Pearse Doherty: The Irish public have spoken – the wealthy are not paying their fair share
Ireland will only become affordable by raising average incomes and investing in public services
‘Fine Gael spent at least €7m of public funds in appealing a European Commission decision that Apple owe the Irish people around €14bn.’ Photograph: Paul Miller/EPA
A recent OECD effort to survey the opinions of taxpayers across the world, in high- and lower-income countries, from Asia to Europe and across the Americas, confirmed what many in Ireland already know – the rich are not paying their fair share of tax.
When asked if the state should raise taxes on the rich to improve public services for all, and raise living standards for those on low incomes, a decisive and clear majority of Irish citizens, two-thirds of those surveyed, said “yes”.
This is a sentiment felt across the world, and this two-thirds majority is reflected across the 21 countries surveyed.
There are clear and obvious reasons as to why public opinion in Ireland is so strongly against the inequality and busting-at-the-seams public services they see all around them.
For decades the richest portions of society throughout the world have seen their gains from economic growth soar, while ordinary families and those working every day of their lives to create this growth have seen next to nothing in return.
A similar picture can be seen in Ireland. Wealth inequality is growing, and following a bankers’ crash which scarred this island and decimated communities, there are now more millionaires and billionaires in Ireland than ever before.
Meanwhile, public services in Ireland are, by and large, a shadow of the effective and well-funded services found in other high-income European societies.
The reason Ireland faces a historic housing crisis cutting across all levels of society, the reason our universities are free-falling down the world rankings, the reason our health service is utterly unfit to meet the medical needs of the public, is because successive Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil governments have refused to provide the investment we deserve.
This investment requires tax. So no wonder our public sphere is so underfunded when Irish people, faced with living costs which are among the highest in the developed world, are effectively subsidising tax cuts for the wealthiest in society.
Fine Gael has declared banks, that plunged the state into crisis and are now raking in profits in surplus of €1bn, will not pay tax for at least another decade. They have squandered public money through tax breaks for vulture funds and property investors filling their pockets by hoarding land and property in the midst of a housing crisis.
Token tax breaks for middle-income families will not lower the cost of childcare
In a staggering act of national sabotage, they have spent at least €7 million of public funds in appealing a European Commission decision that Apple owe the Irish people around €14bn.
For these reasons, among others, Ireland’s reputation on the international stage has been dragged through muck. We are branded a tax haven, thrown in alongside Bermuda and the Cayman Islands.
Is this waste and plunder of public resources, to shore up the profits of some of the wealthiest corporations and individuals on earth, what we would call “prudent” economic policy? Is this what we want the island of Ireland to be known for?
The next time Leo Varadkar finds himself in front a microphone sounding the tax-cuts dog whistle for the coming election, we must recall a simple truth – the high quality public services that we deserve require the rich to pay their fair share. They require tax, but we are among the very lowest tax-collecting countries in the EU.
Token tax breaks for middle-income families will not lower the cost of childcare. It will not make rent more affordable. It will not reduce energy bills. In fact, by reducing the tax take, and therefore reducing the ability of the state to invest in these services, you can only expect these bills to rise.
In the OECD survey, the Irish people have spoken. They want to talk about tax. They want a fairer society, and the quality of affordable public services enjoyed by our counterparts in continental Europe. They will no longer stand for Fine Gael squandering billions, as they have over the past number of years, while living costs continue to soar.
Only by raising incomes and investing in public services will life in Ireland become more affordable – and only by ending the unacceptable plunder of public money will we achieve this.
Pearse Doherty is Sinn Fein spokesperson on finance