Beyond the neon runes


Paradise lost

We are a nation of begrudgers. A spiteful shower if ever there was one, a race of people who simply can’t bear to see anyone make something of themselves. We detest it when our neighbour down the road gets a new car, are driven to distraction when someone else’s child does well in school, and pray for the ship to sink when our in-laws finally go on that expensive cruise. But is it necessarily a bad thing, all this bitterness? Is it not just a way of reining in our excesses, of ensuring we don’t get too big for our boots? Rather than class it as begrudgery I think the term ‘keeping it real’ is more appropriate.

Because we only hate it when a certain type of person becomes successful. We’ve no problem with a humble, working-class prole turning their lives around, and positively glisten when the traditionally down-on-their-luck, the put-upon and the beat-down, find fame and fortune. Paul McGrath, Mary Byrne, Frank McCourt, Phil Lynott, we’d never begrudge anything to the likes of them, sure they’re just like ourselves, poor-mouthed brethren who through sheer talent and effort managed to haul themselves out of adversity and into the kind of life they fully deserve.

No, they’re grand, we’ve no problem with them. It’s the others we don’t like, the ones who never shut up about how much they earn, the ones who have everything fall into their lap, the ones with notions, the ones who move to Dublin and come back a week later with a D4 accent. They’re the ones we begrudge, the ones we wish to bring down to size, to grab by the unmentionables and remind them, in no uncertain terms, that they’re just like us. But even those people aren’t the very worst, they’re just a bit deluded, a bit foolish. No, there’s a subset of Irish society who warrant even more scorn, a class of people who should be begrudged with as much gusto as we can muster.

These people, these Irish people, haven’t even the good grace to do what every law-abiding citizen in the country does. To pay their taxes, to help out, to contribute to an economy which we’re told is on the mend. They see themselves as beyond reproach, afforded a special status because of who they are. And, even more gallingly, they portray themselves as defenders of the earth, benevolent humanitarians willing to sacrifice their very lives for the good of others. Okay, so only one of them does that, but, in this instance, they shall all be tarred with the same brush.

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Bono. What are your thoughts on him? If you’re a fan of his band you’ll most likely back him to the hilt, bristle at any criticism of his business dealings, and tell me to just focus on the music, man. If you don’t particularly like U2 and have no affiliation with Mr Hewson, you’ll view him with either ambivalence or outright disgust. He’s not an easy man to like is Bono, granted he’s a fantastic frontman, a writer of some excellent tunes, but as a person, as an individual? Nah, not for me. Somewhere between the time he decided he was the second-coming of Christ and that god-awful video in the horse and carriage I decided I’d had enough of him, and The Edge too for that matter.

But my dislike of the Dublin-native was based on nothing but good old-fashioned begrudgery, the kind of thing that made me say, “full of himself that lad,” whenever I saw him on television. At the time I would only have been vaguely aware of his status as a tax exile, would have known little about his decision to store millions of euro in offshore accounts. Now though, thanks to the ‘Paradise Papers’, I have a more rational reason to take umbrage with Bono. I, just like you, can read the details contained therein and see that this proud Irishman, this true son of Eire, believes that he owes us nothing, that he wishes to protect his wealth, and that, so long as its legal, he will exploit the system for all its worth.

By using a company based in Malta, a country with a minimal tax-jurisdiction, to invest in a Lithuanian shopping centre, Paul Hewson avoided paying standard rates of tax on profits made by subsequent sales. Although he has broken no laws and followed, to the letter, all necessary protocol, this is, essentially, the same as hiding a stash of cash under the mattress, squirrelling away a rainy-day fund unbeknownst to the taxman. And, in Bono’s case, this is not the first time such revelations have come to light. In 2006, reacting to the Irish Government’s decision to cap tax-free earnings for artists to €250,000, U2 moved their publishing arm to the Netherlands, a country with much less punitive tax-regulations for high-earners.

Again, we must remind ourselves that Bono has done nothing illegal here, he is perfectly entitled to store his money wherever he wishes. And you could argue that contrasting his charity work with his penny-pinching ways is to totally miss the point, a trite way of belittling the projects he has funded worldwide. But morally has he got a leg to stand on? Can he and his bandmates continue to champion themselves as the greatest thing to come out of this country since Guinness, while simultaneously depriving the State of money all the rest of us pay? I don’t think he can. Is it enough for him to come back every couple of years, play a few sold-out gigs in Croke Park, drape a tricolour over his shoulders, belt out ‘Sunday, Bloody Sunday,’ and then fly back to Monaco, the Cayman Islands or wherever has the lowest rate of tax? Does that make him an Irish hero, a national treasure? No, no it doesn’t.

Bono has since come out and said he would be “distressed” if he felt anything untoward had occurred with his investment, adding that he welcomed the findings of the ‘Paradise Papers’ and hoped for greater transparency among offshore companies. It seems even he is missing the point. No one is alleging misconduct here, they are merely pointing out the actions of the elite, the lengths the rich and famous will go to to ensure their earnings are maximised. That those earnings are maximised at the expense of the Irish State is the real issue here, and that a band, and its frontman, who trade off of their Irishness and use it as a marketing tool, are so dismissive of their homeland that they’d rather engage in obscure, barely legit, business dealings in foreign countries, than give a bit back to the people who made them.


Tell my mother I love her

It’s that time of year again, when every cough, sniffle or sneeze is cause to dive for cover lest you become infected by the plague, otherwise known as the common cold. There’s no escaping it, you can get all the flu jabs you like, eat jarfuls of manuka honey, bathe in garlic and olive oil, but there’ll come a morning, a dark, dreary, dismal morning, when you will awake with that familiar feeling; that throbbing in your temples, the tightness in your throat, that prickliness all over your body which makes you wheeze every time you draw air; and you’ll know it’s over, that at best you’ll see Christmas, maybe the New Year, but no more.

In ye olden times we would have shuffled to the shop, bought ten packets of Lemsip and prayed for salvation. But, now in this digital age, things are much easier. Thanks to the wonders of Google, you can self-diagnose, predict your return to work, or your demise, depending on your outlook. Of course, doctors advise us never to Google our symptoms, believing that it’s only likely to cause alarm, to have us panicking over nothing, but what do they know?

But it turns out that they have our best interests at heart, that they’d rather see us use a pre-approved website than get our diagnoses from an Indian witchdoctor with a degree in psychobabble. promises to help us learn “how to manage everyday illnesses with confidence and common sense”, stating that you can “trust the advice on this website” because it comes from “doctors and pharmacists in Ireland”.

Ever the gullible one I told this website my symptoms, foolishly believing that I would be reassured, placated by such a verified source. Not a bit of it. Five minutes in and I was politely informed that one of my eardrums had exploded. Then, while still reeling from that bombshell, I found out that, despite not leaving the country in two years, I had Traveller’s Diarrhoea. At this point I retired to my bed, shaking and afraid, cursing the HSE for their common-sense advice and stupid, GP-approved website. If you don’t hear back from me you’ll know what happened.