'Make Bono pay tax'

Issue 

The most eye-catching placard on a 120,000-strong march in Dublin on February 21 against the Irish government's austerity response to the tottering of the capitalist system was held aloft by a scrawny teenager with the look of a music-lover about him, reading "Make Bono Pay Tax".

The march, organised by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, was protesting against measures including a pay freeze, plus a 1% wage levy on all public sector workers; education cut-backs which will mean, for example, the closure of special needs classes in primary schools; and much else along the same screw-the-workers line.

The cut-backs and attacks on public sector workers come against the background of a banking scandal which, proportionately, dwarfs the crimes of the bankster class in the US.

Rummaging through the rubble of Anglo Irish Bank, which collapsed at the end of 2008 and was nationalised in January, investigators discovered that the bank's founder and boss, Sean Fitzpatrick, was secretly in hock to his own bank to the tune of 87 million euros, which he had shifted into Irish Life and Permanent on the day before the annual audit and shifted back again the day afterwards.

Fitzpatrick — "Seanie" to both Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Brian Cowan and his predecessor Bertie Ahern — had performed this manoeuvre with sums of around 80 million euros every year for the past seven years.

It emerged, too, that the bank had last year given loans worth 451 million euros to ten customers buying shares in the bank, the loans being secured on the same shares.

As well, 15 individuals owed the bank at least half a billion each, much of it secured on property holdings that may now be worth as little as shares in Anglo Irish (17 euros in mid-2007, 12 cents at the time of nationalisation).

The bail-out burden of all this falls on the tax-payers.

Hence the mass fury expressed on the Dublin march. Hence, too, a new focus on tax-avoiders who live high off the hog in Dublin while basing their businesses in Euro-zone tax-shelters.

Like U2.

More than 40 years ago, the Beatles followed Maharishi Mahesh Yogi to India in search of a spiritual haven. Three years ago, U2 followed him, in search of a tax haven.

(By the time the Maharishi faded from mortal life in February 2006, he was living at his Dutch estate, presiding over a business empire worth more than a man who scorned money could be bothered to count. He'd moved to the Netherlands in 1990 for tax purposes. Or, rather, no-tax purposes.)

Cork-born British television super-star Graham Norton commented at the time: "People like Bono really annoy me. He goes to hell and back to avoid paying tax. He has a special accountant. He works out Irish tax loopholes.

"And then he's asking me to buy a well for an African village. Tarmac a road or pay for a school, you tightwad!"

But Norton's words of modest wisdom didn't resonate with the mainstream media that endlessly celebrates Bono.

They laud his selflessness in occasionally taking time off from counting the cash he had squirrelled away to berate the Irish authorities for refusing to give more of the money they had collected from tax-compliant citizens towards alleviating world hunger.

They report worshipfully on Bono's peregrinations around the planet in the company of the liars, murderers and thieves who have run the global economy into ruin.

The arrival of U2 confirmed the Netherlands as the European Union's number one tax haven. Corporations that have joined the band in establishing headquarters there to avoid paying tax in their home countries include Coca Cola, Ikea, Nike and Gucci.

The band is set to tour their new album, No Line on the Horizon. So stand by for the latest swirl of jangly guitar enclosed in a fog of undefined feeling.

Expect no grit, no danger, nothing jagged or ragged to disturb tranquillity, but a toxic cloud of fluffy rhetoric, a soundtrack for the terminally self-satisfied — not forgetting heart-felt homilies on how to live a moral life.

The best response to one of those breathless Bono appeals for uplift came at a Glasgow gig when he hushed the audience to reverent silence before starting to slowly clap.

"Every time I clap my hands", he whispered into the microphone, "a child in Africa dies —"

A voice responded in a broad Glasgow accent: "Well, fucking stop doin' it then."

All of which is mere intro to lyrics (by Bono impersonator Paul O'Toole) sung outside the Dail (parliament) in Dublin on February 25, at a follow-up-demo organised by the Debt and Development Coalition Ireland:

I want to run, my money to hide

I want build paper walls and keep it inside

I want to seek shelter from income tax pain

Where the accounts have no names

See my tax bill disappear without a trace

Where the accounts have no names

Where the accounts have no names

Where the accounts have no names

Where the accounts have no names

Keeping our fortune is something we love

Something we love

And when we go there, we go without you

Revenue we don't do

Ireland is bankrupt and though it's going bust

Our well paid accountants made sure it don't affect us

They showed us a place to avoid all the pain

Where the accounts have no names

Where the accounts have no names

Where the accounts have no names

Avoiding tax is something we love

Something we love

And when we go there, we forget about you

Revenue we don't do

Tax demands turn to rust

We've used the law and left on the wind

Left on the wind

On the subject of tax our love turns to rust

See our dosh is in trusts

Dosh is in trusts

And when we go there, we forget about you

Revenue we don't do

Or:

I have paid highest fees

I have moved overseas

Only to pay less tax

Only to pay less tax

I have run

I have crawled

I've done so much you'd be appalled

You'd be appalled

Only to pay less tax

But I still haven't learned about democracy

No I still haven't learned about democracy

I know avoiding tax ain't fair

It's just because I'm a millionaire

I don't need to pay like you

No I won't pay like you

Cause I still haven't learned about democracy

But I still haven't learned about democracy

You paid your tax and you

Laid the blame

Carried the burden

Of my shame

Of my shame

You know I'm still running

Cause I still haven't learned about democracy

No I still haven't learned about democracy

But I still haven't learned about democracy

But I still haven't learned about.

None of this is to deny that U2 could play a part in restoring unity of purpose to the Irish people in these dangerously divisive times. I reckon that "Make Bono Pay Tax" could prove a slogan around which the nation might gather.

[Abridged from http://www.counterpunch.org. Eamonn McCann is a veteran Irish socialist activist and can be @auth poem = eamonderry@aol.com.] n

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