On Tuesday June 5th 15 of us (12 from the Ballyhea & Charleville bondholder bailout protest groups, three from Anglo Not Our Debt/Debt Justice Action) landed in Frankfurt with a singular aim – take the fight against the unjust imposition of the bank debt burden on the Irish people to the ECB itself - those who are doing the imposing - at its own imposing headquarters.
|Looking for justice in Frankfurt ('she's behind ye!')|
Our plan was threefold:
1) ‘Nail’ a Martin Luther-type protest scroll to the door of the soaring ECB building;
2) hand in a letter outlining our seven demands to ECB President Mario Draghi;
3) attempt in our own modest way to bring our protest to the attention of the rest of the world, including especially to the attention of the German people themselves.
We had no idea what we were facing into, anticipated that we wouldn't get near the actual ECB building itself, feared we might get ourselves arrested (we’re not yet the ‘let’s get ourselves arrested’ kind!), but were determined to do whatever we could to achieve our three objectives. So how did we get on?
On the first night, the Tuesday night, we gathered at a restaurant a few blocks from the ECB HQ and a recce party went to scout the area. The word came back – incredibly, not a security guard nor a policeman in sight, complete access. At around midnight we headed off, unfurled our custom-made (for the Ryanair flight!) BALLYHEA SAYS NO and CHARLEVILLE SAYS NO fold-up banners, marched through the adjacent square (site of the Occupy Frankfurt group, as it happens), up to the door, and there ‘nailed’ to the door (with blue-tack) our scroll, our Ballyhea Theses. Took the photo as proof (attached), and headed to our hotel – mission number one accomplished.
|'Nailed' to the door|
|The midnight coup|
June 6th, Wednesday, this was the big one, the day the Governing Council of the ECB would convene, among them our own Central Bank Governor Patrick Honahan. The meeting was to start at 9am so we were there at 8.30pm and again, huge surprise – very little security presence, just a single police car, and again we were able to go right up to within a few yards of the front door. Mr Draghi arrived in his Merc just as we arrived on foot, bollard removed so he could be driven right to the door, quickly alighted and escorted through, no chance for us to get near. No matter, a few a minutes later Mr Honahan walked up, saw our little group and all our banners; I went up to him, explained who we were and what we were about, handed him the letter (brown envelope, I'm afraid!) and asked if he’d deliver it for us. A very personable guy, he smiled, explained that he could hardly deliver it to Mr Draghi himself (wouldn't look the best from his point of view, would it, the Irish rep handing the demand letter to Mr Draghi?), but he agreed to give it to an ECB rep – mission number two accomplished.
There we stayed for a couple of hours, speaking to members of the public, explaining to them what was happening in Ireland, that it was us, in fact, bailing out German, French and other European banks rather than us, the Irish people, being bailed out by Europe. In this regard Damian Moylan was a huge asset to the group, a multi-linguist with German being just one string to his impressive bow.
There was a press conference set for 2.30pm for which I had secured accreditation through the Village magazine, an opportunity to ask a few direct questions. The first plan of action though was to be back in situ by 1pm to catch the attention of all the various media as they arrived. We did so, arriving in formal parade, and a most successful couple of hours we had thereafter with just the one glaring exception. Interviews with the Wall Street Journal, Der Spiegel, and a couple of other newspapers local and national (including the very helpful Anne Cahill of the Irish Examiner), loads of photos taken etc., loads of interaction with the media, the general public, and even those going in to work in the building, some of whom explained that they supported our cause. Mission number three almost fully accomplished.
The one failure? Despite being accredited, badge and all in the fist, I was refused entry to the press conference, an unnecessarily threatening Wiktor Krzyzanowski (Senior ECB Press Officer DIV Press & Information, according to his card) telling me in no uncertain terms that I wasn’t getting through – I’d been seen with that obviously anarchic group outside the door. ‘Are you afraid I’ll be causing a disruption?’, I asked; ‘I'm not in the least afraid of you,’ he told me, looking fairly smug in his considerable six-foot-plus frame. If Wiktor only knew – in North Cork hurling in the 70s he’d have been only an average-sized full-back, and they all said the same thing!
At about 4pm we packed up, most of us heading back to the hotel for a couple of hours of badly-needed rest, before heading out for a bite to eat. On the way we passed a monument to the monster that's been devouring much of Europe.
|Who builds a monument to a monster?|
Overall a very successful trip but thanks must go here to two people in particular, Cathleen Quealey-Moloney and Fiona Buckley-Fitzpatrick, who did all the organising, took care of all the logistics. The hotel was around the corner from a tram-stop, the tram-line directly to the ECB building square. Flights were booked, petrol money for the trip to Knock Airport collected, likewise for the bus-trip from Frankfurt-Hahn to the city, for the tram tickets, all costs divvied up meticulously. The itinerary and time schedule was planned to the metre and to the minute, every detail faithfully recorded in Cathleen’s book – there was less planning put in by Winston Churchill to the D-Day landings, and in a smaller notebook!
We would also like to thank Martin Condon, Managing Director of Cavanagh’s of Charleville, for the two people-carriers for the three days, and Anne Morris in Knock, who dropped us off and picked us up at the airport.
Finally, the 15 – the Ballyhea 15 as we’re now being called. I’ll start with the two most important people in the group, the first two signatures on the Theses.
Frances O'Brien is a Millstreet native, married to Pat O'Brien from Ballyhea for the last 44 years, both now retired (Frances was a nurse, Pat a dairy-farmer); they’ve been with us from day one, never flagged, and their stamina on this occasion was incredible. Standing around for hours on end on concrete footpaths, holding a sign, sandwiched between two gruelling days of travel, yet not a bother on them.
Fiona Buckley from Meelin and her husband, Cork city native Robert Fitzpatrick, both now living in Charleville, and boy did they have to go around the houses to a) get time off work and b) get to Frankfurt in time for posting the Theses, staunch weekly marchers also.
Cathleen Quealey and her husband, Pat Moloney, another couple who have been there almost from the outset. ‘Does anyone else find themselves still awake in the middle of the night these days, thinking of what we can do next?’ Pat asked at one of our meetings one night. ‘Yes!’ we chorused.
Vicky Donnelly from Anglo Not Our Debt, a stranger to most of us at the start of the trip but one of our own by the end, a long-time campaigner for social justice.
Richard Chapman, friend of Vicky’s, and likewise – one of our own within a day. A quiet chap but I think we infected him a little!
Diarmaid Ó Cadhla, another Cork city native, another long-time campaigner for social justice and a most interesting and informed individual, has been driving up and down from the city for months now to join our weekly march.
Hugh Mellerick, yet another Cork city native but now living in Mallow, joined us through the anti-Household Charge campaign having seen the over-riding significance of the bank debt burden and is a regular marcher with us – did immense work on signage etc. in the final few days.
Lynette O’Donoghue, from Newmarket, now living in Cullen, like Hugh a newcomer to our protest but – like Hugh – a great boost to it, totally committed and very active. Great humour, great attitude to life, very positive.
Phil Ryan, Ballyhea native, the best hurler I ever saw and that excludes no-one! Like the rest of us Phil was representing his family, many branches of whom march with us on a regular basis. Not a public speaker but well able to express himself within the group, hugely popular.
Damian Moylan, out of Mallow, a late-comer to the protest but put in more work in the last few days of the last week than most would manage in a month. Multi-linguist (Russian, Dutch, German), high-achiever, bursting with ideas, this guy could be absolutely anything he wanted to be.
Donncha Ó Briain, documentary-maker, has been side by side with us almost from the start – Ireland’s own Michael Moore, Donncha is the man who made the famous Hugo Chavez documentary several years ago. Has become a friend to all.
Yours truly, the final member of the pack.
The entire cost of the trip was funded by ourselves, with generous contributions also from those who couldn't come. We understand only too well, we’re just an annoying little gnat on an elephant’s arse. We won’t be swatted away.
Regards, Diarmuid O'Flynn.