The Tax Catcher in the Rye

Holden Caulfield, the hero of J.D Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, is sitting in his (soon to be former) teachers’ office and recounting his earlier expulsion. Holden tells Mr Spencer that Headmaster Dr Thurmer, had explained “Life is a Game”.

“Life is a game, boy. Life is a game that one plays according to the rules.”

“Yes, sir. I know it is. I know it.”

“Game, my ass. Some game. If you get on the side where all the hot-shots are, then it’s a game, all right—I’ll admit that. But if you get on the other side, where there aren’t any hot-shots, what’s a game about it? Nothing. No game.”

In this passage we see Holden’s nodding acceptance of his fate, the silent disdain of the so called game and we are made fully aware that he is a player on the team lacking the hotshot quarterback or athletic wide receiver. In this short passage, I’m alerted to the fact that Holden is one of life’s losers, an also ran, yet he has an affinity for the downtrodden, a desire to fight back. He wants to stand up for the little guy. And I, for one, love him for it.

Ireland has decided to appeal the EU Commissions Apple Ruling. Brave men and women, from our little rock, clinging to the side of Europe, are to march up to the gates of Brussels and call out the bureaucratic bullies. We’re going for a scrap. Sadly, we are not ready for the big leagues. We are bringing a knife to a gunfight. As Tennyson might have written; “Forward, the Light (Weight) Brigade!”

Our defeat certain. The manner and implement of our doom, not yet decided.

Win the battle and we risk a proper drubbing in the long term war with the EU. Lose the battle and we risk a potentially bigger kicking from our “friends” in the US Senate. All the while the not insignificant lump of €13billion hangs in the iCloud. Always just out of reach.

Bus drivers will strike. Teachers will withdraw service. People will linger (and die) on trollies and that €13billion will be the stick (rightly) used to beat the lame duck government on every Joe Duffy Liveline. We have €13billion excellent reasons not to appeal the ruling. We have, in my opinion, only 1 reason not to.

And it’s not the Homeless Crisis, despite the immediacy of the need for housing. It’s not the (ill)Health System, regardless of the looming worsening of the winter months ahead. It’s not even the growing inequality, contributed globally to by the very tax avoidance we are appealing against. Nor is it the thousand other serious issues afflicting this country. It’s simply that what Apple did, and what Ireland legislated and facilitated for, is Wrong.

We are all thought Right from Wrong as kids. We are all raised to do the Right Thing, even when it’s the hard thing to do. We are all aware that facilitating a tax rate of 0.005% for a company that has a war chest of €200billion is Wrong. We all know legislating for tax avoidance, while pretending it doesn’t have anything to do with growing inequality is Wrong. Even if Michael Noonan doesn’t.

What Tim Cook has called “political crap” is a, slow in coming, realisation that corporate machinations have been used to ride roughshod over moral and ethical principles. For us to defend this is to defend the corporate justification that manipulates tax laws to usurp universal human rights. In essence, we are to brandish a flimsy piece of paper that granted extraordinary financial benefits to a company as our defence for legalised greed.

A few points:

  1. The 12.5% Corporation Tax Rate is not at risk. We will hide taxes for cool companies in the 2% rated “Knowledge Box”.
  2. The jobs aren’t more at risk (jobs are always at risk) because of this. The boots under the table, the bricks and mortar plants and goods produced here aren’t affected by Corporation Tax Rates on Earnings not made here.
  3. Ireland and Apple are not unique. Just Google Luxembourg, Fiat, Netherlands and Starbucks etc.
  4. No matter the final outcome, Ireland has a European veto and can exercise it regarding our Tax Rates.
  5. The lame duck governments defence of us as “small country”, “stop the EU meddling in our tax affairs”, “we did nothing wrong” and “jealousy” is only hurting our reputation more.
  6. We did not fight for Retrospective Bank Recapitalisation, despite “seismic shift” claims.
  7. We did not stand up to the EU Commission over our Water Derogation, despite it being rejected by the electorate.
  8. The shock of the size of the €13billion figure is pathetic. Even a pleb like me had written of a potential €19billion ruling months and months ago!

By fighting this Ruling, in the way the government are currently, sends a clear message that the old politics is still in the ascendancy. New Politics is but an explanation for it taking a few more days for the Old Politics to get its own way.

Bondholders must have been rolling in the aisles when Minister for Health Simon Harris, said the people of Ireland “don’t take kindly to unelected European bureaucrats telling us what to do”. Pay Bondholders, pay Water Bills, pay USC, pay, pay, pay with your lives.

We shouldn’t be surprised at the government’s self-righteous outcry. But we can’t let our minority government claim the high moral ground here. They don’t speak for me when they claim what has happened wasn’t wrong. They are speaking for the team with all the hot-shots and superstars. They aren’t defending the little guy.

The Governments job is to protect you and me; or as Holden Caulfield imagined it:

“I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff—I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going, I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all.”

Today, our ministers are standing at the cliffs edge, waiting; eyes peeled and ready to catch any vulnerable multinational company who might stumble into trouble. Meanwhile, on the other end of side of the cliff, citizens are tumbling into the waves below.

Rightly or Wrongly…?

Tony Groves Sept 2016


2 thoughts on “The Tax Catcher in the Rye

  1. Good piece and a lot to agree with, despite your Uncontrollable Trotskyism. Anyway, the only point I would add is that there is a need to challenge the “ruling”* because it is not at all clear what the grounds of decision are. The only way we will see what the Revenue did, the Government did and, more latterly, what the Cion is up to, is for the whole thing to be publicly laid out and contested. If it isn’t challenged, then the truth will be buried, and deals will be done, and plots hatched and in short, all will continue in the old ways.
    A concerned Fabian.

    * for “ruling” read “press release”. Because that’s the way things are done around here.

  2. Good article Tony, despite your uncontrollable Trotskyism. On one point I disagree – I think it important the Government appeals the ruling* because that’s the only way we will ever see what the Revenue, the Govt and, latterly, the Cion has been up to. If we don’t, the same old style will persist and deals will be done and strikes pulled and so on and so forth.


    A Concerned Fabian

    * for ruling read press release. Cause that’s the way we do justice around here.

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