TENS of thousands of people have taken part in mass demonstrations across the Republic to voice their anger at the country’s debt woes.
Trade union organisers claimed around 110,000 people participated in the six rallies on Saturday, though Irish police estimates were more conservative.
While union chiefs said 60,000 protestors turned up for the main event in Dublin, the Garda put the figure at around 25,000. The rallies in the capital and in Cork, Galway, Limerick, Waterford and Sligo went ahead despite the government deal with Europe’s banking chiefs.
The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) insisted the country’s multi-billion debt burden had not been lifted by the agreement with the European Central Bank to change how the state repays the colossal bill racked up from its rescue of toxic lenders.
The government’s Project Red saw £24 billion worth of costly IOUs – so-called promissory notes issued after the nationalisation of the failed Anglo Irish Bank – swapped for long-term sovereign bonds.
The arrangement, which was backed by ECB officials after a meeting in Frankfurt, will effectively see the state repay Anglo’s debt over a longer period – a move that will reduce the size of annual payments.
The government claims the deal could mean £846 million in tax hikes and spending cuts can be avoided in upcoming budgets. It has also claimed it will wipe £16.9 billion off the total cost of Anglo.
But union leaders in the Republic insist the agreement does not alter the fact that taxpayers are still footing the bill for the bankers’ failures.
ICTU general secretary David Begg said there was nothing fair about the new deal.
“If you read some papers yesterday you would think we had achieved economic salvation and our problems were over,” he told demonstrators at the rally in Dublin’s Merrion Square.
“Nothing could be further from the truth. And we have over 100,000 people on the streets of Ireland today who feel the same way.”