Enforcing tax law: Depends on whether you're rich and powerful or a peasant

Last Tuesday Pat Kenny (59 Min) interviewed an official from the Revenue Commissioners on how the organisation intended tracking down those homeowners who were suspected of cheating on their property tax obligations.

The official was very professional. Pat put question after question to him and all were answered without hesitation, without any dithering regarding the law surrounding property tax.

Listeners were left in no doubt whatsoever that unless they obeyed the law to the letter Revenue would track them down and they would pay the price for their sins.

It should be noted however that such clarity, such efficiency, such determination to enforce the law is strictly confined to ordinary citizens.

When Revenue officials are interviewed about the rich and powerful they use a completely language.

We hear about constitutional considerations, about rights, about contracts, about legitimate expectations but most of all we hear about complexity.

The taxation system in Ireland is actually quite simple.

For peasants its: Pay up or suffer immediate consequences.

For the rich and powerful its: We will do our very best to minimise your tax and we will protect you on the rare occasions when you are actually caught stealing from the State.

Former chairman of the Revenue Commissioners and current chairman of NAMA, Frank Daly provides a perfect example of how the State treats the rich and powerful and how it treats the peasants.

Here are his views regarding the bogus accounts scandal of some years ago.

On ordinary bank holders (The peasants who broke the law):

Bogus account holders must be held answerable for their actions regardless of any encouragement given by the banks.

They had knowingly concealed earnings from Revenue and must pay for their actions.

On banks and bankers (The rich and powerful):

For reasons of practicality, it had been decided to seek the repayments of DIRT from the banks rather than to attempt to apportion blame.

Aggressively pursuing the banks would have resulted in a stand-off and a lengthy legal battle.

We had to go about this in a pragmatic way. Had we done otherwise, the shutters would have come down.