A stitch-up pure and simple
The oppositon was quite right to point out the bizarre tax arrangement that saw Gerry McCaughey dispatching his wife to Italy for six months (out of a calendar year) to save himself €4.7 million in capital gains tax.
But Labour leader Eamon Gilmore was wrong to describe him as a “green crony”. He wasn’t that. McCaughey was a PD who stood for the party in 2002. He was even mentioned as a possible Moses figure to lead the PDs out of the desert it found itself in after 2007.
But it’s true that McCaughey is a green enterpeneur. He has been a forceful and articulate campaigner for timber-frame homes and has shown himself to be a brilliant all-round communicator on a host of issues.
He’s an impressive guy, a self-made man, and one who has made a positive contribution to society.
And becoming the chair of the Dublin Docklands Development Authority was no cake walk. Some of the land deals that have been struck (and, more importantly, have not been struck) in the brownfield docklands area have been problematic (especially with property going into freefall). There are more disputes along that stretch of the Liffey than there are bridges. By agreeing to become chairman the straight-talking McCaughey knew he was taking on something of a poisoned chalice. And in that regard, he was performing a service to the State.
But somebody out there clearlyt wanted him gone. It was as simple as that. The KPMG document outlining the tax avoidance scheme that he and two other directors of Century Homes availed of was leaked to RTE (which must be congratulated for its scoop). By parties unknown. That person or persons obviously did not want McCaughey’s brand of straight-talking in the DDDA. And you feel sorry for him that he was outed by that kind of scheming and sabotage and chicanery. By people whom you suspect were spurred on by less than honorable motives.
In fairness to him, once it became public, he knew he would have to fall on his sword. John Gormley said he didn’t know of this arrangement when he appointed McCaughey to the positon (even though Revenue objected to the arrangment and it’s apparently still going through the Courts). For that Gormley can be accused of naivety, nothing more.
But it leaves Gerry McCaughey in a slightly ambivalent position, the revelation about his taxes sullying his public profile as one of the “good guys” of Irish business.
The arrangement was perfectly legal. But there is no mood in Irish society for all the burden and pain being carried by PAYE workers and little guys while the rich get tax consultants like KPMG to concoct outlandishly elaborate schemes so they can avoid paying tax. Shane Ryan, a son of the late aviation tycoon Tony Ryan, availed of exactly the same Italian job. It’s so artificial and so ridiculous but was still perfectly legal until the loophole was closed off in 2006. Legally right. Morally? Not right.
Not that McCaughey is alone. Ireland’s greatest living divinity, Bono, and his colleagues in U2 have also got their advisers to perform acrobatics to avoid paying tax in Ireland. All perfectly legal of course. As did Denis O’Brien when he decamped to Portugal to minimise tax on his profits fater selling off his mobile phone company.
In my opinion, paying your fair share of taxes is one of the great public services performed by ordinary citizens in our society. The corollary, I believe, is that those who go to such lenghts to avoid the obligation are shorn of any of the moral authority the claim when giving their views on the rights and wrongs of our society. Why should we be preached to by people who don’t pay their taxes in Ireland?