Fionnan Sheahan

Friday 1 August 2014

Fionnan Sheahan: Wallace has lost the moral authority to talk tax

Published 05/07/2012|05:00

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A tax cheat calling for higher tax rates is a bit like a speeding driver appealing for lower speed limits or a litter lout demanding more street cleaners.

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Their own compliance ought to be their only focus, as they have lost the moral authority to comment on the actions of others if they show such blatant disregard for the law.

Nearly a month after he admitted being a tax defaulter and leaving the taxpayer with an unpaid €2m bill, Mick Wallace astonishingly sees nothing wrong with commenting on the tax system.

Of course, he's still an elected representative, a Teachta Dala, the messenger of the people, but you'd think he'd have the good sense to steer away from certain -- shall we say -- sensitive topics.

Like tax and pay.

After all, this is the property developer who doubled the money paid to himself and his son by his building firm, even as it began to hit financial difficulties that left it unable to pay its full VAT bill.

Company records show M&J Wallace paid the TD and his son, the only directors, €290,000 for the year ended August 2008, when it made a €2.6m loss. Their pay was up from €148,141 a year earlier.

Yet Mr Wallace feels he's in a position to criticise pay rates at the higher end of the public sector and to call for "burden sharing".

"I believe that in the current climate, given how difficult it is for those in the most difficult circumstances, that there must be more burden sharing by those earning in the region of €200,000. It is difficult to justify those salaries."

A salary over €200,000 is difficult to justify in a difficult economic climate.

He ought to know.

Mr Wallace outdid himself, though, when he offered the Government advice on the tax front.

"One of the few promises the Government has kept is that it has not touched income tax. Perhaps it should consider breaking that promise and increase the tax rate for higher earners."

Perhaps those who fail to pay their taxes should do so.

Hypocrisy is an oft-cited accusation in Dail Eireann.

Interventions from Micheal Martin criticising the Government on whatever front are frequently greeted with responses of "14 years" from the coalition backbenches, quite rightly pointing to Fianna Fail's own record.

Sinn Fein's late-developing concern for the Garda Siochana's ability to maintain law and order is often, appropriately, contrasted with the party's record of defending those who shot gardai in the past.

In the cases of these parties, they can at least hope time will help heal the wounds (or make people forget the original sins).

But Mr Wallace doesn't even wait for any time to pass.

The demise of the Celtic Tiger has seen many examples of gall.

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern defended the €38,000 pay rise he was awarded, to bring his salary up to €310,000 a year, by claiming he was "poverty stricken" compared to other world leaders because he doesn't get their perks. He said he didn't get extra benefits like "prolonged holidays, yachts and homes".

Just after the bank guarantee, but shortly before he resigned in disgrace, former Anglo Irish Bank chief Sean FitzPatrick offered advice to the government on the forthcoming budget. He said the sacred cows needed to be tackled, like universal state pensions, child benefit and medical cards for the over-70s. Budget 2009 needed to be "brave".

And now there's tax cheat Mick Wallace calling for tax hikes and salary cuts.

It's still a great little nation.

Irish Independent

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