What the Flood and McCracken and Moriarty Tribunals have revealed over the last year or so is that politicians and business people regularly exchange massive sums of money without the slightest regard to taxation. £1.1 million was routed into Charlie Haughey's account from supermarket boss Ben Dunne via the "good offices" of accountant Des Traynor. Even more amazingly in 1991 Ben Dunne, himself in person, handed Charlie £210,000 in the now traditional brown envelope - "there's something for yourself". "Thanks big fella" replied the then Taoiseach.
According to James Gogarty's testimony to the Flood tribunal, in June 1989 himself and fellow Dublin builder Michael Bailey arrived at the home of Raphael (aka Ray) Burke with not one but two envelopes containing a total of eighty grand. Ray didn't say thanks but he did give them tea and biscuits. On the way up Gogarty turned to Bailey; "will we get a receipt?" he asked, "will we fuck" came the legendary reply.
More to the point even when these facts were admitted as in Haughey's case, he still got away without any tax liability!! Certainly when it comes to paying their taxes there is a different system for the rich. What about Joe and Josephine tax payer? Last November's budget was surely a classic example of how they would have to pay and pay while the bosses got away.
900 million pounds that's how much of a budget surplus Charlie McCreevy was sitting on last November. More than £1,000 for every worker in the country. But before we actually have a look at some of the provisions of this supposed "give away" budget pause to consider for a moment just whose money is this? Yours of course!
You don't have to be a regular reader of this paper to have guessed that the bosses have been "largeing it up" on our backs for the past ten years. Between 1987 and 1997 wages have grown by 104% - not bad you might say. In the same period, though, declared profits rose 242%, or two and a half times wages. These were the declared profits, and as P. Flynn, Ray Burke and Charles J could tell you not all profit is declared! So firstly the bosses are making a fortune out of under valuing our work. After this theft is achieved we pay taxes. Over 85% of tax on income is paid by PAYE workers, and workers and the unemployed pay a huge quantity of indirect tax on almost everything we buy.
So that £900 million was ours. If we were Raphael Burke, Peewee Flynnstone or Charles J Haughey it would be ours to cavort with as we pleased. Now let's face it, if it was put up to the people of Ireland as to how this supposed social fund was distributed most would use it to cut hospital waiting lists, end homelessness, and tackle poverty. But we are not allowed to decide how our money is spent. In fact we have absolutely nothing to do with it and this is the way the system works.
Just how little control ordinary people and communities have in the land of the Celtic Moggy was dramatically illustrated on the sameday as the budget. In the small West Donegal village of Kerrykeel, Esat Digiphone wanted to erect a mobile telephone mast. The vast majority of people in the area don't want this but the phone company did. So the mast was bashed in with the help 150 gardaí in riot gear. The inhabitants were locked out of their village and the mast went up - local democracy capitalist style.
Similarly when we look at the budget we see that, as usual, the wishes and dreams of the vast majority of Irish people were nothing to the connivance and schemes of our lords and masters. £132 million was handed to a tiny group of fat cats to stuff in their pockets or up their noses. This came through a 4% cut in corporation tax and the halving of capital gains tax which was retained from the previous budget.
On top of this another £25 million of our money was spent in decreasing betting tax for the country's poverty stricken bookies. Perhaps they are hoping that those on social welfare will be swarming in to the bookies to spend their miserly £3 a week increase (for which they will have to wait till April). The Scheme Workers Alliance described this increase as "a kick in the face to Community Employment workers and the unemployed".
But that wasn't the last of it. While Charlie was announcing his budget the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs quietly issued a circular denying a Christmas bonus to those who had been on supplementary welfare for less than a year. Those could safely be described as the poorest of the poor who do not qualify for any other payment and who survive on £68.40 a week for a single person. This circular was later withdrawn but once again it illustrates how much or how little the government cares about us ordinary people.
What about the much hyped tax cuts? The main provision was to increase tax free allowances to £100 a week, which took 80,000 people out of the tax net. But consider what this tells us about pay. 80,000 people officially earning less than £2.50 an hour, at a time when rented accommodation starts at about £65 a week! As the Scheme workers Alliance put it "Community Employment workers have no objection in principle to paying tax, but they would like to have an income worth taxing."
Workers will have a little more money in their pockets and the improvements were targeted at the low paid. But consider the context of ten years of 'social partnership' and profits are rising 2.5 times faster than wages. There had to be some sop for workers so their union officials could stitch another deal with the government.
"The budget has put Partnership 2000 back on the rails" according to the Irish Times (Budget '99 supplement Thursday Dec. 3rd).
The pressing problems for ordinary people were laughed at as our money was recouped into the pockets of our bosses. You could almost hear them sniggering as they announced a princely 69p a week increase in child benefit, £20 million to hospitals (£5 million less than the cut in betting tax), £45 million for local authority housing. Our government takes our money, hands most of it to our bosses, cuts us a few crumbs and laughs in our faces. We don't even get a receipt let alone tea and biscuits! Meantime the bosses and politicians line their pockets and have to be dragged kicking and screaming through every court in the land to pay their taxes. If we continue to do nothing about it then the joke is on us. Come on now, have you no sense of humor?
Conor Mc Loughlin