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Here's hoping taxman is kept out of the bedroom

Before you and your partner enjoy your next night of bliss, take my advice: lock the bedroom windows and draw the curtains. Before too long, Revenue officials could be on ladders peering through your steamed-up windows with cameras. A tax on sex might seem ridiculous but if the Department of Finance gets wind of the latest census figures, it could be on the cards.

And if the idea seems fanciful, consider how the "F" word originated. In the 8th Century -- during the reign of Anglo-Saxon King Offa to be precise -- the words "Fornication Under Consent of the King" were hung outside every house that had paid the king an obligatory tax. Houses that didn't were, so legend has it, regularly called on by Offa's militia. So perhaps one of the reasons that last Thursday's preliminary census figures showed such staggering population growth is that procreation is one of the few pleasures that the Government hasn't gotten around to taxing.

Given how rightly fornicated the State finances are, that may not last long. As for population growth, regular readers of this column will recall how in 2007 I predicted that our State's population would hit five million by 2020. With the right policies we could survive the coming crisis and reach new heights of prosperity by 2020, ideas I turned into a book, The Best Is Yet to Come.

Although laughed at at the time, that forecast is coming true with incredible speed. Coincidentally, the book was started in the census month of April 2006 when the State's population stood at 4,239,848 souls. After rising by a staggering 341,421, it now stands at nearly 4.6 million -- halfway towards the 2020 target.

As Eurostat reported last week, Ireland has Europe's highest rate of childbirth. But as another Eurostat study showed, our alcohol and tobacco prices are 70 per cent higher than the EU average and the highest in Europe. Drink and tobacco sales are down 4.3 per cent, according to the latest retail sales. So could it be that drinkers and smokers are seeking relief from high taxes? If so, someone in the Department of Finance will doubtless clamp down on this anti-social tax avoidance.

Yes a new Jansenism is upon us. Named after a stern Dutch bishop, Jansenism describes the belief that earthly pleasure is sinful and punishable. A new dour breed of secular Jansenists has taken over from the church. And they are a joyless, powerful bunch. The church used priests and confessionals; they use Revenue Commissioners and tax audits. Church collections were voluntary -- their monsignors, bishops and archbishops are funded from our taxes whether we like it or not.

And when Eurostat told us that we had the highest rates of indirect taxation in Europe due to "differences in taxation of these products among Member States", it was a sign of their power. Once the most intrusive State in affairs of the bedroom, Ireland is now the most intrusive State in affairs of the wallet.

Joe Duffy must be overjoyed. In the Irish Mail on Sunday last year, he urged the late Brian Lenihan to tax us again on alcohol. The evils of alcohol must, he told us, be curbed.

But the pressure for higher taxes has more to do with the real drive of the Jansenists: preserving their power, pay and pensions. In Joe Duffy's case, the motive is probably just insensitivity. After all, if you're on €408,000 a year it's hard to notice an increase in alcohol prices.

But as the latest Household Budget Survey shows, these taxes hit the poor hard. Those in the lowest income decile spend one-tenth of their income on drink and tobacco, compared with 4 per cent for those in the highest income decile.

TASC's Rory O'Farrell responded swiftly to the Eurostat release, saying that the fact we pay Europe's highest prices for alcohol and cigarettes "needn't worry us from a competitive point of view". But even if he isn't on Joe Duffy's salary, he isn't on the minimum wage either and Rory failed to understand the implication for the ordinary low-paid workers who do not abuse alcohol or cigarettes but simply want the right to buy a reasonable quantity each week without being fleeced.

His comment that this regime was "part of our social policy which aims to curtail such items" was at best naive and at worst insensitive. Firstly, if there is one thing the low-paid don't need right now it is moralising from highly paid public servants who live off their taxes. But more to the point, high taxes on drink and cigarettes are not designed to curtail drinking or smoking. It is precisely because the Government knows that the consumption of these products is inelastic that they are easy targets for a selfish state-driven tax trap. And to knock another myth on the head, drinkers and smokers pay far more in tax than they cost the State in healthcare.

Meanwhile the State is becoming too powerful for its own good. That retail sales of drink and tobacco and pub sales fell so strongly in May shows indirect taxes have risen beyond what economists call "optimal" levels.

Evidence from Europol that Ireland is a "preferred destination" for smuggling backs this up. Like the ban on condoms in the Seventies, when state intervention becomes ludicrously high, the law becomes an ass and law-breaking is the result.

As with stamp duty and other taxes, the penal levels of indirect taxation are bringing our social contract into disrepute and killing the economy. The KBC consumer confidence index suffered yet another decline in May, due to higher indirect and income taxes.

As in the Eighties, we must learn that there are limits to the extent to which the State can reasonably impose taxes on its citizens. And unless we want another civil war, we have to put an end to highly paid servants of the State using spurious morality to defend indefensible restrictions on our right to live the way we want to live. At least when the church stopped us doing something it was to try to save our souls -- the new secular statist church is entirely self-interested.

Marc Coleman presents 'Coleman At Large' each Tuesday and Wednesday from 10pm on Newstalk 106-108fm

Sunday Independent