February 2012        

Heaven on Millionaires’ Row

Ireland is a rich country. It’s an island of millionaires—hundreds of them. In fact there are 620 of them of whom we know. These are not guys sitting on a million bucks’ worth of property or with a million in the bank but people who receive a (new) million annually. And it doesn’t include the many supposedly bankrupt who claim not to be able to clear their debts but who continue to live a life of vulgarity and ostentation.
     And then on top of those we have the tax exiles, chancers who create a (usually nominal) domicile outside the country to escape paying tax.
     The Blueshirt minister for finance, Michael Noonan, told the Dáil recently that 42 per cent of those earning between half a million and a million per year were paying less than 30 per cent income tax. (For those earning between a quarter and half a million the proportion of payers was just over 50 per cent. And 90 per cent of earners between €100,000 and €250,000 were paying that kind of tax.) Needless to say, all the people pocketing more than half a million per year are in the private sector.
     Income in the Irish state is taxed at 20 per cent, with those earning over €41,800 paying 41 per cent after that point. Of course most high-earners make inordinate use of the tax relief system. The Irish tax regime is extremely complicated for those who cannot afford accountants and tax advisers, but the level of legal tax avoidance makes a mockery of the whole system. There are people who have an annual income of more than a million euros who don’t have to pay a penny in tax because of the way they manipulate the system.
     Ten years ago the Irish state found itself capable, for the first time in history, of eliminating serious poverty. It chose not to do so. Instead, under the guidance of Mary Harney, supported by the repeatedly dug-out Bertie Ahern, it was state policy to feather the nests of the millionaires.
     Instead of a moderate project of transferring some of the surplus wealth from the millionaires, health, social welfare and education schemes were maintained at a depressed level.
     Nowadays, of course, the primary purpose of tax is not to fund the necessities of society but to pay off the banks. One might expect that the filthy rich might be asked to contribute a little to this end. But no! The main burden is being carried directly by the PAYE workers. And indirectly it is being carried by the unemployed, the elderly, the ill, and, worst of all, by the children.
     Many of our rich people increase their wealth every year by an amount equal to the cost of building a school: they could build a school each year and not miss it. Instead Ruairí Quinn has embarked on a vicious campaign of closing small schools.
     Ruairí is a favourite of the rich elite. He is on record as saying that the parents patronising fee-paying schools are subsidising the educational system and ought to be thanked. He doesn’t seem to have any leaning towards equality or inclusion.
     All this is in the context of EU, ECB and IMF controllers sitting in Government Buildings in the style of occupation commanders, ordering ministers and secretary-generals about and demanding more and more “austerity.” And, with typical collaborator mentality, the ministers and mandarins anticipate their every order and try to go even further in order to get a pat on the head.
     This means increasing indirect taxes and inventing new taxes and levies that happen to hit the working class hardest.
     At the same time they are almost boasting that they will not increase income tax in any way that might impinge on the seriously wealthy.
     This would be galling enough if exchequer income was being spent on social necessities. In March 2010 the Government, instead of letting Anglo-Irish Bank and Irish National Building Society go to the wall, as would happen with any business under “normal” capitalism, issued promissory notes (posh term for IOUs) amounting to €30,600,000,000, to be paid to reckless lenders.
     According to the current repayment schedule, this illegitimate debt on the people will not be paid off until 31 March 2031.
     By then the total paid with interest will be €47,400,000,000. This means that a whole generation has been condemned to “austerity.”
     As a footnote, it might be noted that last month Barack Obama in his “state of the Union” address said: “If you make more than $1 million a year, you should not pay less than 30 per cent in taxes.”
     Of the 620 people in Ireland whom we know earn over €1 million a year, 291 are paying less than 30 per cent tax. It appears that Merrion Street takes a kinder view towards its millionaires than the White House.

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