‘Debt Ain’t No Way to Treat A Lady’ – Anglo: Not Our Debt article for Women’s Day

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This post was written by Vicky Donnelly and originally posted on Contact.ie.


On the occasion of International Women’s Day we ask – Is Ireland stuck in an abusive relationship with the Troika?

The gendered impact of debt and austerity on women is well documented and, as we mark International Women’s Day 2012, one of the starkest reflections of this financial crisis is the news that demand for domestic violence services in Ireland has increased by 40% over the past three years.

Yet the people elected to provide the services we need are the very ones insisting that cuts must be made so that we can pay off the private gambling debts of reckless financial speculators.  Could it be the Irish government is itself in an abusive relationship with the Troika?

According to Women’s Aid, in addition to physical, sexual and psychological abuse, perpetrators  can also use money and finances  to control their victims and their description of Financial Abuse is worth a look in the context of the Irish government’s dealings with our partners from the IMF, EC and ECB.

Women’s Aid define Financial Abuse as a form of violence in which the abuser uses money as a means of controlling his partner.  It is a tactic that abusers use to gain power and dominance, isolating their partners into a state of “complete financial dependence.”  By controlling  access to financial resources the abuser ensures that their partner will be forced to “choose between staying in an abusive relationship and facing extreme poverty”

Surely it’s time that Enda and Michael took a long hard look at our relationship with the Troika and ask, “Are our needs ignored or considered unimportant?”  Does the Troika “make all the decisions in the relationship and control our access to basic essentials?”  Has the Troika “forced us to do something that we really did not want to do?”

In cases of financial abuse, Women’s Aid  explain, the abuser controls the family finances.  Their partners may not be allowed to have an independent income and may have to account to the abuser for all purchases and spending.  The abuser may take control of  bank cards and empty joint accounts (or pension reserves, perhaps).   Money may be withheld  if the abuser’s demands are not complied with and they may deny money (or threaten to) needed to pay household bills or buy necessities for children.   Crucially, the abuser often persuades their partner to take the blame and will, Women’s Aid caution, try to use the recession to justify the abuse.

Then there’s the question of or whether the Troika have been been abusive in previous relationships?   The evidence here is hard to ignore.

With their imposition of cuts to health, education and social protection in some of the world’s most economically challenged countries, the IMF have a shameful record of financial abuse.  In the past, a UNICEF report explicitly held IMF policies responsible for the death of  500,000 children per year, while the ongoing practices of coercing Southern countries into neo-colonial trade agreements leaves Europe’s reputation far from clean.

Yes, these guys have abused before and while we may want to believe it’ll be different this time, it’s time to face the facts:  this relationship is toxic and it has distorted our leaders’ thinking.  How else to explain a government – one that made pre-election promises, incidentally, to renegotiate the terms of the ‘bailout’ –  that forces women and men and vulnerable children to take 100% responsibility  for the financial collapse while insisting that the private institutions responsible for the mess should be paid off “on time and in full”?

Abusers shift the blame and they lie.  The greatest of these lies is not that these debts are just – morality is clearly not the Troika’s concern – it is that they are payable.   They are not. The socialisation of the Anglo/Nationwide liabilities via the infamous Promissory Note will cost people in Ireland upward of €47 billion, or a fifth  of ‘our’ national debt, or the equivalent of an austerity budget every year for the next decade and beyond. A debt burden of this scale cannot be borne.  The only responsible option is to suspend payment now and to negotiate a write-down of these debts, while we still have the semblance of a functioning society, or else endure until there is literally nothing left to cut and fall into default.

For women suffering the hell of domestic violence the options are curtailed by a number of factors  (not least the inadequacy of funding for refuges and support services).  Yet, despite the fear, risks and limited choices, hundreds of women every year find the courage to leave their abuser to rebuild their lives and those of their children.  The crucial point about Ireland’s abusive relationship with the Troika is that, regardless of what we’re being told, we do have choices.  We can chose to suspend payment on the promissory note before the next payment falls due on the 30th March and then insist on a write down on the principal (rather than letting the Troika sweet talk us with the suggestion of a meaningless interest rate reduction).  We can choose to prioritise the survival of our society over the illegitimate debts of a zombie bank.  Regardless of what the abuser says, there are always alternatives.  Our first step should be to follow this advice from women’s Aid:   ‘Get out, if you can.’  Enda, Michael, we know you’re scared but, honestly, this is hurting us more than it hurts you.

Vicky Donnelly is a member of the Debt Justice Action network