The Debts That Bind Us

Odious debt, the two simple onomatopoeic words that accompany us everywhere we go. The Joan Burton redundant matter of Bank Debt that is the Elephant in every room we enter. I shouldn’t call it “Bank Debt” anymore. It’s our debt, yours and mine. We need never feel alone again, our shared experience of societal debt inclusiveness can comfort us in the low moments. You are one of the debt slaves. You are amongst friends. We are citizens of Retrospective Recapitalisation la-la land.

For Sale: Irish Bonds, fire damaged, sold as seen, caveat emptor. It would be funny if it wasn’t so tragic. For every time we are told about the seismic shift, game changing deal done on the promissory note, there’s a thousand subordinated bondholders to be paid in full, this despite them having paid less than sixty cent in the euro to acquire the bonds. Simply put, someone bought Irish junk bonds in a Recession Fire Sale and is now not only getting what they “invested” but are to get the full return due to the original holder.  The Retrospective Recapitalisation Enda announced was not for us, it was the Vulture Funds who bought the Junk Bonds. It wasn’t Enda’s fault, ‘twas a turn of phrase.

Piggy walks to the Roulette table, puts his full stack of chips on Black. The wheel spins, stops and it’s Red. Piggy turns to the group of Draft Horses at the table and asks for a “bailout”. The Horses don’t want to see him in penury and have a whip round. Piggy once more pushes the entire stack forward. “Black” he says again. The wheel spins, stops, it’s Black. Piggy smiles, collects his winnings and heads to cash out. Not a penny will be shared with the Horses, they whinny and snort, they cry foul and eventually the Piggy Banker is hauled in front of an Oireachtas Inquiry to express his deep regret. The Horses are told to move on, that their “Hard Work is Working”*, that any disruption will put the “Recovery at risk”. Any attempt to renegotiate “does not make sense” to Far Right Ring Master Simon Harris. Yes, Fine Gael are a majority Far Right Party.

“The problem with Socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money” – Margaret Thatcher

Maggie was a great one for the one-liners. The above quote is a favourite of the Beggar Thy Neighbour Neoliberal Capitalists who throw it at anyone who advocates for alternative models. The problem is, one-liners are accepted as wisdom. But even a basic parsing of this quip exposes the incompetence of same. Ireland has never had a Socialist model; we’ve had alternating Right Wing Governments who have alternated us through cyclical Booms and Busts.

In fact, the only time our Right Wing Leaders have called for a Socialist model, has been in the Socialising of Odious Debt. There’s some for everyone in the audience.

“If you’re not a socialist at 20 you are heartless, if you are one at 40 you are brainless” Attributed to Churchill, Clemenceau and Lloyd George

This witticism, variously attributed, is actually an admission of avarice and conservativism. It speaks to those who accumulate some wealth and prosperity, becoming greedier and less open minded. It is, in fact, a proclamation of self-interest above the greater good. And it does it in such a way that the proclaimer thinks it’s acceptable. An Orwellian “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others” decree for the modern era.

Meanwhile the debt grows, somewhere north of €200 billion, it endures and thrives. It will grow by thousands while you read these few lines. Perhaps I’m wrong to make an issue of it. I should probably stick to witticisms and quips. Maybe I’ll join the Ministerial led Parade that wants to Glory in the misery, debt and death of the Greek people. Celebrating our ticking time bomb of unsustainable debt has only increased Male suicide in Ireland by 57% during the “necessary adjustments”. After all, I’m coming up on 40 and have done quite well for myself. It’s time to stop throwing lifelines to others and to start throwing them under buses on soon to be discontinued routes.

But no, I can’t help feel that Beggar Thy Neighbour is abhorrent. I believe the decision to put Unsecured Subordinated Bonds ahead of children with special needs is despicable. Maybe I’m not maturing quickly enough. Time to grow up Mr Groves, or is it? I’m not asking you, I’m asking my pal Odious Debt, my constant travelling companion.


Tony Groves Jan 2016


*the unfortunate Nazi undertone (Work Sets You Free) is hideously revealing.

12 thoughts on “The Debts That Bind Us

  1. Thanks Tony, for the articulate reminder of what austerity has cost not just us, but all of Europe; for making sure we don’t forget the debt burden that not just we, but our children will share; and for drawing this readers attention to the “redundant” comment made by our Tanaiste, which in and of itself riled me up on this miserable Sunday night.

    The sad truth is that as a small, open economy, with an economic policy that bakes vulnerability to Large Corporates and Capital Markets into our positioning. That our political classes (all of them)
    don’t see this vulnerability as something to be managed for the people, something against which the people should be insulated and protected from is infuriating. The world is entering an era where Large Corporates have a bigger influence on Sovereign policy than ever before (take a bow TTIP, tax policies and unfettered globalisation) means that our politicians ignorance will leave the vulnerable more so, and the burden unchanged. Sure, it’s hard to do the right thing in what’s a very complex area but failing to see the problem at all is unacceptable. I will vote for the first politician I meet who ccan make a stab at explaining either the rights corporate or odious debt. I suspect I will be untroubled in the coming weeks. Keep writing👍🏽

    1. Thanks Mark, and you are of course correct. We have an economy stood on foundations of sand (MNC’s, Capital Markets) and a societal (not just political) blindness to the risks. The very fact that the TTIP is negotiated in private, and that’s accepted as necessary,goes to the core of your point. The tail is wagging the dog here. Do we have a Statesman able and willing to reverse the trend? I don’t want to answer that right at this moment. I’m trying to eat my lunch.

  2. Nail on the head stuff Tony. Picks up all the central elements. Now, how to turn it into creating a change whenever we get our once in 5 years so called opportunity. FF over the w/e has dropped whatever ball they were carrying, headed for the opposition benches, whatevr that means. Mary Hanafin will be happy, if FF coalesced with FG she says, it means SF would be the leader of the opposition, a dangerous development. What f*****g arrogance.

    Most people don’t know how their vote would change the apalling debt situation, too complicated because it is not properly explained by the pols, You managed to they cannot

    We must make every effort to ensure a seriouly mixed result, requiring a proper negotiation to create a government. Any fudeged together mix of FG/Lab and a few pals from the rabble will change nothing.

    We are supposed to know how to use PR, well lets do it. Think carefully before allocating, DO NOT feel obliged to go all the way down, stick to the top few to ensure some slimy doesn’t get in on the nth count. Check out how to do it before you take the pencil in hand.

    1. Well said, it’s critical we Know not only who we are voting for but how other preferences will wash out and result in the very person you did not want representing you ends up in a seat. We aren’t as democratic as we pretend, the Roman’s used to get to vote annually, we can be stuck with incompetent Govt for 5 years. Vote Smart!!

  3. Those of us on the left are in no doubt that bailing out and then loading up the debt on the taxpayers was wrong. The arguement often given is that the alternative would have been worse, that we cant afford to upset the markets. And some people worry that we have given away too much power to brussels! We have given an awful lot of our sovereign power away to ratings companies.

  4. All true, but (and apologies in advance) we are where we are. The good news is we need not stay in this hole. NAMA have subordinated bonds they plan on repaying in full between now and 2020!! We must challenge our Politicians when they say the matter is redundant, we can STILL save billions and tell People they matter more than Markets. Thanks for the feedback,


  5. Enjoyed the piece. Think you’re a little unfair to people who are just too busy to fight over what they’re told is a redundant matter.

  6. Tony. Well put and U agree with you. The sad thing is that the voting public like to believe the verbals that eminate from the creche called Leinster House.
    If I was younger I would emigrate.

  7. Nice piece Tony,

    I would very much make the case for electing a solid left leaning Government for once and demanding that they perform a root and branch internal Debt Audit.

    Draw a line down that page and place the honest / legal debt that the sovereign borrowed for hospitals, education, roads on one side. On the other side of that line will be the nonsense that was foisted upon us citizens by our frenemies in the EU. Tell us who those bondholders are and tell them they can’t have that money as it was NEVER ours to pay.

    Taking the grander view; since the invention of the game changer that is nuclear warfare fewer have been called to die for global war efforts. Indeed after Iraq and Afghanistan world governments would now have a slightly harder time brainwashing the public for such endeavors. Instead we are living at a time of debt wars and the outcomes are the same but less visible. We the people are the ones who are suffering the losses, in the school rooms, on the hospital trolleys and our social fabric as a whole. We are taught to hate downwards and admire those who accumulate wealth at the expense of mankind as a whole. While the seeds of future warfare will be ideologically driven on a new religious and cultural plain.

  8. Thanks for the comments and feedback. You’re nearly as pessimistic as I!! I agree with you on the ideological battle to come but disagree that will necessitate a future war. We start at our dinner tables and hope enough of our children learn to believe in a fairer, inclusive and more equal society. But the future is a …

Leave a Reply