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How to Deliver Social Change through Racial Equality in Northern Ireland

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The following is a submission by The Workers Party to: “A Sense of Belonging: Delivering Social Change through a Racial Equality Strategy for Northern Ireland 2014-2024″.

The Workers Party is an anti-sectarian, anti-racist, secular socialist party. We are anti-racist in the sense that we accept the scientific consensus that ‘race’ as an objective descriptor of human diversity does not exist. More importantly, we are also anti-racist in the sense that we oppose violence and discrimination against people perceived to be ‘different’ for whatever reasons. Races do not objectively exist but hate-crimes and other abuses against ethnic minorities are very real and the Stormont government and other bodies in our society must work to end them.

Added to well established ethnic minority communities in Northern Ireland ( the Chinese, Indian, Jewish and Traveller communities), there has recently been an increasingly visible rise in migrant workers from very diverse backgrounds. It is fair to say that large numbers of people in NI embrace this rise in immigration as a positive development: the 2012 Northern Ireland Life and Times survey found that 43 per cent of respondents believed immigration to be ‘good’ or ‘very good’ for the economy, while half viewed Northern Ireland’s new diversity as having a ‘good’ or ‘very good’ cultural impact. The figures suggest that immigrants have indeed delivered for the local economy.According to recent research from Oxford Economics, far from constituting ‘a drain on the public purse’, between 2004-2008 migrant workers contributed over £1.2 trillion Gross Valued Added to the NI economy. However, this rise in the numbers of migrant workers has also been accompanied by a significant increase in racially motivated attacks and intimidation of ethnic minority people. PSNI figures for 2013/14 show that there were 982 racist incidents in NI, an increase of 232 (30.9%) over the previous year. Moreover, according to 2014 Peace Monitoring Report from the Community Relations Council, many more crimes go unreported, a failure which is exacerbated by the presence of paramilitaries in some of the affected areas.

It is our view that since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement the Stormont Government has been remiss in its duty to protect people from hate crimes. This is a part of the overall unwillingness of the chief parties in Stormont Coalition to to tackle sectarianism at its roots in terms of education, housing, ‘peace-walls’ and flags and emblems. The continued existence of segregated communities in an environment of low-paid work and chronic unemployment and of poverty conditions sow the seeds for much of the racist scapegoating and violence that we have seen in working class areas. As journalist Peter Geoghegan notes:

The public administration of ‘Race Relations’ in Northern Ireland is undermined by a fundamental tension between a discourse of Good Relations and normalisation stressing equality and social diversity and a set of structures and practices which privilege sectarian identities. Although the Agreement includes a commitment to diversity beyond the ‘two traditions’ the text itself is a product of sectarian division and, in many important respects, continues to reproduce this bifurcation.

In relation to sectarian ‘bifurcation’ at government level, the Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic Minorities (NICEM) notes that, “the current Good Relations Policy: Together Building a United Community (TBUC) perpetuates the ‘two communities’ approach and omits consideration of race relations in any action plan.”

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Low Corporation Tax Rates Do Not Boost Growth

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This article by Michael Burke originally appeared as a guest post on Notes on the Front. Michael blogs regularly on Socialist Economic Bulletin and tweets @menburke.

There are a number of reports that Ministers have travelled to the US in order to reassure investors following the closure of the ‘Double Irish’ tax loophole. It is not just highly-paid US executives who are concerned about the possible impact of changes to the corporate tax regime.

There is a widespread belief that low taxes for companies are the key to prosperity, in Ireland and in the Western economies generally. Taxes on companies have been falling in the OECD economies over a prolonged period. The corporate tax regime in Ireland is just one of the most extreme examples of this trend.

The off-setting factor has been a sharp increase in the proportion of taxes by ordinary citizens, either through income tax and social charges, or by indirect taxes on consumption (VAT, alcohol, fuel, tobacco duties and so on).

The argument is that lower corporate taxes increase the incentive and capacity of business to invest. Since investment increases productivity this would mean that lower taxes boost economic growth, create jobs and increase the quality of those jobs, including pay. The only trouble with this is that there is no evidence to support it. The evidence paints a very different picture.

According to the OECD, a weighted average of the main corporation taxes applied in its member states has fallen progressively over the last 32 years. In 1981 the average rate was 49.1%. In 2012 it was 32.4%. This was a period of the most severe economic crisis since the OECD was formed. Clearly low taxes were not proof against economic crisis. Even if we disregard the crisis itself, it is clear that GDP growth has been declining over a prolonged, which has coincided with cuts to corporation tax.

MB - Corporate Tax 1

The same is true in Ireland. The corporation tax rate was cut drastically and a 12.5% rate was phased in up to 2003. The 10-year period of GDP growth since has been the worst in the history of the state. Yet it is still widely claimed that a low rate of corporation tax determines Irish prosperity. This claim is evidently false.

The strongest ever year of Irish growth was in 1997.  This was not a part of what has become known as the ‘Celtic Tiger’ period and was six years before the 12.5% tax rate was fully phased in.

MB - Corporate Tax 2

Even when this evidence is presented, the persistence of the myth on taxation is formidable. It is argued somehow that the inclusion of the crisis years distorts the comparisons, as if the purported reason for cutting taxes was not to increase growth and prosperity. But it is also the case that average GDP growth was 4.9% in the 5 years between the cut to 12.5% rates and the crisis (2003 to 2007). This is less than half the growth rate in the in the 5 years before the rate was cut, which averaged 10.3%.

The mechanism through which lower corporate taxes is supposed to lead to increased prosperity is higher corporate investment. The argument that lower tax rates leads to higher investment has been disproved throughout the entire OECD area, which has a experienced a secular decline in both the rate of GDP growth and the rate of investment for the last 30 years.

The same is true in Ireland. Lower taxes did not lead to higher investment. The chart below shows the level of corporate taxes versus the annual growth in the rate of investment (GFCF, Gross Fixed Capital Formation). The peak period for the growth rate of investment was in the mid-to-late 1990s. This coincides with the period of strongest GDP growth, which is not coincidental as investment plays a decisive role in growth. Both of these were before the corporate tax rate was cut drastically.

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Not only did the rate of investment growth slow when corporate taxes were cut, but the composition of that investment was changed in a negative way. The chart below shows the rate of Irish corporation tax and the proportion of total investment devoted to housing. The increasing proportion of investment directed towards housing led fairly quickly to the unsustainable housing boom. The evidence is that as the tax rate fell the proportion of housing investment increased until the bubble burst. In 2004 to 2006 more than half of all investment was in housing, which was immediately after the tax rate fell to 12.5%.

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From Alpha to Omega Podcast: #055 Encirclement

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This week I am delighted to have Rick Rozoff, long-time anti-war activist, NATO expert, and curator of the – Stop Nato: Opposition to Global Militarism blog. In a wide ranging interview, we discuss the current Ukraine Situation, Zbigniew Brzezinski and the Grand Chessboard, the NATO expansion and encirclement of Russia, and the plight of Syria.

You can check out his blog here: rickrozoff.wordpress.com/

The music featured on this show were:

  • ‘The Order of the Pharaonic Jesters’ by Sun Ra and his Arkestra
  • ‘Cut Em Off’ by Dizzee Rascal
  • ‘Solitude’ by Billie Holiday
  • ‘Isolation’ by Joy Division
  • ‘Blueberry Hill’ by Vladimir Putin

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November Socialist Voice

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The November Socialist Voice is now available online.

The articles include:

Water charges:  The government can be defeated

Eugene McCartan

The turn-out of more than 100,000 working people on 11 October, followed by the national mobilisation on 1 November, in which approximately 200,000 people took part in local protests around the country, show that the Right2Water campaign is growing in strength and is drawing new forces into resistance against the water charges.

EU negotiation terms declassified

Nicola Lawlor

The European Union has finally declassified the terms of reference of the EU Commission in negotiating the highly secretive agreement known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

Green light for risk-free speculation

THE EUROPEAN Central Bank plans to buy rebundled packages of debt and covered bonds, secured on assets such as property. It will include buying debt with a credit rating of “junk” from Greece and Cyprus, as long as such countries are under a formal international financial programme.

Transforming a tragedy into an opportunity

Tommy McKearney

Reader could be forgiven for feeling that little more of value can be said about the Mairia Cahill case. The Sunday Independent devoted sixteen pages of one issue to the question,* and it was not alone among the media in conducting this type of frenzied investigation. Broadcast and print journalists, internet trolls and a medley of commentators joined in what was cast as a defining moral issue.

Ebola: EU dithers, Cuba acts

Tomás Mac Síomóin

The yawning gap between socialist and neo-liberal values is reflected in the response to the call by the secretary-general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, for international assistance to stem the deadly advance of the Ebola virus in Africa. Cuba’s response was immediate and massive; the European Union heaved and brought forth—a mouse!

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Squeezing the ‘Public’ Out of the Economy and Society

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We are experiencing a privatisation of the economy and society by stealth.  We usually associate privatisation with the sale of state assets to a private company.  But there’s a larger privatisation process at work, slowly squeezing the ‘public’ from our social life.  It is ongoing and the Government has signalled it will continue up to at least 2018 and in all likelihood beyond.

In a previous post I pointed out the ‘real’ cuts to public spending the Government intends to pursue up to 2018 – the second phase of austerity. This phase will entail public spending falling below inflation levels, which means the value will be cut.  This won’t mean Ministers standing up in the Dail announcing cuts as they have been doing the last six years.  But it will mean a squeeze up to 2018.

But this is against a backdrop of substantial reductions in government spending over the last six years.  Indeed, so severe have been the cuts that spending levels on public services and investment are hurtling back some 20 years.

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The chart above tracks expenditure on public services (government consumption) factoring out inflation.  We find that in 2018 expenditure per every man, woman and child is estimated to be only slightly above spending levels in 2000 (the red line represents the Government projections).  There is a continued downward trend that we should expect to continue until the end of the decade.

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Time for Trade Unions to Demand Referendum to Repeal the 8th Amendment

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Trade Union Campaign to Repeal the 8th Amendment

November 3, 2014, Buswells Hotel, 11am

We are calling on the trade union movement, the largest organised grouping in Irish civil society, to join the move to repeal the archaic, sectarian 8th amendment to our Constitution. For working women, who now make up half the workforce in Northern Ireland and nearly half in the South, the amendment is an affront to their equal rights. It is a duty of all trade unions to secure its removal.

In 1983 the Irish Congress of Trade Unions opposed Article 40.3.3, stating that “the rigidity and inflexibility of constitutional directives on social and moral issues is inappropriate in a democracy”. Since then, over 150,000 women and girls have had to travel abroad for abortions, and every day, 12 more take the trip to the UK for a medical procedure they should be able to access in their own country. Men in Ireland face no such restrictions to any medical care they may need.

For over 30 years, the 8th Amendment has been a major source of inequality and discrimination.  From Miss X in 1992 to the death of Savita Halappanavar in 2012 and the recent obscenity of Ms Y’s treatment by the State, Irish history is littered with tragic individual cases directly caused by a Constitution that equates a woman’s life with that of a foetus.

Emotionally and financially, the cost for women with unwanted pregnancies is incalculable. In the middle of a crisis, they have to find at least €1,500 to travel abroad, often alone and in distress. CSO figures show 50% of women earn €20,000 or less which means this dilemma falls hardest on the poorest. And if they go to the internet for abortion pills, they – and anyone who may have helped them out – face up to 14 years in jail. Healthcare workers are routinely compelled to tell women who need abortions that they cannot provide them with, or refer them for, abortion services because there is not enough of a risk to their lives.

Attempts to deal with the rigidity of the 8th Amendment have created a hypocritical situation: you are legally entitled to travel abroad for an abortion which is illegal in your own country. Many women face huge obstacles in attempting that journey.  For poor women lack of money may delay or prevent them travelling.  For migrant women, the uncertainty about being able to return to Ireland effectively denies them the right to travel. If they are faced with a crisis pregnancy, that denial is nothing short of an abuse of human rights. And these difficulties lead to later and more complicated terminations which may pose medical risks.

The 1983 Amendment was an attempt to hold back progress in Ireland. The political elite collapsed in the face of an offensive by SPUC and its allies. The trade union movement played a role in resisting that offensive.

Recent pinion polls have consistently shown that attitudes to abortion in Ireland have changed radically. We live in a more liberal country where individual rights and freedoms are more respected. The 8th Amendment is a barrier to progress; it denies women’s rights and dignity.

It is time for this to end.  We call on all our fellow trade unionists to join with us in calling on the Government to introduce legislation for a referendum to repeal the 8th amendment.

Signed by: Taryn Trainor, Regional Women’s Race & Equalities Organiser, Unite; Salome Mbugua, Chief Executive, Akidwa, African Women’s Network;Helen Mahony, TUI; Laura Harmon, President, USI; Laura Duggan, Unite and ICTU Youth Committees; Jo Tully, INMO; Des Derwin, Siptu, Dublin Council of Trade Unions; Cllr Eilis Ryan (Ind), Siptu;

Marnie Holborow, SIPTU; Eddie Conlon, TUI; John Humphreys, Unite Youth Committee; Padraig Mannion, Unite; John Meehan, Siptu;Grainne Griffin, Siptu; Una Dunphy, TUI, Waterford; Kerry Cuskelly, Impact; Mary Diskin, Retired Teachers Association; Therese Caherty, NUJ; Maggie Ryan, Impact; Cathie Doherty, Abortion Rights Campaign; Shane Fitzgerald, Unite; Mary Caulfield, NUJ

From the TU Campaign to Repeal the 8th Amendment, affiliated to the Coalition to Repeal the 8th Amendment

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Irish Air: Message from the CEO

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Irish Air: Message from the CEO

with thanks to Padraig McCormack for the inspiration

Every day under the sky

in this teeny weeny country

they think belongs to them,

people kick football, jog

up and down promenades;

run red faced for buses

on wet mornings; days off they climb

hyperventilating briefly

up shaky looking ladders;

they drive miles through countryside

to attend funerals of people

they never met, and roll

car windows down. They give

others who’ve collapsed gasping

in the street

amateur mouth to mouth.

When everyone else is out,

they make obscene phone calls,

pant down lines at women

they think live alone.

Come the six o’clock bell,

those not trapped in traffic

or enrolled in evening classes,

slob on a bewildering variety of sofas,

play until bedtime with remotes.

All the time taking for granted

the luxury: breath

which, given the cost, we can no longer offer

free. Much as we all enjoy

breathing, our current funding model

is no longer sustainable.

Every country in the OECD,

excepting Ireland, levies

a small charge for breath.

Air is important.

We must stop disrespecting it

by failing to give it a price.

As of October, Irish Air

will begin attaching meters

to the side of each adult’s skull.

No eighteenth birthday party

will be complete without a visit from us.

It will be an offence,

punishable by a law made up yesterday,

to tamper with, or remove,

your personal meter.

There are no exemptions

for the disabled, the elderly, or the insane.

Air will still be available free

to children and the deceased.

When you smother your spouse,

inform us here at Irish Air,

and we’ll reduce your bill

by the appropriate amount.

The cranium of every tourist

will be fitted with a temporary meter,

to be removed only on their exit

from the country. Those whose bills

remain unredeemed will not be allowed

leave. Diplomats are exempted.

Resisters will have their air flow

reduced to the occasional puff,

every half hour or so.

If you have reason to believe

your personal air flow

has been erroneously reduced,

call our office

and speak to one of our staff.

It is an offence

to tamper with, remove, or shove

your personal meter

anywhere obscene.

Our arses are important to us

and we will not tolerate them

being interfered with

by citizens  of this teeny weeny country

you think belongs to you.

 

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Unrealistic Timelines: Water Charges and the Fiscal Deficit

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During a recent debate on water charges, Minister Alan Kelly had this to say about Government policy:

‘I would go so far as to say that the timelines operating to date have been somewhat unrealistic, squeezing many years of work into too fine a condensed period of months.’

To which a reasonable policy response would be abandon the current timeline; in particular, the introduction of water charges.  If the timelines are unrealistic then, clearly, it is realistic to proceed with the charges.

However, an argument that has arisen in the last week is that if water charges were abolished, suspended, postponed, put in cryogenic freeze, whatever, it would have a negative impact on our deficit.  This arises because Irish Water is now ‘off-the-books’ for the purposes of calculating our deficit.  This means that, unlike in the past, expenditure in water services is not counted as government expenditure since more than 50 percent of its revenue comes from non-government services (i.e. household and business charges).   There is an exception to this which is discussed below.

So how much would it cost the state to get rid of the charges?  I have heard claims that it would cost an extra €600 million, €800 million, €1 billion and more.  Would it?

FF’s Micheal McGrath asked the Minister of Finance a pretty straight-forward question:

‘To ask the Minister for Finance the deficit in nominal and percentage terms which would exist in 2015 if domestic water charges were not applied, and the costs associated with water provision if brought fully back on to the State’s books.’

The Minister refused to answer the question or even offer an estimate.   So when you hear Ministers, backbench TDs and commentators going on about how much it would cost the state to get rid of water charges, just remember:  the Minister for Finance refused to tell the Dail how much.

[Also, SF’s Angus Ó Snodaigh also asked the same Minister Kelly ‘the amount it will cost to provide water and sewerage services in 2015’.  Again, no answer.  What does it take to get a direct answer to a direct question?]

Given the official silence on this issue, I went in search for the answer.  The PwC report on water services published in late 2011 stated that the cost of water services, which includes investment, was €1.1 billion in 2010.  Let’s assume some growth in spending, though during this period it could have easily been cut (Eurostat numbers show a steady reduction of expenditure since 2010 but they have a different method of categorising water expenditure so we can’t be sure if we’re comparing like-with-like).

If the cost of providing water services in 2015 is €1.2 billion, and the €533 million is ‘on-the-books’, then the Government will benefit by €667 million.  Therefore, if there were no water charges, then the deficit would rise by €667 million.

However, the Minister also stated that €233 million in revenue from non-domestic sources (does this refer to businesses?) counts as Government revenue which wouldn’t be the case with households.  I can’t say conclusively how this impacts but if given that off-the-books revenue must be at least 50 percent, and the Government has trimmed this to be as low as possible, we could be looking at a saving of only €300 million for the Government.

And the cost of the child-free water allowances will also count as government expenditure.  If the charges were abolished, so would this expenditure.

Is this clear?  No, but the Government has refused to answer straight-forward questions.  To complicate matters further the Government is intending to spend €223 million in an equity investment in Irish Water.  But if we just freeze the situation, this €223 million wouldn’t arise, so we shouldn’t allow this to be thrown into the pile.

So what have we got?  On a static basis:

  • If the savings to the Government were €667 million, then the deficit would rise by 0.3 percent.  The Government would still hit its 3 percent deficit target.
  • If the savings were €300 million, then the deficit would rise by only 0.1 percent – meaning the Government would come in comfortably below target (at 2.8 percent).

However, this is on a static basis.  One has to estimate three things:  first, with the removal of the water charges, consumer spending will rise, thus increasing GDP (for most people, every €1 not spent on water charges is likely to be spent in the domestic economy).  A higher GDP means a reduced deficit (as a percentage of GDP).

Second, tax revenue rises from the increased spending; this has a downward pressure on the deficit.

Third, social protection costs may fall if employment arises from this increased spending; again, putting downward pressure on the deficit.

Therefore, the Government would come in below their targets.  And that’s for 2015.  When you estimate the impact on the deficit for 2016 and beyond, it makes little difference to the deficit as it will be falling substantially.

If my estimates of costs hold then the Government will hit its fiscal targets next year and the following years.  I am open to correction – but the only ones who can do that are the Government and they aren’t telling.

The Government should call a halt to this mess called Irish Water.  It is a toxic brand that no amount of re-branding will save.  If the Government, as part of a panic measure to mollify the opposition, caps water charges until 2016, this could actually threaten the ability of the Government to keep expenditure off the books (never mind the whole conservation mojo). The Government would be imposing charges, but be unable to keep the spending off the books.  All economic pain, no fiscal gain.

Stop the mess.  Put the numbers out into the public domain.  Go back to the drawing board.

There are other, better ways to finance water investment, dis-incentivise wasteful consumption and fund a modern, state-of-the-art water and waste system.

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That Day has Come

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Dawn rises grey and slow

over Hill Side

reflecting silver shadows

on the black water of  Lough  Atailia.

s

A metronome ticks in drips

as civil war fades

washed down the drain

with Irish water.

s

Those who try to sell our story,

a story shaping

our ancestral genes,

a story held in

the molecules  of water

of river,  lake,  stream

of Lough Derravaragh,

where Lir’s cursed children  dwelt

of Lough Gur, through whose secret portal

Oisin followed  Niamh.

of rivers Corrib, Lagan, Liffy and Lee

the umbilical cords of our cities.

s

Those who would sell our life source,

to untamed corporations

have them steal our dreams                                     

reign us in like sheep

metering  out  our water

to serve their  greed.

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Those same men, whose fathers

fought for our freedom,  land

our dignity, .

want to turn our water into

commodity

and sell it back to us

at fetished market whim.

s

Dawn spreads gently

over the city, Spanish Arch

St Nicholas,  the Claddagh,

and night returns subdued

to it’s underworld.

That day has come

 

s

 

Anne Irwin

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The Changing Pattern of Foreign Investment in China

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This article was originally posted on John’s blog Key Trends in Globalisation on the 21st of October

Inbound investment into China continues to be the highest for any developing economy – US$101 billion in 2013 on UN data. But the pattern of investment in China is changing significantly as the country develops, and this trend will inevitably become more pronounced. China refusing to acknowledge and internalise that only 30% of the world’s population now lives in countries with a higher per capita GDP than China leads to confusion on the key issues in foreign investment.

In the first decades after the start of China’s economic reforms in 1978, inward foreign direct investment (FDI) was primarily undertaken by overseas companies to create a base for exports. Although this was helpful in China’s early stage of “reform and opening up,” the investment was frequently very low value added. For example, a 2009 study found China received only 2 percent of worldwide wages paid for iPod production despite the fact that every iPod, at that time the world’s most successful consumer product, was manufactured in China.

As recently as 2010, the majority of China’s exports came from foreign-owned companies. Among large exporters, the role of foreign investment was even greater – of the top 200 exporting companies in 2009, 153 were foreign-funded. Only among small and medium size exporters were Chinese companies dominant and Alibaba’s original success was creating the Internet systems that connect these Chinese companies to their foreign markets.

But as China’s economy has developed, the reason for its attractiveness to foreign companies has radically changed. In comparative international terms, China is no longer a low-wage economy. On World Bank data, only 30 percent of the world’s population now lives in countries with a higher per capita GDP than China, and wages will be approximately proportional to this. In Southeast Asia and South Asia, every developing country except Malaysia now has a lower per capita GDP than China.

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Welcome to the New Tax Avoidance Scheme, Same as the Old Tax Avoidance Scheme

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Well, not quite – but the effect may be the same.  Many international commentators welcomed the Irish Government for ending the infamous ‘double-Irish’ tax scheme.  But just as it shut this down, it announced a new scheme: a ‘knowledgedevelopment box’ designed to reduce corporate taxation to a little over six percent.

The ‘knowledge-development box’ is based on the concept of the patent box used by the UK and the Netherlands to attract multi-nationals with preferential tax rates on income flowing from patenting activity.  However, the scope for the Irish box could be wider.

After all, what exactly does ‘knowledge-development’ encompass?  In the UK and the Netherlands, companies get a tax break on income generated from inventions.  In Ireland, we may see all manner of activities thrown in – source code, copyrights, patents, branding, trademarks and that expandable concept – R&D.  And we’ll have to wait and see to what extent it facilitates more than just actual activity in Ireland (will it encompass activity ‘managed from Ireland’).

The Government was keen not only to put in a replacement for the double-Irish scheme, but to reassure key multi-nationals.  Government officials briefed ‘multinational investors’ on the rationale for the Government’s policy (question:  were any of you included in a conference call by officials prior to the establishment of the water charge?).  The message was clear: the Government may have been forced to abandon the double-Irish due to considerable international pressure – but don’t panic; a replacement is at hand.

It is argued that we need multi-national capital to create high-end employment in the global supply chain.  No one disputes this.  Ireland’s indigenous economy, even with the best policies in place, would not have created the pharmaceutical sector we have today.  However, this common-sense observation is then used to argue that the only way to achieve this is to pursue our current accommodative corporate tax regime (that’s a nice way to describe a tax haven-conduit).  Yes, we have another roll-out of TINA – there is no alternative.

But are there alternative approaches to attracting multi-national enterprises without resorting to tax tricks or ultra-low tax rates?  Does Ireland benefit more than our peer-group EU countries from multinational employment?  This argument – that we have been more successful than other countries in attracting multi-national jobs – has been restated so many times that it is taken as gospel.  But is it true?

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Revealed: EU science chief promised to be “flexible” towards Israel’s war crimes

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This article was originally published in Electronic Intifada on Tuesday the 15th of October.

Israel’s war crimes sometimes have to be overlooked, according to a senior European Union representative.

During 2013, Israel reacted angrily when Brussels officials issued a policy paper stating that the EU would not award funding to firms and institutions based in Jewish-only settlements in the occupied West Bank. Rather than standing up to Benjamin Netanyahu and his government, the EU’s top figures tried to downplay the significance of the “guidelines” contained in that paper.

One letter — not published before now — shows that some of this downplaying was tantamount to grovelling.

Signed by Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, the EU’s commissioner for scientific research, in November last year, that letter states that both the Union and Israel “are conscious of the need to find flexible ways of implementing the guidelines.” Such flexibility was required, she argued, to “ensure full respect of the Union’s policy in relation to the territories occupied by Israel, while not deterring Israel’s association to EU programs.”

Don’t be fooled

Her attempt to sound balanced and nuanced should not fool anybody.

The only possible interpretation of her letter (published below) is that although the EU considers Israel’s colonization of the West Bank to be illegal, it is willing to compromise on that position for reasons of political expediency.

The construction of Israeli settlements violate the Fourth Geneva Convention. They involve the tightening of Israeli control on land it acquired by force.

In other words, they are war crimes.

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Austerity is Over? Now Back to the Real World

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Headlines and sound-bites abound: ‘austerity is over’, ‘the beginning of the end of austerity’, ‘we beat austerity’ and so on and whatever and sure, why not.

Let’s cut to the chase: austerity is not over. It is entering a new phase. We will now experience austerity ‘below the waterline’. Austerity by stealth, austerity beneath the radar: give it any description but have no doubts. We will continue to suffer austerity, probably up to the end of the decade.

You don’t have to believe me – just look at the Government’s own projections. They clearly show what is in store. And it is not pretty.

The following comes from the Budget 2015 Full Report (Table A.2.2, page 99). In this table the Government projects their spending plans out to 2018. You’ll see that spending pretty much flat-lines, with some slight downward pressure, up to 2018. However, this is what’s called the ‘nominal’ spend – the actual Euros and cents. To get a real world sense you have to factor in inflation.

The Government provides the inflation or deflator figures in Table 5. They estimate that inflation (for the economy, the inflation figure is the GDP deflator) will be over six percent up to 2018. Therefore, public spending – if it is to maintain its value – must rise by that amount. If it falls below that figure, we have a real cut; if it rises above that figure, we have a real increase. So what do we find?

realincrease1

Primary expenditure excludes interest payments; therefore, it is the total spending on public services, social transfers and investment, with other small categories such as subsidies. We find that total real spending will fall by over six percent by 2018.

In regards to public services (estimated on the basis of figures produced in Table A.2.1 on page 97), we find that real spending will fall by five percent. That’s five percent less than we have today to fund schools, hospitals, policing, transportation, enterprise supports – all our public services. That is going to put a real squeeze on the breadth and quality of our services.

As to investment – the key to long-term growth – the Government intends to cut its spending by nearly 13 percent. This will undermine our infrastructural and business capacity. We will fall further behind our trading partners (and competitors) who are investing far more than us. Of all cuts this is the most irrational from an economic growth point of view.

But there’s another twist to this. For populations do not remain static. Our population is estimated by the IMF to grow by over three percent up to 2018 – which means more people to provide services and income supports to. So if we take the real spending cuts above and break them down on a per capita basis what do we get?

realincrease2

It is worse. Now overall real primary spending falls by nearly 10 percent, with public services falling by over eight percent and investment taking an even bigger hit.

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A New Kind of Trade Unionism Emerging

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This article was originally posted on the Trade Union Left Forum on the 14th of October.

A new kind of trade unionism is emerging and consolidating itself within the right2water campaign, led by Mandate and Unite and supported by OPATSI, the CPSU, and the CWU. These unions are bringing the broader social and economic interests of their members to the fore and committing resources, time and effort to support mobilisation not only of members, but also the working class and communities more generally.

By viewing their members as workers (as opposed to people paying a subscription for work-place representation services) these unions are placing the workers’ immediate social demands alongside, and equal to, their immediate work-place concerns. This is crucial if the trade union movement is to really represent its members and to recover its power and leverage in society. Wage increases alone will not improve the lot of workers while the political economy of the country is being restructured from one made up of citizens to one of customers in a toll-booth economic and political structure.

The TULF on many occasions has suggested that the trade union movement has a unique position in Ireland in having the resources and channels of communication to support the mobilisation of working people in a way that no left party can. And now it seems that some unions are realising this potential, which is both necessary and welcome.

The right2water alliance is a genuine alliance of union, political and community groups, making a clear demand and statement, “calling for the Government to recognise and legislate for access to water as a human right. We are demanding the Government abolish the planned introduction of water charges.”

As well as the five unions mentioned, community groups and parties have signed up to the campaign. Some 40,000 people have signed a petition calling for the scrapping of the water charges, close to 100,000 marched at the demonstration on 11 October, and more local actions are planned for 1 November.

The right2water campaign is not dictating tactics to communities or individuals but is building and growing a broad campaign of groups and people based on the principle of water as a human right and as a publicly owned utility and resource. Some on the left have attacked the campaign for not demanding non-payment; but at this moment building the biggest, broadest alliance against water charges and privatisation is the priority. A turn towards direct non-payment may be necessary in the future, but right now the campaign’s strength is in growing and building the alliance rather than splintering over tactical matters.

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