Friday, March 06, 2009

Bono and the tax justice debate in Ireland

The controversey surrounding U2's tax affairs has generated a huge discussion in Ireland on economic justice issues. Jamie Drummond, from Bono's agency DATA, has stirred the pot by trying to shift the focus away from tax avoidance to tax evasion, but the public response suggests that this ploy has not worked - as the following selection of letters suggests:

It is not surprising that Jamie Drummond of ONE (March 4th) should spring to the defence of Bono, the most high-profile founding member of his organisation, though perhaps he should have declared his interest while doing so.
It is, however, hard to understand his belief that development campaigners should focus their attention on non-transparent tax havens while leaving transparent tax havens such as the Netherlands alone. The distinction between the two is likely to be lost on most Irish taxpayers, who would simply like to see Irish citizens making their contributions at home. What is not lost on us is the incongruity of Bono campaigning for more of our taxes to be used on development aid while he simultaneously ensures that he contributes less to those taxes.
Mr Drummond criticises self-defeating PR stunts such as, for example, Bono's posturing on fighting poverty while increasing his own affluence?
Yours, etc,
PAUL CARROLL, The Cloisters, Clane, Co Kildare.

I believe the criticism of Bono and U2 is more than a little unfair. U2 have not only played a major role in highlighting international humanitarian problems but they have played their part in promoting peace and non-violence in Ireland.
Almost 11 years ago, a few days before the Good Friday Agreement was endorsed by referendum in May 1998, the peace process hung in the balance. There was a real danger that a majority of unionists would oppose the agreement.
A concert organised by the SDLP brought together two Irish rock bands, U2 and Ash. Responding to a call from John Hume, they played a pivotal role in galvanising a generation of young people and swung the referendum vote towards the Yes camp.
Eighteen months later, Bono invited Mr Hume to a small lunch in Killiney to celebrate Hume's winning the Nobel Peace Prize. Mr Hume paid U2 an emotional tribute: There are people who believe that pop stars have their heads in the cloud. But Bono, I want to thank you and your band because you have your feet on the ground. You made the difference between success and failure in the agreement, you brought the young people out to support Yes.
For this and other international work we should be thanking Bono and U2, not criticising them.
Yours, etc,
Cllr TIM ATTWOOD, Andersonstown, Belfast.

I agree with GrĂ¡inne Madden (March 2nd). Bono and U2 must take the decent, honourable and patriotic route by paying all their taxes in Ireland. Otherwise they will lose all credibility. There is a definite hypocrisy in calling for anti-poverty measures to be taken on the world stage while simultaneously avoiding taxes in Ireland, thereby depriving the Irish Exchequer of vital revenue. I call on the hundreds of extremely wealthy tax exiles to show some loyalty to this country. This would help to reduce the burden on the many low-paid workers who are being asked to make sacrifices at this critical time. You too can contribute some of your resources to our precarious state finances.
Yours, etc,
MICHAEL FREELEY, Pollagh, Kiltimagh, Co Mayo.

Rather than becoming fixated on whether or not Bono's tax decisions make him a hypocrite, or indeed on the relative levels of the Netherlands' and Ireland's generosity where development assistance is concerned, I think the debate about tax justice should remain focused on the West's ongoing role in perpetuating poverty in the so-called developing world.
While regions such as the US and EU have benefited from economic globalisation, most inhabitants of former European colonies have suffered through the increased extraction of their resources and the imposition of trade liberalisation and debt peonage. At the very least, campaigns that draw attention to U2's tax affairs should cause each of us to reflect on our own complicity in the political and economic systems that bring poverty, misery and injustice to so many of the world's inhabitants in the first instance. Critical self-reflection is a necessary starting-point for change.
Yours, etc,
AUDREY BRYAN, School of Education, University College Dublin.

Food for thought in all of these contributions. And well done to our friends and colleagues in Ireland who raised the banner of tax justice in the first place.


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