OPINION: Double taxation claim a cynical ploy

PEOPLE gather round and join my campaign. Today I launch a nationwide campaign to eliminate double taxation.

First on the list is motor tax. Why do we have to pay for the upkeep of the State’s roads when we already fork out through general taxation? I blame the bankers and other assorted villains. Then we have hospital charges. For those of us who are not farmers, or don’t qualify for a medical card on income, we must pay through the nose for every visit to hospital. This is outrageous.

We already pay for the health services through our income tax and Vat, and a whole range of other taxes. Education is another major bugbear. Why should parents have to cough up for books, and uniforms and all else involved in sending children out to an education to which they are constitutionally entitled? Then there’s housing. Our taxes pay to ensure that those who can’t afford to buy their own homes are housed. Yet local authority tenants pay a rent. Surely this is double taxation, as we have recently come to know it?

The system of double taxation is outrageous. People should be out on the streets. Where’s Richard Boyd Barrett when you need him most? Dickie, grab a placard there, horse, and let’s go to work. You and me, we could start a new revolution. Would anybody take such a campaign seriously? So why then has it become a mantra that we are already paying for water, that any plan to impose a direct charge on consumers is an attempt at double taxation? Like much else around the whole Irish Water scandal, that notion does not stand up to scrutiny, but has managed to worm itself into the received wisdom of a nation. The incompetence and cynicism of the Government in relation to water charges has been well aired in these pages and elsewhere. But the political forces of the alleged left which are driving the opposition are also up to their necks in cynicism.

For most establishment politicians, the sole concern around the long-term health of a nation as expressed through its water infrastructure boils down to a single issue: Will it cost me my seat? Or, for those in the upper echelons in the government parties, will it cost us power? Few if any of them could care less about the dilapidation of the nation’s water infrastructure. They will be insulated with fat pensions if and when the water coming out of taps turns brown in the major conurbations. But that does not infer that the political forces driving the protests have any more noble intentions. Groups like the Anti-Austerity Alliance see water, not, as they claim, as a “human right”, but merely a political tool. They’ve got lucky. Justifiable anger has erupted at both the cynicism and incompetence that characterised the setting up of Irish Water, and the fact that some in society — but nowhere near as many as claim to be strapped — simply cannot pay another charge. The AAA doesn’t have to worry about how to pay for water because it has no interest in, or real prospect of, occupying high office. But at least it has been consistent. Sinn Féin is a complete joke on this matter.

Two months ago, the party would not commit to making the abolition of charges a red line issue if it was entering government after the next election. Neither would its leading lights advocate non payment. Then they got spooked by the AAA’s Paul Murphy in the Dublin South West by-election. The people don’t like our policies? We’ll change them. Suddenly, water charges are a red line issue.

Another epiphany was experienced in the Shinner hierarchy in the wake of last week’s mass protests. Gerry Adams and Mary Lou McDonald searched their respective souls and came to the conclusion that they couldn’t, in good conscience, pay the charges. The president and vice president of what, according to last week’s opinion poll in the Sunday Independent, is the largest party in the State, are committed to breaking the law. For what? Protecting the most vulnerable? In solidarity with the poorest? Yeah, right. Base, cynical populism and nothing more is driving their agenda, and it appears to be working. The cynicism of the so-called left is most evident in the alternative solutions being proposed to drag the water infrastructure into the 21st century. The answer is to simply tax that tiny cohort who are apparently invisible, and actually in denial of their true status — the rich. The rich are so small that any populist worth his or her salt can discount them in the knowledge that it won’t cost votes. So let the rich pay for the nation’s water. According to the Department of Finance, the 6% of income earners pulling in more than €100,000 per annum will account for 44% of all taxes paid in 2015. At that rate, it would probably be advisable not to increase income tax for the rich. Instead, the most touted solution is a wealth tax, usually expressed as a tax on assets worth over €1m.

I have no problem with such a tax. There would be dangers of flight attaching, but perhaps that risk might be worth the pursuit of a socially just tarrif. Explain to those from abroad who invest in our open economy that this tax is an indication of how we put people before profit. What would such a tax say about this country? Not that we deem it necessary to better the lives of the 130,000 children living in poverty. Not that we believe such a tax is just in pursuit of housing the growing army of homeless. Not that it is needed to alleviate the severe education disadvantage blighting the most deprived corners of the State.

No, we should, with a straight face, explain to outsiders that in a political culture where the overwhelming philosophy is populism, we must impose a wealth tax to ensure that all citizens continue to use a precious resource as if it were free. If the country simply can’t stomach water charges, a socialist party might propose funding the infrastructure in a realistic and equitable manner. How about means-testing child benefit, and using the savings to pay for water? Or maybe imposing higher charges on university students, who are overwhelmingly drawn from better off sections of society, and who benefit disproportionately at the taxpayer’s expense? Any takers? Naw. That kind of redistribution would be anathema to populism, and it might make some people sit up and wonder whether the principle of water charges is really unfair.

The suspicion is that despite the most cynical efforts of groups like the AAA, the majority of people accept that some charge on water is necessary, with due consideration for those least equipped to pay. That middle ground has now been lost through gross incompetence and cynicism. But don’t kid yourself that there’s any principle involved in opposing the charge. There is justifiable anger. There is a bonfire of all this government’s empty rhetoric about doing things differently.

But double taxation? Give us a break.

The alleged left which are driving the opposition are up to their necks in cynicism


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