THOSE FOLLOWING MY BLOG know I have been trying to live in smarter surroundings and that meant spending 45 minutes yesterday laying trace heating around my home's main water supply. While I was finishing the job, I was thinking about a few hollow-eyed people in Athy trying to do smart things that would help them get out from under withering debt.
The Athy group, called New Beginning, was set up a year ago primarily to provide legal advice to people at risk of losing their homes. It has been sustained by an absolute feeling of hopelessness.
Kathy Sheridan from the Irish Times writes, "A business failure in a small town means more than a drop in lifestyle. These are people who grew up together, celebrated milestones together and did business together. Now some are reduced to suing old friends for unpaid billd or uncompleted transactions The squeeze has a domino effect, reaching into every crevice of town life In a tight-knit society where paths cross many times a week--on the street, at the school gate, at children's training at the local rugby club--the power of debt to isolate and destroy men, women, families and communities is felt at its most profound."
I can see this same fear growing in my local community because the common belief is that the European Community has rowed down the River Suir and placed banks first, businesses second and people third. Small businesses are being starved of credit lines and revenue at the cash till. People are being taxed more at every turn of their lives. The economy is starved for cash so banks can maintain their reserves.
The battles for survival happen face-to-face in private offices with bank managers. Small businessmen, who fail to roll with their game rules, are wound up.
The Irish people have rolled with the punches since early 2009 when the banks got the treatment (cash infusions) that depleted the public purse. Movements like New Beginning in Athy are happening in pub corners and during chat sessions at Chambers of Commerce meetings across Ireland. As Kathy Sheridan sees it, "Just as there was a rebalancing of the relationship between workers and employers at the beginning of the 20th century, which led to workers being unionised, we are looking for a rebalancing of the relationship now between the lenders and the borrowers."
It amazes me that the Irish banking sector, the institution that stood over the rise of the Irish overheated economy, now feels emboldened to turn the screws on long-time customers who have cash flow problems. Banks, who contributed so significantly to the Irish economic problem, now refuse to play a constructive role in solving it.
This is a national conversation. Town hall meetings like Athy's New Beginning are planned for Cork, Waterford, Galway, Sligo, Kilkenny and Dundalk. There will be no schwag at the door. There should be some cross-talk about small business finance, some heartfelt stories from businesses going under, and some tactics exchanged that have worked for businesses under pressure.
I am not involved in http://www.newbeginning.ie but I know the hopes it has raised.
Sent mail2blog from my Nokia phone using O2 3G Typepad service in Celbridge, County Kildare, Ireland. Image borrowed from the New Beginning website.