Corruption's business as usual


Recent months have seen the banking and financial sectors in Ireland coming under scrutiny as never before. On the one hand there have been allegations of offshore accounts designed to dodge tax being set up for favoured customers and of money being illegally taken from people's accounts through various guises such as charging interest and bank charges not actually due.

On the other hand the banks have been posting record profits: £2 million every single day of the first six months of this year by Allied Irish Bank, and board members and executives in recently floated former Building Societies have been awarding themselves multi-million pound bonuses. It is no wonder that many people have begun to ask themselves some serious questions about the nature of banking and its relationship to the Celtic Tiger.

Of course the real question in all of this is not whether or not National Irish Bank, Irish Life or indeed banks and the financial world in general are crooks. Certainly no-one would ever accuse them of being overburdened with a social conscience. What matters to us as anarchists in looking at this mess is whether NIB is actually guilty of corruption or whether in fact at the end of the day they are simply practising capitalism as it is meant to be. And in actual fact most of what NIB is actually accused of, for example, is not illegal.

Certainly the operation of offshore tax-dodging accounts is not alone O.K. as far as "business ethics" is concerned but is in fact an integral part of the system. In addition to the Ansbacher accounts - with a total of £38 million - and the Clerical Medical Investment accounts operated by NIB (£50 million), both Bank of Ireland and AIB have also admitted to the operation of such accounts - AIB admitting to sums of up to £600 million being involved. One only has to witness the huge growth in recent years in the number of "tax advisors" to be aware of the growing gap between those who pay tax as we earn and those who pay tax as they like - or, in actual fact, don't pay tax at all.

The majority of PAYE workers have no need of tax advisors. Quite simply we pay the tax while self-employed, big business and the farming sector don't. 85% of all tax is paid by PAYE workers and - to give just one example which tells it all - during the five years to 1993 Aer Lingus workers alone paid as much tax as all the farmers in the country. We don't need to be told that we live in a two-tier society but we do need to arm ourselves with the statistics which will allow us to bring the truth forward and win the argument with people who are more and more becoming disillusioned with the political system.

The use of the term "corruption" to describe this activity implies that there are a few "rotten apples" in the barrel and that with greater scrutiny and more tribunals these rotten apples can be rooted out. What the Beef Tribunal showed up however is that - far from getting to the root of the problem - investigations and tribunals are nothing more than a gravy train for the legal world. The current political establishment would be quite willing to sacrifice yesterday's men - Haughey, Burke, et al - in order to avoid being tainted by association and to attempt to prove that they were the "rotten apples" and that the system does work!!! Even given that, however, I would be willing to eat my tweed trilby (if I had one!) if any of them actually end up behind bars.

Just one example to make the point - in June the first ever custodial sentence for tax evasion was handed down by a Galway court - and promptly suspended. The defendant involved - the former managing director of Cavan Crystal - had spirited away £165,000 in taxes. In the same month, Dublin District Court sentenced a young drug addict to nine years imprisonment for robbing a tourist's handbag. Enough said.

What is involved here is not "corruption". It is simply capitalism at work. Our task is to arm people with the facts and to turn their disillusionment into an alternative idea of how society should be run in all our interests rather than in the interests of a small number of bankers and industrialists.

Gregor Kerr

This article is from Workers Solidarity No 55 published in October 1998