of) response to the crisis since 2008.

This history demonstrates clear evidence of significant protest and rebellion. For example, Ireland’s population is 4.6 million, France’s 65 million and the UK 63 million. This means that the 100,000 people on the streets of Dublin marching against austerity are equivalent to 1.5 million in Paris or London, so ours are relatively, extremely large.

However, given the extent of oppression and famine as a British colony and then poverty and economic stagnation as an Independent state culminating in austerity and crisis in recent years, it is surprising there hasn’t been a lot more rebellion. This can be explained by the various strategies adopted by both political forces and individuals in Ireland. There is evidence both of strong solidarity and extreme individualism.


I was a bit baffled by the news that housing charity Threshold had, in its pre-budget submission, added its voice to those campaigning for government stimulus for new housing construction.  As quoted in the Irish Times, Bob Jordan Threshold chief executive suggested that “Up to 30,000 new houses need to be constructed annually to meet the ongoing demand for new homes. However, since the recession, housing construction has virtually ceased, with only 8,500 new units built last year.”  The organisation argued that, if left unchecked, the “housing shortage” could become a “full-blown crisis”.

A closer look at their submission reveals that the proposal for the Minister for Finance to consider a stimulus for housing construction is part of a wider and much more targeted set of proposals, which in large part aim to address the current threats faced by tenants in the increasingly precarious private rental sector.  Included in these are proposals to provide a financial package for the purchase and construction of social housing and amendments to Residential Tenancies Act.  Threshold are keen to point out that the problems of undersupply are restricted to particular, primarily urban, areas.  In this context, it is odd if a little unsurprising that the point picked up by the media is the call for new construction.

Another story is today’s papers35Gogh_Old Man in Sorrow offers a more apt corollary to the issues that Threshold raise.  A report from Oxfam claims that austerity policies across Europe are benefiting the top tier of society while impoverishing many households on the lower end of the economic spectrum.  Likening current austerity policies to structural adjustment programmes imposed on poor countries by the IMF since the 1970s, the report (in which Ireland features prominently) warns that:

“The only people benefiting from austerity are the richest 10% who have seen their share of income rise whilst poorest have seen their share fall. The UK, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Spain – countries that are most aggressively pursuing austerity measures – will soon rank amongst the most unequal in the world if their leaders don’t change course.”

It is this growth in levels of inequality and the knock on effects this has, rather than simply a lack of construction, which produce the suite of challenges for tenants that are now being flagged by Threshold.

Cian O’Callaghan

A new paper critiquing how decision-makers have dealt with the Irish crisis is now available on NUIM eprints. It questions how the adherents and practitioners of neoliberal ideas have sought to deal with the contemporary crisis by examining three elements of the Irish state’s adjustment and austerity programme in the areas of property and finance, the labour market and state spending.  The paper contends that the crisis has led to processes of adjustment that deepen and extend neoliberal ideas and practices rather than negate them. It concludes that the various crisis-adjustment strategies are part of a process of disturbance which focuses on shaking the confidence of the working class and ultimately redistributing an even greater share of economic output to capitalists. It can be downloaded via NUIM eprints here. This version deals with events/policies up to May 2 2013 when the final revised version was submitted for publication.

The paper by Alistair Fraser, Enda Murphy and Sinead Kelly is to be published in an upcoming issue of the journal Human Geography. The journal is motivated by a need to retain control of the value produced by academic labour. Over the last twenty years, journals that once were owned and produced by universities and academic and professional associations have come to be controlled, in part or in whole, by publishing houses that increasingly are concentrated in a few multinational media conglomerates. This means that the profit produced by (mostly) public funded academic labour ends up with large corporations. The aim of Human Geography is to change that and ensure that any profit made from the journal is re-distributed to young radical scholars.


The current economic crisis – the ‘great recession’ – raises numerous questions about neoliberal ideas and practice, not the least of which is whether (and if so, how) neoliberalism can survive it. Our paper takes on these issues using the case of Ireland. This is the first proper neoliberal crisis in Ireland. From the early 1990s to 2008, Ireland was held up by many neoliberal champions as a place that gained from deregulation, openness to inward investment, and low corporation tax rates. But the build-up of contradictions in Ireland exploded rapidly in 2008, when its property bubble burst and private banks and government finances collapsed. Rather than examining what caused Ireland’s crisis, we look at what has happened between 2008 and 2013. We focus on structural adjustments regarding the property, finance, and labour markets and then on the government’s austerity programme as a whole. In addition to demonstrating how these adjustments have been an attack on workers and ordinary citizens, we identify some particularly striking elements, which we use to argue that a new phase of disturbance and restructuring is deepening and extending neoliberalism’s influence in Ireland.

A news item on RTE reveals that the Construction Industry Federation has managed to wangle a meeting with the IMF/EU/ECB Troika today.  “Arriving for the meeting CIF Director General Tom Parlon said they would be setting out the contribution the construction industry could make to the economic recovery.”  A case of the Self-Preservation Society (as in the song from the Italian Job, interesting also about a bank raid) for developers and those who own construction businesses (and we’re talking the bosses here, CIF want a radical reduction in wages and terms and conditions for construction workers to increase competitiveness) or a real and vital contribution to helping Ireland recover?

Sometimes it’s difficult not to automatically rail against the CIF given that its members were a vital part of the country going bust, but in this case there is something here worthy of attention.  Whilst we do not need any housing or offices or retail parks or hotels any time soon, investment in new public infrastructures such as green energy, next generation telecomms, public transport, hospitals, schools, etc. through capital expenditure would have the benefits of creating work whilst investing in developments that would attract inward investment and stimulate growth.  The difficulty is that generating the finance for capital expenditure would necessitate further cuts elsewhere in government spend given that wider austerity measures mean that the markets are adverse to extending the state credit for such stimulus measures.

I think therefore it’s unlikely that the Troika will see anything differently after meeting the CIF.  They will agree that in principle capital spending would be good, but it must be created by further austerity elsewhere; in other words it is up to Ireland to work out how to do this within its existing arrangements, rather than through a re-jigging of the Troika terms.  That is likely to be politically inpalatable to the government.  We’ll see.

Rob Kitchin

The financial and economic crisis that has hit the world and Europe since Autumn 2008 has had its most severe impact on a few European countries, countries that are often referred to as ‘peripheral’ from the standpoint of the geography of Europe or the EU: Greece, Ireland, Spain and Portugal. Does that mean that their geographically ‘peripheral’ position is at the heart of their current financial and economic problems? Not really. Or maybe, somehow. Maybe it was their location on the margins of Europe that played a part in their lagging economies compared to their EU partners in the 1970s and 1980s as they all joined the EU (1973 for Ireland, 1981 for Greece, 1986 for Spain and Portugal)? And maybe that explained to a certain extent the ‘fast-track’ paths to economic growth that some of them went for then, with the support of European funding for infrastructural upgrades in particular, but also based on what Henri Sterdyniak, from the OFCE research center, has called “macroeconomic strategies that have become illusory”. And that’s precisely what’s more important than their ‘peripheral’ location: the fragility of their respective economic development model. In the case of Ireland, that has been largely explained, discussed, documented through many posts on the Ireland after NAMA blog (since its creation at the end of November 2009, almost a year ago now) and other forums such as or The Irish Economy among others. But there hasn’t been too much discussion about how the Irish model compares to its ‘peripheral’ counterparts and what lessons Ireland could learn from them and their own crisis as it looks for a way to get out of the crisis and to rebuild its growth and a (hopefully) viable growth model. There’re a few things that I would like to highlight to that effect.

The Irish and Spanish experiences have been quite similar so far. Their public debt was quite low, their growth levels quite high, but in both cases growth was heavily reliant on real-estate and financial speculation. In Ireland, at the end of 2007, loans for real-estate development amounted to 250% of the GNP. That made for a huge real-estate bubble, the same kind of bubble that exploded in Spain a few months after the Irish one. While a large amount of the bursting of the Irish bubble is being cleaned up by NAMA, Spain has not created its own toxic bank to absorb the current 325bn euros of debts of the real-estate sector.

Portugal and Greece are in a different situation. Their major problem has been the lack of growth in the past decade or so (while Ireland and Spain were experiencing high levels of ‘growth’, but one that was highly illusory given its speculative nature). Their main problem is that their governments have been very keen on entertaining the idea that growth was happening: to international investors, to their own population, and to EU officials. They did so through rather irrational budget decisions. While Greece deliberately falsified and concealed its high levels of public debt and justified 4% annual growth since 2000 by emphasizing the performances of its real-estate industry and tourism (two sectors that are highly volatile), Portugal went overboard with public spending to stimulate domestic consumption while it struggled to boost the growth of its leading industries and main exports (e.g. textiles).

Among the four countries, Ireland is actually the only one that has developed a real and successful export-oriented economy, in particular in knowledge-based sectors such as (e.g.) pharmaceuticals, electronics, software …etc. But the problem is that the success of this strategy relies to a great extent on the very low corporation tax (12.5%, as opposed to 25.7% on average across the Euro zone, almost 30% in Germany, and over 33% in France). And this is something that may be challenged in the near future as part of the EU/IMF bail-out package that is currently negotiated. As noted in a post from yesterday by Rob Kitchin, the IMF has indicated in its position paper on structural reform in the Euro area that harmonization of macroeconomic policies should be a priority in the Eurozone, and an harmonization of the corporation tax across the area, or at least some degree of convergence, is not to be excluded. This does not mean that firms are necessarily going to massively flee out of Ireland if the corporation tax is raised by a few percentage points. While the potential short-term negative effects of raising the corporation tax has recently been discussed by Chris van Egeraat in another post on this blog, there are also a series of factors that make firms more locally-embedded than implied by the hypermobility of capital argument mobilized by those in favour of maintaining a low corporation rate in Ireland. I’ll leave that aside for the moment, and I will pick up on another point raised by Chris van Egeraat in his post and many others in the past few months, which is the fact that Irish recovery and a viable Irish economic model cannot be built upon a low taxation model. It needs to be rebuilt on strong foundations, including a proper industrial policy, that would send the right ‘signals’ to global markets and international investors, i.e. the image of an economy that is actually managed and doesn’t threatened to spiral out of control again.

A major problem here is that it is going to be very difficult for Ireland, but also Greece, Portugal and Spain to build the foundations of a strong economic model with the austerity plans that are currently being designed or implemented because the priority being the reduction of national deficits through major cuts in levels of public spending, this leaves close to nothing to support these sectors that could create a solid base for these economy (e.g. textiles in Portugal, food industries in Spain and Greece, new technologies in Ireland). That includes, for example, continuous funding for education to keep training indigenous youth, mentoring and internship programmes to help graduates enter the workforce, financial and structural support for start-ups to create jobs ….etc (as discussed in this post for example). If their respective economic bases do not solidify in the next few years, all four countries are likely not only to be prone to future crises of the sort that we are dealing with right now.

Delphine Ancien