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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
Updating Capitalist Rule

Liam O Ruairc • 1 April 2004

In an article published on this website almost a year ago, this author gathered data to show how people with money have a disproportionate influence on the political life of the twenty six counties. New facts and figures recently published in Sunday newspapers make it possible to update this article.

An article in the Sunday Independent revealed that the one hundred wealthiest Irish people’s combined fortune is worth 23 billion Euros. This is equivalent to one fifth of the 26 counties’ GDP. By contrast, the one hundred richest US citizens are valued at one twentieth of all US economic activity. “The ten richest people in Ireland are each sitting on an average fortune of 800 million Euros. The average industrial worker would have to bank his or her entire 27 000 Euros salary every year for 30 000 years to amass the same wealth.” (Sunday Independent 14 March 2004) Among those super rich are Sir Tony O Reilly (fortune estimated at 1.3 billion Euros), JP McManus (790 million Euros), Margaret Heffernan (490 million Euros), Michael O Leary (470 million Euros), Larry Goodman, Tony Ryan and Dermot Desmond. In global terms, Ireland may have the reputation of the Celtic Tiger, but only two people with links to Ireland are included in Forbes most recent list of the world’s richest people. (Forbes 15 March 2004).

Last year’s article noted that of the top 100 richest people in Ireland, 27 came from the construction and property sectors, 12 from distribution, 8 from hotel and pubs, 7 from the food industry, and 6 from sport and entertainment. Only 11 came from a manufacturing background, 5 technology and 5 from finance. This trend hasn’t changed. Among the top 50 private companies in the 26 counties, the most featured industry is still the property and construction sector (18 companies), retail (7), builders’ providers and services (6) and car distribution (5). Thirty one of those companies are either owned by a family or a couple. (Sunday Business Post 28 March 2004) Is the Leinster House still “nothing but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie” as Marx wrote of the modern state?

The rich may not govern, but they still rule. Through what mechanisms? Anthony Sampson noted in the Observer that the rich in Great Britain “can feel politically more secure”: “New Labour has proved more sympathetic to big business than any post war government except Margaret Thatcher’s. Tony Blair is careful not to mention inequality, enjoys the company of business leaders and holidays in the houses of rich friends. Gordon Brown is never publicly critical of the rich. Wealthy individuals and corporations no longer need representatives in parliament or governments to safeguard their interests and swing votes. A few rich men sit in the Commons… Yet most can rely on lobbyists and pressure groups to push their cases for reduced taxation, regulation or planning restrictions, while multinational firms hardly need to make the point that if they are not granted special terms they can take their money out of Britain. New Labour is especially mindful of the need to oblige rich individuals as donors. The explosion of personal fortunes has made all parties more dependent on a handful of individuals than on company donations.” (The Observer 28 March 2004)

All this could also apply to political life in Ireland, as the Flood and Moriarty Tribunals have shown. Not a week passes without some new revelation about the corrupting influence of money in Irish political life. For example, between 1994 and the end of 2000, tycoon Denis O Brien gave political parties almost £300 000. Just in 1999/2000, he gave Fine Gael over £55 000. Few would doubt that the award of mobile telephone licence to his company Esat Digifone has nothing to do with this. (Sunday Business Post 28 March 2004) Last week Senator Martin Mansergh lambasted what he called “unpatriotic” tax exiles, Irish business people who flee the country rather than paying taxes. Mr Mansergh should have known better. The capitalist class owes its allegiance only to its money and self-interest.

Also very worrying is the huge power of a very small number of multinational companies. Figures released by the Revenue Commissioners demonstrate the Exchequer’s massive reliance on foreign multinationals: ten multinationals together accounted for more than a quarter of the total corporation tax take last year. The ten contributed 1.38 billion Euros in corporation tax, representing 27 percent of the total corporation tax take of 5.16 billion Euros. And one company, who paid 510 million Euros in corporation tax, accounted for ten percent of Ireland’s total corporation tax take in 2003. Those figures suggest that these top ten multinationals made combined profits of 11 billion Euros on their Irish operations in 2003, while the top multinational taxpayer alone made profits of about 4 billion Euros. Nine out of these top ten companies are foreign owned, while the tenth is an Irish company. The eleventh largest corporation taxpayer was also a foreign owned multinational. The majority of them come from the pharmaceutical and ICT industries. (The Sunday Business Post 29 February 2004) Given the huge importance of this small number of companies in Irish economic life, their influence is immense. The American Chamber of Commerce in Ireland notes that among the reasons they are in Ireland for, are the ‘pro-business environment’, the ‘favourable corporation tax rate’, and the ‘flexibility’ of the labour market. (ibid) These companies, because of their weight in the Irish economy, constrain all decisions that are taken in Leinster House. They do not need to make the point that if a more pro-worker (rather than pro-business) environment, higher corporation tax and less ‘flexible’ labour market are created, they can always go to India, China, or Eastern Europe. Monopoly capital is indeed dominating Ireland.

Report highlights inequality in Ireland (RTE)
April 4, 2002
A report published today suggests that Ireland has become one of the richest countries but also one of the most unequal.
The report by independent social researcher, Brian Harvey, found that human rights standards are below international levels and corruption is a central theme of life here.
It said Ireland has lost substantial foreign investment because of its reputation for corruption.
Among its other criticisms are the inadequate treatment of refugees and asylum seekers, the lack of an independent police complaints procedure and the difficulties for poor people getting swift access to justice.





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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



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Index: Current Articles

5 April 2004


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Sinn Fein - Sold a Pup: Martin Cunningham Interviewed
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Going to the Flix
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Reports and Inquiries
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State Department Flip-flop to Offset Cory?

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Updating Capitalist Rule
Liam O'Ruairc


The Rush to Judgement: Binary Thinking in a Digital Age
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"Poor people can't be engineers" - Free Market Corruption, Neo-Liberal Pretexts
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Reading the Future from the Past
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Bush in Haiti: Operation Enduring Misery
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No Promise, No Hope?
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