Writing a chapter on the 1913 Lockout for a book on the history of the Irish working class in the 20th century edited by David Convery, and I’m struck by the similarities in the tax avoidance then and now. This is from something I wrote for Saothar but I’ll be raising the same point in the chapter.
“Part of the problem facing Dublin was its tax system. Throughout the nineteenth century the prim and pious middle classes left for the new suburbs which were being erected on the outer edge of the two canals which encircle the city. This made them exempt from city rates, yet still within tram distance of their business and social interests. Those who earned their riches from the economic dynamics of Dublin paid little towards its sustenance and reproduction. Dublin became ‘a cribbed, cabined and confined city between the Royal and Grand Canals, with an increasingly impoverished population in ever deteriorating buildings.’
In his evidence to the Royal Commission on the housing of the Working Classes in 1885, the city’s superintendent medical officer, Charles Cameron, talked of one builder who moved his premises from Richmond Street to ‘immediately over the bridge to premises adjoining the canal outside the city.’ ‘By that change of position he escapes perhaps a rate of one [shilling] in the pound on his premises,’ said Cameron, ‘and at the same time he has all the advantages of the city; all his timber and stone are drawn through the city to his works, and all his workmen live in the city, and if they get knocked up they go to our hospitals.’
By 1913 the city’s tram system was an essential part of this doughnut structure of slum core and leafy low-tax periphery.”
Swap the townships of Rathmines and Ranelagh for the Irish Financial Services Centre and the self-governing dependencies of the Isle of Man and the Cayman Islands, and what seems Victorian and dated and soaked in sepia tones becomes altogether contemporary and cosmopolitan.
Denis O’Brien and Dermot Desmond are the bearers of of William Martin Murphy’s mantle in more ways than one.