A few things concerning Mick Wallace’s €2.1 million tax settlement with the Revenue Commissioners.First, the Irish Times had a report a couple of weeks back in which a mother of six who had ‘claimed nearly €230,000 in social welfare payments’ over a period of 14 years was jailed for three years. The judge had ‘noted that all the money had been repaid, but he said a custodial sentence must be imposed’. Her solicitor, according to the report, said she ‘had been admitted to women’s refuges 40 times, sometimes with injuries, because of her husband’s drink problem’. The report said that the woman ‘wailed and screamed as she was led away to begin her sentence‘. So it is hard to have any sympathy for Mick Wallace, to say the least, on account of his under-declaration of VAT payments, though the calls for a custodial sentence to be imposed on him emanating from some quarters strike me as meaningless in the context of a State that imprisons a mother of six in the way outlined above.
The most strident voices urging that the highest standards of ethical probity be observed by public representatives have no problem with those same representatives passing laws that privilege banking and property interests, that erode the capacity of the State to fund public services, and that condemn growing numbers of the population to unemployment, poverty, and forced emigration.The same voices who condemn Wallace for evading tax are often the same ones who are the most stentorian defenders of Ireland’s corporation tax rates. In principle at least, there is no moral difference between what the Irish State does in allowing corporations to use Ireland as a tax haven so as not to pay taxes on profits in the countries in which they operate, and Wallace’s evasion of his personal tax obligations. In practice, the scale of the Irish State’s facilitation of tax evasion makes €2.1 million look like a thruppeny bit down the back of the sofa. Not only does the Irish State ensure privilege for banking and property elites in Ireland above the welfare of its citizens, placing the living standards and working conditions of the population of Ireland under permanent attack, but it systematically attacks the capacity of people in other countries to ensure proper funding for public services: schools, hospitals, public transport, and so on.
The State continues to do so thanks in part to a broad consensus across politicians in all the main political parties, who, with the enthusiastic and often fanatical backing from Ireland’s mass media outlets, frequently defend this scandalous arrangement as a brand to be proud of, and an international badge of honour.Now, it ought to be pointed out that all this is entirely legal. But it is precisely because of this that the pigeon-chested outrage at Wallace’s tax evasion should be treated with contempt. Why should anyone give a damn about standards in public office, when what all this concern with the preservation of standards in public offfice is really about is the preservation of the ability to make mass robbery look respectable? Regarding the press attention this case is receiving, it’s likely that any politician from any political party would be subjected to a similar level of scrutiny, since a high standard of ethical behaviour is demanded of anyone who aspires to suffocate the country’s finances and privatise its assets. But there is an undeniable frisson of interest in the case of Wallace, on account of his membership of the technical group, which, whilst not a political party, is treated as one de facto by the press and by politicians who are members of major political parties in the Dáil. Since the technical group also includes the United Left Alliance TDs, who have proven the most prominent critics of government policy within the Dáil, but who, along with Wallace, have also given their support to the Campaign Against Household and Water Taxes, there is also a clear interest, on the part of the political and media establishments, in tethering the case of someone who has evaded taxes to the act of mass civil disobedience and political protest on the part of hundreds of thousands of people, since it serves to undermine the credibility and weaken participation in the latter. Hence Martyn Turner’s cartoon from the Irish Times on Saturday: