Income gap? More of a chasm


Patricia Feehily

Income gap? More of a chasm

Patricia is surprised there isn't more industrial disputes with the growing gap between the super rich and the rest of us

THEY say that we’re a nation of deep rooted begrudgers, but don’t believe a word of it. There isn’t a country in the world that has as much reverence and esteem for its multi-millionaire class as we have. Our whole purpose in life, it seems, is to protect them from irritants and gawkers, like myself and the Revenue Commissioners. It’s nothing short of adulation!

There are three or four very worthy Limerick people in the latest ‘Rich List’ and all I can say, although I’m raging, is fair play to them. I’m still trying to make my first million – buying lottery tickets. If I say anything else, you’ll all be down my throat in a flash accusing me of all kinds of ungraciousness, class envy and half-baked Marxist codology.

But I wish they wouldn’t publish these ‘Rich Lists’. Depending on the mood I’m in – and at the moment my heart is with the Bus Eireann drivers – the list can be like a red rag to a bull. I wouldn’t mind only that there is nothing I like better than a good ‘rags to riches’ story. I knew a man once who went from being a bare-footed messenger boy in a corner grocery store in my native town in 1907 to afterwards become Minister for Industry and Commerce in the first Inter-Party Government. He went on to found one of the country’s best known auctioneering firms.

I thought he was loaded when I went to interview him in leafy South County Dublin when he was an elderly man in the late 1970’s. From the moment I first listened to his stirring story he became my idol, but before the interview was over, he damn well nearly broke the spell when he told me that he was never a wealthy man.

Incidentally, Dan Morrissey launched his career as an indefatigable trade union leader. If he were in the Dail now, he’d know what to do in the bus dispute.

What bothers me most, however, about this latest ‘Rich List’ is the gap. Never mind the ever widening gap between the rich and the poor in this country; it’s the galloping chasm that has opened up between the super-rich and the struggling rich that really troubles me.

I’m truly alarmed, for instance, to learn that the top 12 in the latest list of Ireland’s 300 wealthiest people are worth more than the next 288 put together. Surely, this blatant inequality can’t be tolerated for much longer? As they say in the Public Accounts Committee, the figures just don’t add up.

Now, I, of all people, shouldn’t be flagellating myself by perusing the rich lists in the first place – precisely because I seem to be the only one who reacts accordingly. Everyone else is clapping the entrants on their gold encrusted backs and saying ‘good on ya boy’, while I’m wondering if I could start a revolution and maybe grab a piece of the re-distributed wealth for myself. Wishful thinking, no doubt, like buying a lottery ticket!

Have patience, you may say. A rising tide lifts all boats and the wealthier some people become, the more likely it is that some of that wealth will eventually trickle down to those of us who, as of now, are clinging to a piece of flotsam because we can’t afford a boat. Anyway, tell that story about the rising tide to a Bus Eireann driver or an employee of one of the super-rich who is trying to survive on a ‘zero hours’ contract!

Usually I read the ‘Rich Lists’ out of mild curiosity – just to see if anyone I know has made the grade, and maybe I could touch them for a dig-out. Only joking! I have my pride. But believe it or not, there is one or two that I do know among the 300. They haven’t made the top 12, though, and my heart goes out to them, seeing the size of the canyon that separates them from their betters. (Isn’t that what you call those who have done better than you?) It’s galling none-the-less to realise that I knew them when the talents were being handed out. They seem to made good use of them, whereas I must have spent mine or mislaid it somewhere.

But, believe it or not, I’m quite philosophical about all that. Blessed are the poor in spirit, and at least we won’t have to go through the eye of a needle to get to Paradise. As far as I can see the super rich and even the minor rich live the most boring lives imaginable – if, as Frank O’Connor said, they could be said to live at all. They make their money from such uninspiring pursuits as technology, gambling, horses, investments, property, pop music, beef and even soup. There’s not even one great novelist or an eminent scientist or an inspirational painter among them. There’s not even an outstanding politician. If there was, I suppose we’d have him up before a tribunal.

No, what troubles me more than anything is this unquestioning adulation of the wealthy. The wonder is that we’re not doffing our caps to them as we once did to the gentry. Maybe we’re just doing it more discreetly. The bottom line for me is that the top 300 in this latest ‘rich list’ have accumulated over €100 billion between them, mainly through the labour and sweat of their workers, and nobody even asks how much tax they paid on their profits.

What use is a ‘rich list’ to any of us if it doesn’t include the estimated tax liability incurred in the accumulation of the said wealth? Unfortunately, it’s considered downright unpatriotic to even mention the ‘T’ word in relation to the rich, lest they flee our shores and leave us all foundering in our own shallow pools.

But I hope to God that in the new Irish Water regime we won’t think of giving them a special allowance on top of everything else to wash down their helicopters.