We need a citizens' petition on debt deal


Something crucial is missing from the most important negotiations this State has engaged in since the Belfast Agreement. Those negotiations are about the payment of the extortionate promissory notes for the dead financial institutions, Anglo Irish Bank and Irish Nationwide.

What’s missing is us. Irish citizens collectively are entirely absent from this critical moment in our history. At stake is our money, our future, our chance of living in a republic with some semblance of self-respect. But we have no voice. We wait to hear our fate from on high and keep our fingers crossed.

And this is our fault. We can blame the Government or the European Central Bank or Angela Merkel – but none of them has forced us to be passive. None of them has prevented the people of Ballyhea from engaging in their wonderfully dignified protest for 101 weeks now. None of them has made us watch the protesters in vague admiration and then turn away. None of them has forced us to be so easily persuaded there is nothing we can do.

And our absence makes an enormous difference. Imagine that you are Dr Merkel or Mario Draghi. Ireland is a tiny little fly on your windscreen. It’s barely in your peripheral vision. Dealing with the promissory notes is a pain in the neck you don’t need. The €31 billion involved is small in the context of the euro crisis, but it’s awkward. There are tricky legal issues involved in scrapping it and doing so might set a bad example.

And, on the other side of the equation, there’s what? The Irish good news story – everything is coming up roses and the happy little Irish people are being charmingly stoical. It’s a simple calculation – is it more hassle to undo the promissory notes than to leave them in place, or to fob off the Irish with a complex and meaningless deal that leaves them lumbered with these private debts? So long as Irish citizens are being good as gold, the answer is entirely obvious.

So what do we do? How do we make ourselves visible? Let’s stop talking about it and do something – before it’s too late. That something is simple, relatively undemanding, dignified and peaceful – a citizens’ petition. I talked about this with a lot of people who came to various gatherings over the past few months and everyone seemed to think it would at least give ordinary citizens a chance to give voice to their absolute opposition to any further payments of the promissory notes.

But I held off doing anything about it in the hope that, as we were repeatedly assured, a good deal was just around the corner. It is now clear there will be no good deal – unless Irish people collectively say the only thing that matters: that we refuse to beggar ourselves and our children to pay off the debts incurred by reckless private borrowers and equally reckless European institutional lenders.

Within the next few days a website, ourcountry.ie, will go live. It is not sponsored by or connected to any political party or organisation – it has been put together by volunteers. It is properly designed so that only verified individuals who declare themselves as Irish citizens can register their signatures to the petition.

That petition reads as follows: “As citizens of Ireland, we believe that the payment of €3.1 billion a year, every year until 2023, for Anglo Irish Bank and Irish Nationwide is reckless, immoral and unjust. These ‘promissory notes’ have imposed the debts of now-defunct private institutions on Irish citizens as a whole. These are debts which we cannot, should not and will not pay.

“We therefore instruct our Government: (a) to declare by March 17th, 2013, that it will not make the payment of €3.1 billion due on March 31st, 2013, and to inform the European Central Bank that it will no longer co-operate with this unjust imposition of private debts on the Irish people.

“(b) not to enter into any arrangement with the European Central Bank that involves any acceptance of a duty to pay these debts and/or any substantial payment of Irish public money on foot of the promissory notes.

“We further declare that unless the Government makes this declaration by March 17th, 2013, we will engage in peaceful and dignified mass protest in a form to be decided by ourselves collectively.”

Initial news on the petition will be available on Twitter at @ibrcpetition.

What is to be hoped for from this petition? Obviously that hundreds of thousands of citizens put their names to it, allowing the Government to say to the ECB: “Look at the pressure we’re under on this. Our citizens just won’t take it.”

But also that the website becomes, over time, a place where Irish people collectively take responsibility for their country and find the courage to fight for its survival. It could be one way of making citizens visible to each other and of realising they are not alone. We have nothing to lose but our comforting sense of powerlessness.

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