“What are you protesting against?” asks a man walking home from the pub last night. “Is this about the IMF?”
When I answer that yes, this is about the IMF, he gets excited. “Fuck the IMF,” he says as he starts to walk further into the crowd. For another hour, he enters conversations with various people at the camp site set up in front of the Central Bank of Ireland the day before after an internet call went out to “Occupy Dublin.”
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is hated in Ireland for their role last year in a major round of austerity measures that cut social services while bailing out Irish banks with over €85 billion. “The State has sold itself completely to the financial cartels,” a 42 year-old unemployed construction worker tells me. “They are transferring more wealth out of Ireland than British landlords ever did, and these are Irish people doing it!”
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With this anger, it is no surprise that the protest-camp, inspired by a similar camp outside of Wall Street, is quite popular here. A consistent stream of passersby and people who have heard about the camp on the news are stopping by day and night to lend support, talk politics, share stories, or find out how they can help.
Most people here heard via Facebook about the call for the camp and responded quickly. A man who helped put out the call says it is extra exciting because the camp is breaking with the media image of an Ireland that doesn’t protest or raise a fuss about the recession. “When I saw the videos from Wall Street,” he says, “I thought, ‘finally, people are waking up!’”
Many of those interviewed believe that this will not be ending anytime soon. “This is going to be a long thing,” Ashman says of the camp, adding that he and many others are willing to risk arrest to hold the space.
“We have to resist,” the unemployed construction worker mentioned earlier tells me. “Resistance means that power understands that there are consequences for their actions.”
“Europe’s Next Greece”
Along with the recent IMF takeover of major areas of Ireland’s economy and a major sell-off of natural resources in the energy sector to multinationals, the situation here has also been exacerbated by a decade-long “building bubble” that recently burst.
“The Dublin you are looking at today is not the Dublin of ten years ago,” says a man in his early 30s who has stopped by the encampment. He points out that a large amount of development projects, backed by Irish banks and pushed by EU economic concepts, remain empty years after development. From office parks to condominiums, these projects helped push Ireland into the debt crisis it has now entered.
A 17 year old secondary school student chimes in. “They were giving people loans for things that they knew they couldn’t afford,” he says. “Everyone saw it coming… It was just a matter of time.”
With this crisis emerging, former IMF chief economic Simon Johnson dubbed Ireland “Europe’s Next Greece” as he advocated last year for the government to “convert the liabilities of private banks into debts of the sovereign,” or in other words, to make the people pay for the crisis.
“That’s the main issue when we’re talking about housing Ireland,” a 22 year-old participant of the camp tells me. “Basically, tax-payers are now paying for all these empty buildings, so the banks can have money.” She blames large property owners and banks for colluding to make large profits on risky business, and then coming to the government to bail them out.
Like the subprime loan crisis the precipitated the recession in the U.S., risky investments by banks looking for “expanding” markets almost brought the whole economy down after the reality hit them that these loans would not be paid back. So, like in the U.S., they looked to the state for help, who then went into the pockets of tax-payers to subsidize their adventurous partners.
“They have socialized the debt of the bankers onto the people,” a participant at the camp tells me. “The people are angry… There is a significant anger at the situation that has not yet manifested, and the government knows this.”
Another area facing cuts has been the healthcare sector. 26 year-old Ashman, from Limerick, originally came to the encampment to lend his support but ended up joining it. He tells me in calm anger how the IMF situation has led to the closing of emergency units in hospitals surrounding Limerick, in which many of his relatives work. Now, he says, people may have to travel up to an hour to receive emergency care.
“And on top of that, the government has turned around and taken the retirement money of people like my family, who have paid taxes their whole lives.” In fact, the Irish state agreed with the IMF to loot the pension funds of public workers to help pay the IMF back for their loan. “They gave the pensions of these hard-working people to the banks,” Ashman says.
One of the organizations backing the Occupy Dublin call is the Enough Campaign has called for a referendum on the austerity measures, a move that was defeated by the government last year. They point out that in Iceland, a similar referendum exposed the reality of the public’s position on austerity for the people and bail-outs for the banks; “Last year the people of Iceland demanded the right to have a referendum on their IMF deal and in March 2010 a massive 93 percent of the people rejected the deal,” their website reads. “There is an overwhelming democratic case for putting an agreement with such profound implications for the economic and social future our country to a referendum of the people.
In a sense, what the sub-prime loan sharks did is what the IMF and its partner organization the World Bank have done consistently throughout the world; large-scale lending for infrastructural projects in the name of “economic development” that have more than often failed to bring about the economic changes promised. The result is further debt-burden, followed by IMF-introduced austerity measures to reallocate public money to paying the debt back.
Now that same tactic is turning around on Ireland and many other European countries. “The American dream has become the Irish nightmare,” an unemployed former IT manager tells me, “or rather, the global nightmare.”
Only two days into it, one can see that if this protests gains momentum, it could create a very big political situation for the Irish state.