Only the little people pay taxes.” — Leona Helmsley
JP McManus walks on the Shannon waters. Or so it would seem to some of his legion of admirers.
By all accounts, Mr McManus is a modest person, not given to the affectations and hubris that are often associated with people of great wealth.
He mingles comfortably with the man and woman in the street. He is a racegoer who has as much time for the earthy folk who like their horses as for the horsey folk who like their affectations.
He is a serious GAA man. This is presented as the clinching evidence that he has not lost the run of himself, up in the rarefied atmosphere where globe-trotting multimillionaires levitate.
His abiding allegiance to the GAA confirms the old adage that you can take the man out of Limerick, and plant him in Geneva or Barbados, but you can’t take Limerick out of the man.
This year, like all Limerick people — and most GAA people — he was delighted that the Liam McCarthy Cup was finally won after 45, sometimes heartbreaking, years.
As a gesture of his happiness, JP has donated €3.2m to the GAA, to be divided equally among the clubs in Ireland’s 32 counties.
He has scattered his happiness. Every GAA club is reaping the benefit of JP’s joy at his county’s success.
At this rate, half the country will be rooting for Limerick next year, on the off-chance that JP’s joy might strike twice.
The gesture is the latest example of the towering generosity that he has shown since surrendering his tax status in this country in 1995.
Mr McManus is a tax exile, a man officially without a country, whatever about a county.
While he may have abrogated any patriotic responsibility to the State’s coffers, his heart has remained resident in the Mid-West.
Donations reportedly topping €100m have been made through his various organisations in the greater Limerick area.
Much of this is public and has resulted in sometimes fawning kudos, but he is also reputed to give generously on the quiet.
Many have reaped the benefits.
If you have a sick child, and somebody in the system tells you that treatment is available because of the generosity of JP, you really couldn’t care less that he donates instead of paying tax, like the little people.
That is entirely understandable.
As a result of donations to health, education, and sporting bodies, Mr McManus enjoys something approaching hero status in the Mid-West.
Now, in scattering his happiness, that status may spread like blotting paper throughout the GAA world.
From here on, in clubs far and wide, the new sets of jerseys or hurleys purchased from the windfall will come to be known as ‘The JPs’.
The controversy made RTÉs Liveline on Monday. Both sides of the argument were heard. In the green corner, JP can do no wrong.
“He was elevated to sainthood yesterday, here, by some people. I’m sure he wouldn’t like that, either,” Joe Duffy declared on the day, after the fawning.
Another example of the admiration for JP, and disdain for anybody who questions his hero status, was provided by footballing legend Tomás Ó Sé, who tweeted in response to the controversy.
“Is it an Irish thing or what, but the negativity aimed at JP McManus, for the gesture he gifted on every GAA club in the country, is wrong.
"He didn’t have to do it and does so much more no-one sees or hears. We should be grateful and let the haters hate!! Mile Buiochas JP”
Of course, he didn’t have to give it.
But Mr McManus is worth hundreds of millions. In 2012, he won $17m in a backgammon game. He has a passion for the GAA. Let’s not invoke the spirit of Mother Teresa here.
This hero status for a tax exile is rare. Few appear to regard Mr McManus’s fellow exile, Denis O’Brien, as a hero.
Yet Mr O’Brien is the co-founder and principal funder of the human rights organisation Frontline Defenders.
That group represents the most vulnerable people on the planet, pitted against often despotic and depraved regimes.
Saving some brave and impoverished activist from being tortured to death is all very well, but it doesn’t butter any parsnips when an away set of jerseys is required for the junior B league semi-final.
Mr O’Brien has also thrown a few bob at Irish sport, sponsoring half the national soccer team manager’s salary.
But even that has been regarded by many with suspicion as to his motive, rather than with gratitude. Some exiles just can’t cop a decent break in the court of public opinion.
The alternative view of JP’s generosity is held by those who believe in one of the basic tenets of a republic.
This posits that all contribute in taxation according to their means, through the democratic process.
It places the requirements of society in the hands of elected representatives and a state apparatus.
In a system harbouring those values, a tax exile, if he must be allowed, for whatever reason, should be tolerated rather than celebrated.
Through such a lens, Mr McManus’s gesture could be viewed not as the generosity of a ‘proud Irishman’, but one from history’s pages, donated by the absentee landlord to the peasantry.
The absentee landlord was neither here nor there; not part of the community, yet overseeing it when he wasn’t off consorting with his fellows in London or India or wherever.
Mr McManus is, like the absentee landlord, neither here nor there.
He drops into his mansion in Co Limerick for less than 183 days a year, as permitted by the law for tax exiles.
He is from the community, but how could he be rooted in it, when he doesn’t have to contribute to the mundane stuff?
The absentee landlord was wont to make grand gestures to the peasantry to celebrate an occasion of joy, perhaps the marriage of a daughter.
Mr McManus had an occasion of joy recently, when his beloved county team captured the Liam McCarthy Cup.
To mark his personal happiness, he makes a grand gesture to the little people who pay tax, scattering money to the four corners of the island.
He is happy and he wants the little people to be happy, too.
Mr McManus is, by all accounts, a decent man. But so what?
Those who question the hero status are not haters or begrudgers.
They’re just folk who believe in a set of universal values that are not for sale.
Some of us simply have difficulty digesting the exalted status of a tax exile.
Apart from that, though, good luck to Limerick, for the two-in-a-row.
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