Wednesday 20 March 2019

Jailed for not paying your TV licence? You've got to be joking

You know what, I'm sick of it. I'm just bloody sick of it. No, I'm not referring to the bankers who drove us to ruin. Or the voracious speculators who gambled against the house and now want us to cover their losses.

Hell, I'm not even referring to our lovely politicians who have done such a fine job of turning us into a rough facsimile of Albania after their pyramid economy collapsed.

No, dear reader, I am referring to an even greater existential threat to the harmony, prosperity and future of our bloodied but unbowed country – the kind of reckless menace who would . . . avoid paying their TV licence fee.

Our Government is floundering in the fight against crime and corruption in this country.

But at least they can proudly boast that thanks to their Zero Tolerance for licence fee avoidance, 272 people were sent to jail last year.

That's an increase of 48.6pc which, I shall explain for the benefit of a Government which seems numerically challenged at the best of times, is an increase by half of the number of Irish citizens who have been jailed for non-payment – a great use of our scarce resources, I'm sure you'll agree.

We like to grumble about taxes here, as does every citizen in every other country. Let's put it this way, you're never going to see a populist party gaining a massive protest vote like the Technical Group here or UKIP in Britain on the basis that they think the ordinary person is not paying enough tax.

But when you look at your payslip at the end of the month, you can at least try to take solace in the fact that your taxes are maybe, just maybe, helping to pay for a hospital bed somewhere.

Or there's the hope, no matter how forlorn, that the money that was taken from your pocket might help to ease the suffering of an elderly or sick person who needs home care – most of which is provided by family members (the sooner successive Governments realise that these carers are actually saving the State millions the better, but that's an argument for another day).

Of course, we all know this is not the case, because if what we handed over was used according to our specific wishes there would be chaos.

It would be greatly amusing for a while, I'm sure, but unlikely to end well.

But what sets the licence-fee argument apart from all the other makey-uppy charges we're stuck with is that we know exactly where that €160 goes – to fund what is, to many, a busted flush that is plainly despised by those who are forced, upon pain of prison, to pay for its upkeep.

Now, this argument against the licence fee has nothing to do with whether I think RTé is any good. Because that is entirely irrelevant.

Indeed, there are quite a few very good things on RTé, but there is no point in listening to or watching a programme and deciding that just because you liked it, then everyone else should pay for it.

Similarly, carping about the high salaries of the presenters is a red herring. The big earners are there because they are popular with the audience and therefore with advertisers, and most of them are self-employed and perfectly entitled to strike the best deal they can.

No, this boils down to a blatant contempt for the average tax payer who is seen as an incontinent Golden Goose by the Government and as a compliant sheep who should be grateful for what he gets by RTé.

Let's put things in perspective – this newspaper yesterday carried the story of a man who had defrauded the State of more than €40,000 over a four-year period. He avoided jail having had the sentence suspended on condition of good behaviour.

Spend a night in jail for refusing to pay the €160 licence fee. Defraud the State for 40 grand and you get a suspended sentence.

And as if that didn't strike a chord of basic unfairness, cast your mind back to 2007 and the public uproar when RTé and Beverly Flynn settled their costs dispute arising out of her failed libel action against RTE.

Our national broadcaster eventually settled for €1.24m legal costs – 50pc of the original claim.

Yet they will see you in jail for €160.

And they wonder why they're held in such low regard?

Of course, all of this is going to look antiquated and beside the point in a few years' time.

Because by then they will have brought in their Broadcasting Tax which means you have to pay the State for the privilege of watching You Tube on the privacy of your laptop.

As a wise man once asked: "Ever get the feeling you've been had?"

iodoherty@independent.ie

Irish Independent

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