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Editorial: Who’s cheating whom?

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

"Ireland awash in allegations of political, financial sleaze," declared an Irish Echo front page headline last February. Judging by the cascade of reports on corruption and scandal since, it’s a headline that could be used virtually every week.

Many of the recent allegations made during hearings before a number of tribunals in Dublin may seem a legal and financial morass. But it appears this week that former Taoiseach Charles Haughey has again become a lightning rod for those angry over how the wealthy and well-connected apparently ripped the country off while ordinary workers had no option but to endure punitive tax rates under the Pay As You Earn system. Some of these workers are now U.S. residents, people who got fed up with the system and left.

In reading about Haughey’s £6,000 jacket with gold buttons and expensive Paris-made shirts, one cannot but think of Imelda Marcos’s penchant for fancy shoes. On the day Haughey was making the first payment to his exclusive Paris shirtmakers in February 1991, unemployment in Ireland reached an all-time high, according to the Irish Times. At the time, the basic payment made to the short-term unemployed was £45 a week. Yet Haughey had just paid £8,332.32 for his shirts to the Charvet company.

Haughey is only the tip of the iceberg. The week after the taoiseach made his second payment to Charvet, the general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Peter Cassells, declared that tax evasion was costing the State tens of millions of pounds every year. Cassells added that "well-heeled cheats" were directly responsible for closing hospital wards, taking teachers out of classrooms and threatening the wages of nurses, gárdaí and ambulance drivers by failing to pay their fair share of tax.

This was all happening in Ireland at a time when emigration from the country was rampant, when young people, many disillusioned and without employment prospects, left parents and siblings behind.

Of course, in Ireland in the last 10 years, there have been profound changes. That this has led to more accountability being demanded from those with money and power is a good thing, be it the church, legal, business or political establishment.

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This week, Ireland’s comptroller and auditor general reported that almost £60 million in taxes was owed by the self-employed and professional people during the seven years from 1990. The report added that many in this category never even filed a tax return.

If such corruption was pervasive in the bad times, one shudders to think what might still be happening today.

As Ireland basks in the glow of the Celtic Tiger economy, young immigrants are still coming the U.S., evidence that, despite the boom and bloom, the rising economic tide is not lifting all boats. Great is the injustice if just one Irish person has to emigrate because somewhere, someone wealthy and well-connected is a cheat.

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