How the Celtic Tiger is biting back at all of us
When house buyers in the Republic were getting hammered by exorbitant stamp duty in the giddy days of the last property boom, they looked north and envied the modest 1% the British exchequer took from new home owners.
'Ah but they have to pay rates up there,' the argument went. 'We don't.'
That was all very well, but when you had to cough up the equivalent of €25,000 for stamp duty on a modest two-bed duplex in Dublin in 2000, you certainly never expected to have to fork out another shilling on top of your taxes. It was painful at the time but like everyone else we added it on to our easily attained mortgage, and when I headed to Belfast to stay with my sister, I'd feel sorry for her having to scrape up £2,000 a year for rates on her semi in Redwoods.
As the Republic's boom muted though, all of a sudden we had to pay for our bins, and to most southerners' horror, water charges were proposed. The Children's Allowance and carers' benefits were cut, salaries were shrunk across the board, and taxes went up. The final insult came this week, when we had a very unwelcome letter from the Irish Revenue come through the letter box, demanding that we work out which band we're in for the new loathed Property Tax, and pay up before the first of July.
This is where it gets ridiculous. Because our little duplex is on the edge of Dublin 4, we're in the same band – designated by the dozy pen pushers in the Revenue – as the Georgian mansions of the 'Embassy belt' down the road, and therefore have to pay the same amount of tax as them. It's even more farcical in salubrious Dalkey and Killiney. Bono lives in a huge pile high above gorgeous Dublin Bay, yet he only has to pay €800 a year, the same as a two-bed terraced cottage in the same belt in Dalkey village.
Of course the U2 frontman has been getting a roasting for paying tax in Holland rather than Ireland, which could do with a bit of his coin. He has been rightly criticised, even by long-time admirers like RTE broadcaster Dave Fanning, for his double standards in demanding financial help for the Third World, when the bulk of that aid comes from taxes.
Anyway, the taunts must have gotten to Bono, as he was in cahoots with the floundering Taoiseach Enda Kenny recently. Unusually for the publicity conscious rocker, the exact nature of the talks was not made known but let's hope there was a few bob in it for Enda's coffers. The Irish are almost as angry with him and his government as they are with the bankers and developers who ruined the country.
This week Finance Minister Michael Noonan would not oppose a fresh pay hike of an obscene €800,000 a year for Bank of Ireland chief Richie Boucher, despite the bailed-out bank reporting losses of €1.5bn for the financial year. The Irish Department of Finance holds 15% of the bust bank's voting rights on behalf of taxpayers who pumped €4.8bn into it.
Worse still, the Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore has refused to intervene to stop the bailed-out AIB imposing a savage mortgage increase.
The latest increase by this shambles of a bank – 99% owned by taxpayers – will add an extra €800 in debt on a family trying to pay off an average €300,000 home loan.
We're also paying through the nose for the reckless antics of Sean Quinn and the unrepentant 'Baron of Ballsbridge' Sean Dunne who owes billions but has scarpered and continues to live like Henry VIII in a luxury mansion in Connecticut.
If truth be told though, a lot of us down here did go a bit property mad in those heady Celtic Tiger days up to 2008. Like the English, our home is our castle. We just won't be fitting any extra slide-robes for the foreseeable.