Is There One Brave TD?

Ballyhea
Click here to see me on Al Jazeera News! (Albeit briefly)

 

It’s often remarked how little Irish people are protesting, despite the cruelty of the cutbacks and the blatant injustice of much of the debt foisted upon us. You could come up with a variety of deep psychological explanations for this, but in doing so you might be overlooking one major factor: The lousy coverage that public resistance gets in the mainstream media.

Case in point, the brave folk of the Ballyhea Bondholder Bailout Protest have been marching every Sunday for two years now. But even when they brought their protest to the ECB in Frankfurt (you’ll remember, I went with them) they hardly won a mention from the press or TV.

Until last Sunday! Finally, they got on RTÉ main evening news. Why now all of a sudden? I think I know: Al Jazeera got wind of it. Would’ve been more than a little embarrassing for the national broadcaster if a story from their own country went big internationally and they didn’t even have footage.

You can see me there in the first few seconds. I’m on international TV! Don’t we look all brave in the January weather? In the Middle East they must think we’re downright superhuman.

But there are ways you can protest without risking pneumonia, with help of Contact.it. Yesterday a judge rejected a challenge to the legality of the government piping money directly from poor to rich, on the grounds that a private citizen does not (somehow) have the standing to take such a case. In his findings though, the judge did mention that a TD would.

So we’re looking for one brave TD. Contact.ie provide an email that will be sent to all of them, it’s just up to you to sign it. A suggested text is provided, but of course you can use your own.

Or you can use the one I wrote, which puts the case a little more starkly:

Dear TD,

We need someone to take a stand. The lending bubble, and subsequent channelling of the nation’s remaining wealth to the very institutions responsible for it, has sent one message and one message only to the people of this country: That we exist, that we live and work, not for ourselves or for the ones we love but purely for the further enrichment of these institutions and their owners; that they now effectively control our lives – and control you, our supposed representatives – as surely as if we were goods or livestock. We are being owned.

We need to reassert the purpose – indeed the existence – of democratic government. For once, a single TD could make all the difference.

Yours sincerely,

Help to stop the madness before the last of this country’s life is sucked away. You can send the letter here.

The Frankfurt Mission 2 – Sausage City


The Ballyhea group was on telly today – TV3’s Morning Show. That’s as close to media glamour as I’ve got in a while. Not that I was on myself – I’d be useless at that kind of thing, cameras tickle. They had the eloquent, informed ones: Diarmuid and Cath and Vicky. Between them they covered the enormous cost of the bank bailout to each and every one of us (€60,000 for the average household if you spread it evenly), how it affects ordinary people, and how the current response to it will be as disastrous for us as similar ‘medicine’ was for the Developing World – a pretty comprehensive encapsulation of the issue. You can watch it here.

Back to our adventures in Germany then. I’ll skip over the details of organising tickets for the bus into town, the tram to the hotel, and the rooms – except to say that Cath did them all, and found the cheapest way to do them all. One of those people every expedition needs.

Settled in, we next needed to reconnoitre. Having dinner seemed like a good way to do that, so we headed in to the older and more attractive part of Frankfurt. It has to be said, it’s not very big. For a major global hub of wealth and power, Frankfurt is surprisingly unimpressive. It has its expensive suburbs of course, but the historical city centre is not much to look at. And while I’m being rude about our hosts, German sounds like English with a wheel missing.

You feel bad about thinking this when you remember that the reason there’s so little left of historical Frankfurt is that it was obliterated in World War II, first by bombing and then by ground combat. Before then, it actually had the largest mediaeval city centre in the world. So we had our dinner in the ruins, essentially. But first we took the photo-opportunity of a statue representing justice to make our point.

After checking out the ECB building and finding it a lot less like Forty Knox than our mental image, we had dinner at the outdoor restaurant you see behind us there – mainly sausages and sauerkraut of course. I am pleased and relieved to be able to report that the frankfurters were the nicest. After, we fell to singing songs – mainly Cork ones like the Banks and Thady Quill. We weren’t drunk or anything, it just seemed appropriate. Eventually though a woman resident brusquely told us we were too loud, the implication being that this was far too classy a neighbourhood for that sort of thing.

To show solidarity with us, a drunk German man at the next table started off a chorus of Molly Malone. Politics was on!

The Frankfurt Mission 1 – Knock Out

What’s Obi Wan doing in there?

Only now can the story be told – because since I got back I’ve been too shagged. How did I become involved with the Ballyhea Burn The Bank Bondholders band? I have to be honest, I am not altogether sure. It sounded like a wild thing to do. It was a noble cause. It would mean spending time with one of my favouritest people. I had some time, flights were cheap, what the hell.

Our journey begins as it ends – in Knock. Knock is one of the world’s weirdest little airports. It has a runway long enough for 747s, but it is miles and miles away from anywhere almost anyone would want to go. The nearest cities are Galway, Limerick and Derry, but the closest of them is an hour away and they all have their own airports anyway.

Knock was the brainchild not of a planner or politician, but of a priest – who thought that the site of a minor and, it has to be said, suspect apparition could become a major destination for pilgrims, if there were only an airport to bring them. But the maxim “If you build it they will come” applies poorly to superfluous infrastructure. Knock had to wait for a new miracle and a new prophet – Michael O’Leary of Ryanair, who knew how to put unwanted airports to good use. So from Knock, an hour away from Galway, we can fly to Hahn, two hours away from Frankfurt. It’s a very useful service – and not only for us, as we were to find.

Knock though is well worth visiting for itself, if you enjoy mocking people’s beliefs. Perhaps I can find a better way to put that… It’s fascinating, because it displays religion at its most incredible. The town of Knock is more or less a religious strip mall, selling objects of veneration in boxes of a dozen beside charming isn’t-drunkenness-funny souvenirs. It’s hard to imagine how anyone’s faith could survive a pilgrimage here.

I would swear that religious art has just got more dumb-looking in recent decades. These figures seem actually to have concussion, the features weirdly cartoonish and toy-like. The 3D pictures of animals are… unexplained. Virgin Marys now come in Standard and Luminous. I resisted the desire to buy a luminous one.

I do not know what a Happy Death Cross is, or how it differs from the usual sad death type of crucifix. We speculate that if you look close, Jesus has a big smile.

So we tear ourselves away from the anthropology just in time to meet up with the Ballyhea folks at the airport, and board our flight. Though not before paying an extra €10, for Knock is a toll airport.

Aboard then, and of course the first thing that greets you is Ryanair’s extraordinary panoply of warnings, right in front of your face. They know that the usual safety cards are often damaged or taken as souvenirs (seriously, I have a friend who collects them), so to save a few cents every flight Ryanair plaster them to the back of the seat in front of you. You spend your entire journey being constantly reminded of the things that can go wrong with a plane.

And I ask you, if you didn’t know all the safety drills already, would you really be able to work them out from this? What the hell is that guy doing with the yellow vest – the hula? And look at the first panel of “Exit B Overwings”, the bottom row of the right side. The whole point of doing this in pictures is so you don’t need to read English to understand the drill. But without that caption, the picture seems to say “If you look out the window and see fire, stay in the plane”. That’s really only good advice if you’re flying through a fire.

Gotta say, plane wings are lovely things.

When we boarded though, someone noticed a thing that took us all by surprise. Among our fellow-passengers was one of the people we were hoping to meet in Frankfurt – Doctor Patrick Honohan, the governor of Ireland’s Central Bank, on his way to the very meeting we were going to picket. This, I admit, was troubling. Were we so broke that our Central Bank Governor had to fly Ryanair? It seems almost shameful. Of course to his credit, Honahan had recently turned down a pay rise in the hope, naive as it might seem, of business and public sector leaders following suit. So perhaps this was another example of economy.

Or perhaps he’d just wanted a quick pray.

Champing At The Bit

Passengers leaving Ryanair jet
“But… But this is where we left from!”

This is weird. I’m going to sunny Germany tomorrow, but I’m sitting here with nothing to do. For once I packed well in advance. This is as unlike me as it is possible to imagine, and must basically have happened by accident.

So tomorrow we’re driving to Knock, which should take about an hour, flying with Ryanair to Frankfurt, which should take two hours, and then getting from there to where Frankfurt actually is, which will be the longest leg of the whole trip. You know the usual way.

English: Night view of the euro monument (euro...
Oh look, it’s breaking up!

Hahn airport – “Frankfurt-Hahn“, as Ryanair have the nads to call it – is actually nearer Luxembourg. The tickets were fantastically cheap though, it must be said. We are going to Frankfurt basically because we can afford to. Oh, there will be some research and meetings and stuff. This is the home of the European Central Bank, the institution that is handling our currency in such a profoundly wrong-headed way, so there is much to learn. Perhaps we will even have a little protest. I plan to stand opposite the ECB with my arms folded, frowning really hard.

I’ve been planning this trip for a few weeks though, you think I found time to refresh my German? Did I hell. But then, do I need to now? My phone can speak German for me. Even the free Google Translate is very good – though bear in mind that to use an online translation service you have to pay for data at roaming rates. Right now I’m just getting it to say things like “How many cars may I eat?”, “This shop sells millions of ducklings in a box”, and let’s not forget that old favourite, “My wombat is constipated”.