Cork village takes stand against billing taxpayers for monstrous bank debt


IT HAS not set out to be the most spectacular protest and its immediate effect is to cause minor traffic delays for motorists heading from Limerick to Cork. But in a period defined by Ireland’s silent acceptance of the bank bailout, the village of Ballyhea has decided to take a stand.

For the past five weeks, people in the north Cork village havemet up at the church gates after 11 o’clock Mass on Sunday and walked the length of the village in quiet protest at the decision to hold the Irish taxpayer culpable for the monstrous bank debt.

The march does not take long. Ballyhea, on the crest of the Blackwater valley, is the quintessential Irish village in that it is composed of its church and the petrol pumps across the road. The movement is non-political and it draws modest numbers. Little over a dozen showed up for the first march. Last week it was 70. The number was down again yesterday because the funeral of Jack Fitzgibbon, a former Ballyhea hurler, was taking place. The man’s family declined an offer to postpone the march out of respect. So the funeral cortege headed north towards Charleville while the marchers strolled south towards Cork city.

They turned once they reached the speed limit sign.

“Some people are reluctant to get involved because they see this as somehow rebellious rather than doing the right thing,” says Gerard O’Keeffe, a farmer from Ballyhea. “People’s jobs have disappeared and the bit of security they had is gone . . . And I think one of the big problems is that people don’t fully understand the implications of this debt.”

Some people brought their children, who walked next in line with pensioners. Families walked together and friends chatted. The small group was framed by modest placards that read: “Ballyhea Says No To Bondholders Bailout”. Motorists passing slowed and gaped through windscreens. A few honked horns and waved. None took up the invitation, printed on placards, to park and join the march.

“My hope is that other villages and towns would join us in doing something similar and that it would reach Dublin and the Government would know where people stand on this,” says Francis O’Brien, who was among those marching in Dublin three years ago against the medical card cuts to pensioners.

“This is not political. It just needs to be said,” says Philip O’Connell, who drove from Charleville to attend.

“This is a tiny village in the heart of Munster. And people around here have lost a lot. But you can see how strong the voice of the ordinary person is now throughout the world.”

Everyone had their reasons for marching. Rosarie Sheehan, a retired hotelier, wanted to talk about the long essay about Ireland that appeared in the March edition of Vanity Fairmagazine. One of the central points of that essay was that the Irish popular protest had amounted to nothing more than two eggs thrown at AIB directors and a cement mixer parked outside the Dáil.

Mrs Sheehan read it in one sitting, fascinated and appalled. “People must have known! They must have! Ireland is only a village. But that article really struck a chord with me.”