Friday, November 19, 2010

Bono: go home. Your country needs you

The Novelist Joseph O'Connor has an article about the economic disaster that is engulfing Ireland:

"We tuck our children into bed not knowing if they have a future in our country. In every home in the land, there has been private anxiety and panic. Our government has no moral authority to remain in power. People feel frightened, alone and unled."

The low-tax Celtic Tiger is laid low, and nobody knows what comes next.

"Having spent the last decade in a fog of intoxicating self-congratulation for our economic success, we now face the reality that it was illusory. Inept politicians, greedy bankers and property speculators have wrecked the certainties on which our recent notions of ourselves were founded.
. . .
We were told that we were all in it together, even as the millionaire speculators were subsidised by the taxpayer, their lavish pensions and remuneration packages guaranteed. About 300 people in Ireland continue to live like rock stars, while 4 million of us foot the bill. We have socialism for bankers, the ferocities of the market for everyone else. We are cheated and lied to, and every family is now paying. The poor pay more than most.

Having read our headline, seen the picture, and now read the reference to rock stars, you can probably guess where we are going with this.

As a reminder: the Irish band U2 shifted its financial affairs offshore to the Netherlands in 2006, to avoid tax. (Quite legally, we should add - though that doesn't make it right.) Here is what their lead singer Bono had to say about this, not so long after the event:

"I can understand how people outside the country wouldn’t understand how Ireland got to its prosperity but everybody in Ireland knows that there are some very clever people in the Government and in the Revenue who created a financial architecture that prospered the entire nation – it was a way of attracting people to this country who wouldn’t normally do business here,” he says. “And the financial services brought billions of dollars every year directly to the exchequer.

What’s actually hypocritical is the idea that then you couldn’t use a financial services centre in Holland. The real question people need to ask about Ireland’s tax policy is: ‘Was the nation a net gain benefactor?’ And of course it was – hugely so."

Ireland, of course, is a secrecy jurisdiction (and this BBC investigation on this subject is well worth listening to on this subject, featuring Jim Stewart and Richard Murphy, among others.) The tax haven model is what puffed up the financial sector, contributed to its citizens' massive indebtedness, and now the bust.

Does Bono now finally see the folly in those words - words that encapsulate so well how far our cultures have become corrupted? We hope he does. We would like to think that he and his band have seen the appalling sacrifices his fellow citizens are now having to make, and finally decided to relocate (for tax purposes) back to Ireland, so that they can take part in the shared effort that is going to be required. We hope so. We don't know if they have. But -- just in case they haven't - we have a suggestion.

Go back home (for tax purposes) Bono, and U2. Your country needs you. Like never before.


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