Government accused of making ‘clear decision’ not to address child poverty

US rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights says taxation policies are ‘anti-social behaviour’

Ireland’s taxation policies were “anti-social behaviour” and the Government made a “clear decision” not to address child poverty or reverse the worst of austerity, the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights has said.

Prof Philip Alston, addressing a conference on taxation justice hosted by Christian Aid, said Ireland had a “surprisingly ambivalent relationship” with economic and social human rights.

“Ireland was once at the forefront. The early Irish Constitution identified economic and social rights as fundamental principles. Ireland wanted to distinguish itself from its colonial legacy. Today, however, we see a continued reluctance within the country to accept that economic and social rights are human rights in the full sense domestically. We can embrace them for other countries but we still don’t embrace them as full human rights within the Irish context.”

Ireland had been a great economic success after terrible setbacks in recent years. There was no question that the 12.5 per cent corporate tax rate as well as “Ireland’s willingness to accommodate all sorts of special arrangements” with individual companies made it attractive for investment.


“The problem is, a low-tax policy can also degenerate into a mantra. A mantra is useful when you don’t want to think about something, [but] Ireland’s much-vaunted tax policies do need to be kept under constant review.”

Insufficient attention was being given at official level to the consequences of austerity policies and taxation choices. “The recent child deprivation poverty statistics which came out last month were pretty shocking for a country such as this.” The usual response was that tax policies had to be balanced against longer-term social commitments and that sufficient money was not available.

“The reality, of course, is that there is money available if Ireland chooses to make it available. These social policies are clear choices. These are not choices made by a Government that has no option. They are not choices that are simply precluded because ‘we need to maintain our tax policy’. It is a clear decision not to address the rate of child poverty. It is a decision not to roll back some of the very harmful reductions that had to be taken over the last seven or eight years. These are conscious decisions, not matters that are beyond our control.”

The question of whether Ireland was a tax-haven was “touchy” and although Ireland argued it was not a tax-haven, it was,Prof Alston added. Ireland was a place large multinationals “laundered profits”.

“The double Irish and range of other shady policies, the details and consequences of which have been very well-known to the Government for a long time, are not something that happened accidentally.” These “lurks and perks” were not central to Ireland’s identity as an attractive place to do business, but “should be seen as an anti-social behaviour”.

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times