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It's time we followed brave Ballyhea's lead

2012 should be the year ordinary citizens have the courage to stop shouldering the burden, writes Carol Hunt

"Irish people will tell you that, because of their sad history of dispossession, owning a home is not just a way to avoid paying rent but a mark of freedom. In their rush to freedom the Irish built their own prisons. And their leaders helped them to do it."

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Objective outsiders just don't know what to make of us. What happened to the brio, the chutzpah, the cheery self-satisfaction -- sometimes bordering on arrogance -- that we all supposedly developed during the years of Celtic Tiger One and Two? How swiftly has it melted to a dim and dismal memory of misplaced hubris and false expectations, of a mask donned for the occasion to impress our friends, neighbours and, most importantly, our enemies?

Why did our self-confidence, at the first hint of trouble, dissolve into self-sacrifice? Or rather, the sacrifice of certain sectors of society by others -- tough luck, no hard feelings and all that?

Outwardly, all seems to have changed, yet in reality some things have not.

We are still playing to the gallery. Like a failed Hollywood mom who would sell her child for the meanest flit into the false world of glitter, we are cursed with a relentless, destructive desire for attention and flattery; to be liked -- to curry favour, rather than protect our own.

Remember the exultant welcome we gave President Obama last year? We were in our element, weren't we? Tugging the forelock, enthusiastically bowing and scraping, believing every cheesy word this wily, charming, Machiavellian (I mean that as a compliment) politician threw at us. Meanwhile, no one in the country had the balls to interrogate him (or indeed anyone in his administration) about

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the interference of US treasury secretary Timothy Geithner in our affairs. (He successfully opposed the IMF proposal to allow us 'debt-share' -- ie burn bondholders.)

His concern?

"He feared that an Irish bank default, while not threatening in itself, could have spread contagion to the entire European system, to which American-backed 'credit default swaps' were exposed to the tune of €120bn." (Belfast Telegraph).

Notice the "while not threatening in itself"?

That says it all.

Outside forces scuppered any chance Ireland had of negotiating a deal to protect Mr Geithner's -- and by extension Mr Obama's -- banker friends. And would it surprise you to know that Mr Obama has managed to raise far more money this year from the financial and banking sector than Mitt Romney or any other presidential candidate? Does it matter to you that hundreds of thousands of Irish lives have been/are being destroyed -- and one of the reasons is to get Mr Obama re-elected?

Perhaps not.

Or perhaps you think I'm exaggerating or misleading you? Things are not -- nor never will be -- as bad as I envisage surely?

We're not starving yet, you say.

Maybe you have a good pensionable public sector job coupled with a small or non-existent mortgage? Or savings that haven't all been spent on paying a (government-approved) ponzi-scheme mortgage on a house that's now worth over 60 per cent less than you paid for it? Maybe you're in politics and have a "laundry" allowance among many other perks?

So perhaps you won't protest about foreign gamblers being paid money the Irish citizen must borrow (unless you are one of the wide-awake citizens of sleepy Ballyhea), but the thought of a jumped-up-Johnny down the road getting a break on a mortgage he can't afford to pay, but is legally unable to walk away from, would be a sure catalyst for your righteous indignation, would it?

You'd protest then would you, regardless of the fact that this year thousands more families face being forbidden to sell their homes (negative equity) while simultaneously being unable to pay for them? And while the money these people don't have isn't spent in the local economy, you'll be resigned to watching helplessly as neighbourhoods are impoverished, unemployment -- and resentment -- grows?

Or maybe you think that as the gap between the 'haves' and 'have-nots' in Ireland grows exponentially, all those who are increasingly unable to cope will just continue to mutter and groan, to write despairing letters to the editor or moan to Joe Duffy while they shoulder the burden that, as dispossessed Irish citizens, is their destiny to bear?

Perhaps you believe all the government nonsense about an export-led recovery and don't notice the difference between GDP and GNP and what that means for employment levels? (Multinationals account for over 90 per cent of exports but only about seven per cent of jobs, according to economist David McWilliams.) Mabye you think if we all keep our heads down and do as we're told, all this nasty turmoil will go away eventually.

Perhaps you're wrong.

So far we have become the poster kids of servile obedience worldwide -- astonished observers wonder at our docile placidity as we sleepwalk into serfdom. Those in whose interests it is for us to act this way instruct our Government on how to dangle the odd carrot or two in order to distract us.

('You're not like those profligate Greeks', they tell us, as they tickle our tummies for cash).

Consequently, our current Great Leader has insisted that one of his new year's resolutions will be to provide some sort of comfort to families in negative equity.

An "implementation plan" for distressed homeowners is seemingly on the cards ... as is the long-promised insolvency bill and some other bits and pieces that the Leader and his acolytes have been discussing in Cabinet as they announce this week that:

"Personnel have been appointed from Environment, Social Protection and Justice, who will devote their attention exclusively to implementing the findings of (the Keane Report) and the recommendations of government."

Doesn't that just fill you with bountiful hope and endless optimism? Don't it make you look forward to 2012 as: "The year that Enda fixed it?"

No, boys and girls, that's not sarcasm, it's rabid scorn and naked disbelief.

The Government seems intent on doing the Keane Report's will, which will only have the effect of sacrificing ever more citizens to vested interests, in the same way it sacrificed us to bondholders and the needs of other states.

2012 should be remembered as the year the ordinary citizen of Ireland decided that their home would not be their prison; that they would not accept being sold into economic servitude by their cowardly leaders. Let's follow the example of Ballyhea -- where they march every Sunday against the criminal "bank bailout", which should be renamed the "state sellout".

Refusing to make payments on behalf of bankrupt banks and reducing mortgages on owner-occupier homes to current property values is a necessary beginning. The alternative is too horrific to contemplate. Current property prices show thousands of Irish families will continue to be enslaved in negative equity for at least the next 20 years or so.

With all the new taxes/cutbacks introduced and promised in the future, things are likely to get a lot worse. Have we the courage, the imagination, the confidence to face our future and make tough decisions that won't be liked in some EU countries or the US?

It's obvious that our leaders don't -- but do the rest of us?

Dear God, I hope so.

Sunday Independent