The dishonesty that destroys societies

Today, as tax-cheat Dáil deputy Mick Wallace drives his “banger” jeep to the European soccer championships in Poland, garlic importer and fellow Vat dodger Paul Begley is in jail serving a six-year sentence for a €1.6m tax scam.

It is difficult to see any difference in the two offences. Both men willfully, and knowingly, avoided unambiguous tax obligations.

Mr Wallace admitted that, in 2008 and 2009, changing business circumstances meant his company was unable to pay a €1.4m Vat bill so he filed a dishonest tax return just two years before he stood for election. He lied to the taxman after he had taken money, including their Vat obligations, from people who bought apartments he built and pocketed the Vat element of the price.

No matter how you try to bend with the storm, no matter how you try to be as understanding as we all need to be today, there’s only one way to describe that kind of practice — a dishonest evasion of mandatory obligations to this society and every individual and institution in it.

Mr Wallace is not the first — and won’t be the last — politician to dodge taxes but that is no defence, nor should it ever be advanced as one. When Mr Wallace submitted makey-uppy tax returns many businesses — and families and individuals — in the country were struggling to meet their obligations. Some went to extraordinary lengths to pay their bills, some could not but the vast majority played by the rules. Unfortunately, Mr Wallace and others like him did not.

This notion that the law can be ignored if it is inconvenient, that it only means something on a good day, is at the very root of nearly all of the difficulties we face today. This ambiguity, this imagining black or white can be grey when it suits, is the reason this society is so dysfunctional and dishonest. If we continue to endorse this attitude we will never have an equitable or stable society.

Mr Wallace has said he will not resign his seat unless he is convicted of a crime, and that is as it should be. Only the electorate should decide who sits in parliament and it will soon enough have an opportunity to pass judgment on Mr Wallace and his colleagues in the technical group who almost evaporated in a cloud of hypocrisy, such was their initial silence on the affair. This self-serving silence stands in sharp contrast to the strident calls from some of those very deputies for people to, like Mr Wallace, break the law when it suits them and ignore the household charge invoked by our democratically-elected parliament.

There is of course too the fatuous argument that Mr Wallace is representative of society and therefore deserves a seat in parliament. That tosh only holds water if you are happy with society as it is and cannot imagine how it might be improved if this kind of nod-and-wink sleaze was eradicated.

Today the focus is on Mr Wallace’s tax evasion but in the longer term his greatest offence is to give succour to those who dismiss all of politics, and through it our democracy, with the ah-shure-they’re-all-the-same condemnation. In today’s Europe that is a far greater offence than pocketing customers’ Vat, lying to the taxman and dodging your obligations.

In the coming days, Mr Wallace and others in Poland will give full vent to the chant: “You’ll never beat the Irish”, ignoring the reality that Mr Wallace and others like him have made a career of so doing.

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