7 October 1999 Edition

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Five kept in the dark


`Nobody told me' was the message from the DIRT inquiry last week. This time the nobodies were five former ministers for Finance.

John Bruton, Ray MacSharry, Albert Reynolds, Bertie Ahern and Ruairi Quinn all gave sworn testimonies covering their time at Finance. Their responses under questioning make intriguing reading. They show that no matter who is in power, they have all have the common position of not wanting to take responsibility for any of the events being investigated by the Public Accounts inquiry. Nobody knew and nobody told them. Maybe the truth is that they really didn't want to know the full scale of tax evasion in the 26 Counties.


Shocking Bruton

John Bruton was first up for questioning. He was Finance minister in 1981 and briefly at the tail end of 1986 into early 1987. John told us that it was ``deplorable'' that the Revenue Commissioners never used the powers they had to investigate the DIRT accounts. He said they never gave him ``a whimper of complaint''. He had no recall of being told by the Commissioners that their powers were inadequate.

Bruton also said, ``the idea that institutions so key to our national identity (the banks) might be involved in systematic tax evasion is quite shocking''. John gets our most naïve minister award.


Ray's denials

Ray MacSharry's evidence was dominated by his denial that he had told the then AIB chairperson Niall Crowley that the Revenue Commissioners would never inspect their non-resident accounts. Yet again another unsigned and unattributed note is the source of controversy. However it was shown that MacSharry despite making pronouncements promising action on banks avoiding tax had also admitted in 1987 that ``it is neither appropriate nor possible in practice'' for the Revenue Commissioners to begin widespread inspections of non-resident bank accounts.


Albert's pedigree chums

Albert Reynolds told the inquiry that the 1993 tax amnesty was a collective policy decision of the Labour Fianna Fail Government and that in the 1980s he knew ``very little'' of the bogus non-resident accounts.

He denied the assertion by Maurice Doyle the former secretary of the Finance department that the ``dogs in the street'' knew of the bogus accounts. Reynolds quipped that ``I have a lot of respect for the dogs in the street, they're customers of mine from time to time''. Reynolds also claimed that Doyle never brought his attention to these bogus accounts.


Bertie's loop the loop

Bertie Ahern was a breath of fresh air. He admitted that there was a strong culture of tax evasion in every section of society. He knew, unlike the three other previous ministers, that there had also been a problem with non-resident accounts.

Bertie's reasons for not being able to tackle the DIRT issue were justified by his explanation that loopholes were always found in Finance legislation.

He said that whenever his department acted to plug a loophole ``somebody, usually the following day or that night, is sending out brochures around the town finding ways of unplugging them''.

Like all the other ministers, Bertie had no knowledge of the SIM 263 which stopped tax inspectors looking at non-resident accounts.


Quinn kept in the dark

Ruairi Quinn told the inquiry that he asked the Revenue Commissioners why there were not more high profile prosecutions of tax fraud like that of Lester Piggott in Britain.

Despite being the first minister to institutionalise formal visits to the Revenue Commissioners Quinn did not recall any occasion when DIRT tax evasion or bogus accounts were raised.

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