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Bono 'hurt' by criticism of U2 move to Netherlands to cut tax

Irish Times, February 27, 2009
By: Brian Boyd

 

U2 singer Bono says he was "stung" and "hurt" by criticism of the band moving part of its business to the Netherlands to lessen its tax burden.

In an interview in The Ticket today, he speaks about the band's 2006 decision to move part of its business out of Ireland following the Government's decision to put a cap on the amount of tax-free earnings available to artists.

U2's move was criticised by politicians and some development groups. "We pay millions and millions of dollars in tax. The thing that stung us [about the criticism] was the accusation of hypocrisy for my work as an activist," the singer says.

He suggests there is a double standard involved in welcoming international investment in financial services in Ireland while criticising Irish entities that operate abroad.

"I can understand how people outside the country wouldn't understand how Ireland got to its prosperity but everybody in Ireland knows that there are some very clever people in the Government and in the Revenue who created a financial architecture that prospered the entire nation -- it was a way of attracting people to this country who wouldn't normally do business here," he says. "And the financial services brought billions of dollars every year directly to the exchequer.

"What's actually hypocritical is the idea that then you couldn't use a financial services centre in Holland. The real question people need to ask about Ireland's tax policy is: 'Was the nation a net gain benefactor?' And of course it was -- hugely so."

The cap of (EU)250,000 on tax-free incomes for artists was introduced in 2006 by then minister for finance Brian Cowen. A tax exemption scheme for artists had originally been introduced in 1969 by the minister for finance at that time, Charles Haughey.

As a very high-grossing act through album sales, tour receipts and publishing/royalties income, the cap imposed in 2006 would have left the band with a multimillion tax bill.

As an activist who has access to world leaders, Bono has called for the developed world to lighten Africa's debt burden, combat poverty, promote fair trade and increase funds in the battle against Africa's AIDS pandemic. His work has been recognised by three nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize and a "Nobel Man of Peace" prize. Two years ago the singer was awarded a knighthood in the British honours list.

Speaking about a Christian Aid report from two years ago which criticised him for "tax avoidance," the singer says: "It hurts when the criticism comes in internationally. But I can't speak up without betraying my relationship with the band -- so you take the shit. People who don't know our music -- it's very easy for them to take a position on us -- they run with the stereotypes and caricature of us."

For the band's guitarist, The Edge, the band's tax affairs are "our own private thing -- we do business all over the world, we pay taxes all over the world and we are totally tax compliant". The guitarist added that due to the recession, the plan by himself and Bono to redevelop their Clarence Hotel in Dublin and the band's plan to build a "U2 Tower" on Britain Quay in the city's docklands were now "on hold" and "being looked at with a much colder eye."



© Irish Times, 2009.



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