Paradise Papers as a lens into the Irish Psyche
Some 13.4 million sensitive financial documents were leaked in October which contained details on the tax affairs and off shore banking records of some of the wealthiest and highest profile individuals and organisations on the planet. Collectively known as the Paradise Papers, the leaked papers provided details on aggressive tax avoidance practices availed of by many named such as Nike, Apple, The Queen of England and Bono.
Although there is no evidence of any laws being broken, there has been much criticism about the loop holes being used and availed of. We are no strangers to these sorts of revelations, Ansbacher accounts, Panama Papers, Double Irish, Single Malt and the list goes on around the taxation habits of the rich and famous.
The collective moral outcry and finger wagging at those named in The Paradise Papers was fast and widespread. Many pointed to the importance of abiding by the spirit and principles of taxation laws and wider societal accepted norms, and subsequently criticised and vilified those named on in the Paradise Papers. Do we hold ourselves as private citizens to the same standards?
Well we decided to find out more and asked a nationally representative sample of 1,000 Irish adults if they would avail of legal tax avoidance methods to reduce the amount of tax they pay. 85% said they would. How can on the one hand society collectively vilify and decry the tax practices of those on the Paradise Papers whilst simultaneously we have no problems personally engaging in the same behaviour?
Is it double standards, is it jealously, is it a perceived escalated impact by the scale of tax avoided being the issue with the exceptionally wealthy, or is it sheer begrudgery? It’s hard to know, but it smacks of introverted nimbyism, or the opposite of not in my back-yard mentality.
To explain how we reconcile this seeming double standard we come back to Bono, and more specifically Bono is a Pox! Bono is a Pox has become a commonly understood ironic Irish-ism and thinly veiled cloak for our collective and unique brand of Irish begrudgery. There is a simmering resentment held for those who are successful and those who are getting ahead of the game. Although Ireland is changing rapidly, Bono is Pox is a calling card and shadow cast from the recent past of our oft well hidden, but still simmering sense of latent begrudgery.
We are by no means an apologist for Bono, or defending any practices alluded to in the Paradise papers. However, during the recent outcry and moral outrage at those named in The Paradise Papers we couldn’t help think that Bono is a Pox seemed to aptly sum up the mood and motivations fuelling much of the commentary. Many were not entering this debate from a foundation of civic principles and moral fortitude, most of us were jealous underneath it all, jealous that those on The Paradise Papers had access to these methods which we did not.
Whether anyone should have access to such loopholes is a separate issue, and one that Government (Irish and International) have much to do on, but our sense in Ignite is that the outrage lives somewhere between frustration with the existence of such tax loop holes, and jealousy that personally we haven’t been able to avail of them. How taxation policy and rules can be amended to ensure a more balanced equity and fairness is a large challenge which needs much work. Until this is resolved, if indeed it ever can fully be resolved, there will be those who have the opportunity to avail of tax loopholes and those who do not. In this grey space debate and commentary will sway from discussions truly rooted in trying to guide and develop policy reforms and jealously that others are playing the system better than we are or can.
This dynamic around taxation policy is a breeding ground for begrudgery. For now at least, it seems that Bono is still a Pox, or more specifically 85% of a Pox based on our research.