An Irish woman's social, political and domestic commentary
Friday, May 07, 2004  


You have to hand it to Sky News. While they are spawn of Murdoch, when it comes to the big gigs they are unbeatable. I could watch most of the Rumsfeld hearings today and while my views on the situation are entirely predictable I couldn't help admiring the US system. Seeing Rumsfeld hauled before the committee and called to account is pretty impressive. It was somewhat akin to Bliar's Prime Minister's Question Time in the House of Commons. It shows how lacking our Irish system is. Our cabinet members get away with murder as they can hide behind the archaic rules of the Dail. Then they go on RTE and run rings around interviewers or just give a few comments outside the Dail. The committee system moves far too slowly to be effective. Will we ever see reform?

But news hot off the wire that the FF National Executive has expelled Beverly Cooper-Flynn. Now Beverly has a brass neck and one of the worst cases of denial I have ever seen. A la Jonathan Aiken and Jeffrey Archer she very rashly sued RTE for reporting something that was essentially true: she had sold financial products for National Irish Bank that enabled customer to evade tax. And a la Albert Reynolds the jury found that she didn't have much of a reputation to defame. She appealed to the Supreme Court and lost. But Beverly has been making two points which loathe tho' I am to admit, have some merit.

Her first and weakest point is that she sold these products before she was elected to any post. It had nothing to do with her political career. Her second and more compelling argument is that as a young executive in her early twenties she was employed by the bank to sell this product which they had designed for the specific purpose of aiding customers in tax evasion. Why should she be singled out? Other people were doing the same job. The bank's senior management are still there. Aren't there any consequences for them?

In the same week, the AIB admits that it has been fraudulently overcharging foreign exchange customers since 1995 but can't refund the money because it's impossible to trace all the transactions. Yet, after making a lucrative deal with the Revenue Commissioners, they and all the other banks, are able to hand over details of accounts from twenty years ago to aid the Rev in tracking down bogus non-resident account holders. If you're a non-Irish reader, let me explain.

Ireland imposes a tax on the interest earned on deposits in banks: DIRT (deposit interest retention tax). The tax is calculated by the financial institution and handed straight over the Rev. When it was first introduced there was widespread panic amongst depositers so the banks widely encouraged their customers to change the address on the accounts to a foreign address. There were tens of thousands of bank accounts with addresses like Main St, London. As a 'non-resident' the bank didn't have to collect the tax. There was widespread collusion between bank officials and customers. Eventually the PAC, Public Accounts Committee investigated and the Rev and the banks panicked. In a nutshell, each of the banks did a deal with Rev and fines were paid. However, they also agreed to lead the Rev to each of the actual account holders. Now, people, usually old people, are being hit for fines which are so huge that they are twice as large as the original investment. It's causing massive trauma and people are furious because as far as they were concerned, their local friendly bank manager rang them up, advised them to do this and they had no idea what the consequences would be. In the meantime, the banks continue to clock-up profits that are equivalent to the GNP of a mid-size country.

So Bev has a point. Why should the NIB get away with it while her career is destroyed? If there was institutional tax evasion then they should be levelled with crippling fines. Of course, she's also clearly mad as a brush, but as my mother would say, what can you expect from a crow's egg but another crow.

posted by Sarah | 21:39 0 comments
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