Irish unions lead marches to protest austerity
Trade unionists marched in Ireland's capital Saturday to protest the continuing high cost of the country's crippling bank bailout program.
The Irish Congress of Trade Unions, representing a third of Ireland's 2 million-strong workforce, called for "Lift the Burden" protests in Dublin and other cities, hoping to draw tens of thousands of people on to the streets.
The marches went ahead despite Thursday's agreement with the European Central Bank to restructure the loans used to bail out Ireland's failing banks, a deal expected to reduce the national debt by (EURO)20 billion ($27 billion) in the coming decade and help the country's expected exit from its own international bailout.
Irish police estimated that up to 20,000 people joined the Dublin march. Amid the red balloons and banners, one group carried a mockup of a large weight labeled "jobs not debt."
Marches organized by the congress were also happening in Cork, where the turnout was estimated at 6,000, and in Sligo where police said there was a similar level of participation. In Galway and Waterford, police estimated the crowds at 2,000.
The Congress had hoped as many as 100,000 would participate across the country.
"It would be fatal for people to believe this issue is now resolved and we can all move on," said David Begg, the general secretary of the congress.
"At the onset of the crisis Ireland had one of the lowest debt to GDP (gross domestic product) ratios in Europe. The difference between then and now is due entirely to Ireland socializing bank debt at the behest of the ECB, to save the European banking system."
He contended that Irish taxpayers are 42 percent of the bank debt burden in the 27-nation European Union.
Ireland was forced to take the EU-IMF bailout in 2010 after the cost of rescuing six banks destroyed the government's own ability to borrow. Ireland ultimately was forced to nationalize five banks.