There’s an old saying that the two most interesting things in the world are your own money, and other people’s sex lives. Irish people have an add-on to that. They are fascinated by other people’s money, and equally obsessed with keeping their own secret, so what I’m suggesting here will never fly in Ireland.
But just supposing if tomorrow the Revenue Commissioners publish a spreadsheet of everybody’s declared income and amount they actually paid in tax. What would be the outcome? Well, aside from the outrage and at least a thousand people haring it down to the High Court for an injunction, what else would happen?
For a start, we’d learn the truth about income taxes. People would see the huge amounts of actual income tax that the wealthy pay. We’d all immediately look up Michael O’Leary and Bono et al, and discover the truth. Or perhaps we’d discover that they didn’t pay that much after all, through some deft but legal accounting. But either way, we’d all know, and at least the debate would start from an honest base.
As to what would really be the result? I suspect that some very wealthy people would be revealed to be paying very large amounts in tax, and some wouldn’t. And the Revenue would immediately be on the spot to explain why, which would be a very useful exercise in itself.
But of course, it’s never going to happen, and not because of any conspiracy. If we put such a proposal to the people in a referendum, it would be overwhelming rejected, not just by the very wealthy but by farmers and publicans and middle ranking civil servants, because, as with everything in Ireland, the majority would have more to lose from change, and those who would gain probably wouldn’t vote anyway.