Populism and politics


Sir, – In recent years politicians increasingly accuse each other of “populism”, a term that roughly appears to entail seeking public support by presenting simplistic solutions to what are in fact complex problems. The populist usually seeks to take the side of the everyman, who are defined as being in contrast to others – the elites. Since no one sees themselves as an elite, few voters will be turned off. The word was widely applied to Donald Trump, to Boris Johnson and to the Ukip and Brexit movement. In Ireland it is often applied, conversely, to left-wing politicians. Reading Pat O’Brien’s balanced analysis of recent discussions on property taxes makes me think that the accusation of populism can credibly be made at all political levels in Ireland (Letters, June 14th).

It is worth considering that Ireland is rated as one of the best countries to live in globally. It is among the happiest nations in the world. We offer world-leading education and free healthcare to most people. If you need to call the emergency services, you can do so in the confidence that highly trained personnel will promptly arrive and sincerely try to help you. No one will expect a bribe. You may access the highest levels of education or training on merit alone, and should you fail to do so, an acceptable quality of life can be had even if you never find work. You can protest and argue with Government policy without fear of anything more than disagreement or, perhaps, being laughed at. These statements are true of only a handful of countries around the world.

Since the universal social charge ceased to be in any way universal, we have a situation where many people enjoy the complete package of all that Ireland offers for nothing, paying no income, property or “wealth” taxes. They may inherit or be gifted large amounts, again, with no obligation to pay any fraction to the State. While, as Pat O’Brien pointed out, 40 per cent of earners pay no income tax, the majority of that tax is paid by about 5 per cent of earners. Unfortunately some of them will have, during Covid, seen their businesses decline and many will now fail. Their contributions cannot be relied upon in difficult times as the last year has shown, nor can they be taken for granted in the near future.

It should be recognised by anyone fortunate enough to live in Ireland that most of the world’s population would view our advantages with envy. To prepare for the next global crisis, be it financial, epidemiological, or cyber in nature, a foundation level of tax should exist on all income. It should be literally regarded as “the least we can do to help”. The reality that “we are all in this together” should not have required a pandemic to make it clear– it is what living in a society means, and nor should it cease as infections dwindle. To suggest that we can provide most our citizens with what they legitimately expect, and do so free of charge, is itself, surely, populism, irrespective of the political leanings of the speaker. – Yours, etc,



Co Cork.