Often, these events drive a coach and four, or as is more likely today a top-of-the-range four-by-four, through the celebrated but now obviously bankrupt principle — that we are all equal in the eyes of the law. Tragically, for the idea of a Republic, the idea of a united and inclusive society facing terrible challenges with solidarity and fairness, we are at that demeaning, destabilising point again.
The scandal surrounding Deputy Mick Wallace’s tax cheating has become one of those outrages. We have had far too many already and this one — back in the spotlight because outgoing Director of Corporate Enforcement Paul Appleby has said he will not investigate M&J Wallace “at this time” — offers a readymade defence for others who ignore our laws. Mr Appleby’s successor may yet, hopefully, take a different position. Mr Appleby has offered that this is a matter for the Revenue Commissioners and because a settlement has been reached between Mr Wallace and the Revenue he is unlikely to face a prosecution for lying about Vat returns he pocketed. How can this be? Mr Wallace has admitted there is no prospect of him fulfilling the terms of the Revenue agreement so are we to be satisfied with a settlement that settles nothing?
Just to be clear about what he did: he took money, including Vat, from those who bought apartments from his company but took the tax element for his own purposes. It is more than likely that some of those people are in negative equity and struggling to meet mortgage obligations. If they cannot meet them they may eventually lose their home and their investment.
While all of this is unfolding, in the parallel universe most of us recognise as the real world, the sense of apprehension around the budget, around property taxes and health service cutbacks sooner or later impinging on every family, and about job security too, grows darker every day but Mr Wallace remains a legislator hiding behind a meaningless, empty “settlement”.
No matter how outraged most of us are by the fact that an individual can criminally dodge a €1.4m tax bill and still hold a seat in parliament, the 889 individuals or companies taken to court by the taxman between January and June must be amazed altogether. Prestige Recycling director Seán Hartigan, who was jailed for three years for defrauding the State of almost €200,000 in taxes, must be astounded.
Paul Begley, jailed for six years for a €1.6m garlic tax scam, must be kicking himself that he did not stand for election, win a seat in the Dáil and watch all of his problems evaporate while his toothless colleagues endured the affront his very presence would represent.
Mr Wallace is not the first or the last unprincipled person to be elected to our parliament but at this moment in time his membership of the Oireachtas is an outrage. It characterises the dishonesty that has destroyed this country and is destroying our parliamentary democracy. Just as importantly it is a goading, needling example of our, especially our governments’, abject and continuing spinelessness in the face of white-collar crime.
A united Ireland indeed.