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Saturday 20 January 2018

A new dawn: people not banks

David McWilliams has a plan. I am all for it. Not a four-year plan, but a cunning plan to fling open the casement of hope.

Lots of plans will be unfurled in the coming months, but as far as I know McWilliams is not standing for election so his plan has the virtue of being disinterested.

I have to say if he were standing I would vote for him. Or let me put it another way. I would vote for David's New Deal. Because for sure, it has Rooseveltian overtones. You see, what makes David's plan different from the politicians' is that it has the people -- and action -- at the heart of it.

The last four years have been marked by paralysis. A people's paralysis. You could not move house, you could not move job, and only the lucky could move country. Movement and circulation are essential to all life: change is the only rule.

People who have no control over their lives tend to fantasise. Over Christmas I had a fantasy. It involved three men -- wise men -- who would go to the east, to Frankfurt, from where the Irish are now ruled. They would tell Caesar (the ECB) that we could not pay back the bailout. Just like that.

But McWilliams does not deal in fantasy. He does not advocate a scorched earth for the bondholders. He would close NAMA, he would offer bondholders a debt-for-equity swap. We could give them Ireland if it came to that.

He proposes a referendum. He proposes that government negotiate for the people, not the banks. The last time this seemed a revolutionary notion was in America in 1933 when Roosevelt took over the reins of a country paralysed by fear and panic.

Well, the people are in trouble here. The soup kitchens may not be evident and we don't seem to have starving farmers, but in the towns and cities, retail, our biggest employer, has been decimated. And almost half a million people are in negative equity. The natural law is upended as the good parents who, five years ago, advised and helped their adult children to get on the property ladder, now feel like bad parents, having consigned them to a life of debt.

McWilliams proposes non-recourse mortgages -- whereby home owners in trouble could hand back the keys. In America, in 1933, FDR, with one stroke of the pen, doubled the duration of mortgages (thereby halving repayments) allowing a desperate population to keep their homes.

There are many great ideas in David's New Deal. And many other great ideas outside. But it is a measure of how defeated we have all become that "the people not the banks" is thinking the unthinkable.

It took Roosevelt 100 days to change the course of history. 2011 will be a year of change. Barring a coup d'etat by Fianna Fail, we will have a change of government. But a revolution is what we need -- politicians who think of the people!

Sunday Independent

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