With his 2010 budget, Brian Lenihan has given the strongest signal yet that he is about to go after high earners who use special reliefs to avoid paying tax. So it now looks inevitable that the government will finally tackle one of the most entrenched of special interests – Irish mythical heroes.
This is a demographic previously revered by Irish society. However as Ireland confronts its sacred cows one by one, it is expected that greater scrutiny will be brought to bear on the financial arrangements of Fionn MacCumhail and the Fianna, Queen Maeve and a number of other figures who claim the controversial ‘Legend’s Exemption’. Legend’s Exemption, which is similar to Artist’s Exemption, allows the claimant to avoid paying tax where it can be proven that they are a hero of mythical stature, have ‘cultural significance’ for Ireland or can do battle with a large wild boar. Those claiming the exemption will often have their cause enhanced if their adventures feature on the Leaving Cert syllabus or if their story is re-enacted, with the aid of large papier maché giants, by Macnas. The Galway-based theatre group are believed to be the authority on that kind of thing.
Legend’s Exemption is being discontinued but Lenihan’s task in recovering future moneys will not be easy, as many would see Fianna Fáil as being inextricably linked with these mythical figures, such as the Fianna. The party have always stressed that they share nothing but a name with the Fianna and, though they admire the warriors’ ability to run through the forest while picking a thorn from their foot, the party stresses there is no special relationship. However a recent report raised concerns that Fionn MacCumhail and the Fianna benefited hugely from land-sales following the rooting of the M3 motorway through the Hill of Tara. Fionn has been resolutely pragmatic about the cultural importance of Tara famously telling journalists that “Tis only an aul hill” and called the protestors “hippies”.
MacCumhail has been a colourful figure in Irish life for many years and is believed to have amassed a large personal fortune through his own private consultancy – Salmon of Knowledge Solutions. Aspiring Fenians pay large fees in order to be coached in the ways of the Fianna. A one-hour lesson in jumping a shoulder high branch without disturbing a leaf, while pursued by twelve warriors, can cost hundreds of euro. MacCumhail to date has largely kept his affairs in order, unlike his son Oisín who is currently embroiled in a wrangle with the Revenue Commissioners who claim he owes 300 years in back taxes. Oisín claims that for that time he was resident in another country, however a spokesman for Revenue says that Tír na nÓg is not recognised as a separate jurisdiction. In any event, tax specialists maintain that as soon as the girth on his saddle broke while helping some workman lift a stone, and he fell to earth, Oisin was effectively domiciled in Ireland and all the years he was gone now caught up with him. Friends close to the legendary warrior say that he has aged considerably in recent weeks as the case takes its toll.
As the Department of Finance turns its fire on the Fianna, other heroes are also coming onto the radar. Queen Maeve of Connacht – who has also worked as a sorceress – was pursued as far as the courts by the Criminal Assets Bureau over claims she stole a large brown bull from Cooley. Maeve’s defence is that the bull is in fact in her husband Ailill’s name however CAB dispute this. They point out that the warrior queen, in her desire for the bull and to prove herself better than her husband, fought a long, ruinous war with Ulster and sure anyway, wasn’t there a whole book about it? Maeve then cursed them and turned into a crow and has since been charged with contempt of court as a result.
A number of cases involving leprauchauns are also being prepared by the tax authorities. Up until very recently it was considered impossible to uncover leprechaun gold. Revenue have now developed new software, which integrates with Google Maps, that can pinpoint, to a very high accuracy, the location of the end of the rainbow. Experts from the German state of Saxony were involved in this project following their success with Rumpelstiltskin.
As the net tightens, mythological figures are going to more and more extreme lengths to avoid investigation and are dashing to exploit any remaining loopholes. In Westmeath the Children of Lir, for tax purposes, have turned themselves into swans. Government departments were initially confident the family’s plan would backfire.
“They [the Lirs] can’t survive on wet sliced pan forever and will have to get money, they’ll probably try and claim some sort of social welfare. And since the PrimeTime programme this week, there’s no way a swan could get a PPS number and claim any dole or rent allowance” said a spokesman for the DSFA on Tuesday. However the department was forced into a mortifying climbdown yesterday when it confirmed that one of the swans – using the PPS number of a returned Algerian immigrant Moustapha Al Khalid – had managed to receive dole and lone parent allowance. Most embarrassing of all, the swan successfully claimed disability allowance. His disability? Being a swan.
Despite the hiccups, right across the mythical spectrum, the Government is anxious to ensure all fulfill their tax obligations. Fairy forts – often built without planning permission – are now being classified as second houses and the many of the Fairy Host targeted with €200 property tax bills. It may be difficult to pursue this as fairies are likely to fight the tax in court and/or make cows go dry.
The real test of the authorities’ resolve will come in just twelve days time when one of the most notorious non-regulated enterprises is at its busiest time. Santa Claus continues to flout the regulations, not paying any employment taxes, VAT or insurance. Privately though, the government accept that no one will lay a finger on Claus because of fear of the consequences. It is widely believed that Santa has made a list…