If Sinn Féin wants to hit the rich, it should embrace property taxes

Business Comment: Oxfam report shows Irish billionaires are up €18bn due to pandemic

Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald: The party wants a wealth tax yet remains opposed to the highly efficient  local property tax. Photograph: Gareth Chaney

Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald: The party wants a wealth tax yet remains opposed to the highly efficient local property tax. Photograph: Gareth Chaney

 

Sinn Féin was quick out of the blocks on Monday to call for a wealth tax on Ireland’s richest citizens, after an Oxfam report based on Forbes figures suggested that Ireland’s nine billionaires have added more than €18 billion to their wealth during Covid, bringing the total to just shy of €50 billion.

The charity called for a tax on “extreme wealth” to help pay for the recovery from the pandemic. Meanwhile, Sinn Féin criticised the “obscene wealth” of the super-rich, and suggested their gains were made “on the backs of workers”.

Instead of leeching off the toil of employees, it is more likely that the recent gains enjoyed by Ireland’s wealthiest came on the back of the European Central Bank’s bond-buying programme. It has propped up capital markets and asset values, while a pandemic tech boom also eased things along for Irish billionaires, such as the Collison brothers, John and Patrick, who founded Stripe.

Retained wealth

Most of the Irish ultra-rich are based abroad and of the wealth they retain here, much of it is tied up in property, such as John Collison’s new €20 million country estate in Laois, or Denis O’Brien’s in Dublin 4. How ironic, then, that Sinn Féin says it wants a wealth tax yet remains implacably opposed to the highly efficient wealth tax that is already on the statute books, the local property tax.

Sinn Féin says it wants the LPT abolished in favour of other taxes on the wealthiest, even though several reports from the Central Bank of Ireland have shown that as much as 90 per cent of Irish wealth comes from property ownership. Surely that is where any wealth tax should be focused.

Well-designed property taxes are viewed as progressive by left-wing parties elsewhere in Europe. As Sinn Féin nudges closer to the levers of power, and also responsibility for balancing the books, it will be interesting to see if its views evolve, or if it maintains its current contradictory position as a vote winner.

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