The government is due to make a €3.1bn payout on an Anglo Irish bond in March. Photograph: Peter Muhly/AFP/Getty Images
Anti-debt campaigners gathered in Dublin on Wednesday to call on the Irish government to suspend repayments on the bonds of bailed-out lender Anglo Irish Bank.
A coalition of trade unionists, faith groups and international debt relief campaigners, called Debt Justice Action, is highlighting the social costs of keeping up repayments on the bonds of Ireland's bailed-out banking sector.
Andy Storey of University College Dublin said the €3.1bn (£2.6bn) the Irish government is due to pay out on an Anglo bond at the end of March could fund the country's entire primary school system for a year.
He said most private bondholders in the bank have now been paid off, so the government is now repaying public-sector creditors, including the European Central Bank, which part-funded the Irish bailout. In total, the rescue of Anglo will have cost €47bn by 2031, the equivalent of 30% of Ireland's current GDP.
Enda Kelly's government has been keen to distance itself from crisis-hit Greece, but with the Irish economy contracting, public scepticism about the Brussels-backed austerity programme is growing.
Jimmy Kelly, regional secretary of the Unite trade union, said: "[Suspending repayments] would draw a line in the sand against reckless lending practices, save billions of euros belonging to people in Ireland, and have no negative repercussions for ordinary people in Ireland or elsewhere. Our demand is feasible and winnable."
The campaign for a debt write-off in Ireland is still small, but there have also been demands for homeowners who have seen the price of their property collapse to be allowed to suspend repayments on their mortgages.
Irish anti-debt campaigners have exchanged notes with protesters in Greece, Asia and Latin America – including Argentina, whose government defaulted on a loan from the International Monetary Fund after a savage political and economic crisis.
Nessa Ní Chasaide of the Debt and Development Coalition, an international debt campaign group, said: "The unanimous message of campaigners in Africa, Asia and Latin America is that ruining whole societies to repay illegitimate debts is wrong and unworkable.
"A solution must be based on cancellation of illegitimate debts that ensure lenders are held accountable for their mistakes, rather than sacrificing people's rights [because of] fear of financial markets."
Greece is currently struggling to negotiate a write-off of 50% on its debts to private sector bondholders, including banks and hedge funds, but talks broke down at the end of last week.
Eurozone leaders have insisted that Greece will be the only country in the single currency area to be offered debt relief in this way but financial markets are likely to focus on the risk that Portugal and Ireland – the two other countries forced to seek emergency bailouts over the past three years – could also demand a debt restructuring.