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U2 and tax… hypocritical? Maybe not. Solipsistic and missing the point. Sure are! February 28, 2009

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture.

It’s the weekend, and at the weekend it’s always good to talk about music. But before we do let’s talk about U2… because for a masterclass in missing the point and evasion, conscious or otherwise, can I direct people to the interview§ in the Irish Times yesterday with Bono and The Edge (incidentally, writing the last name irks me no end…). It’s a typical sort of piece resting on the good old days…

“When we were young and broke and didn’t even have our bus fare, Adam used to ride the buses for free,” says Bono. “When the conductor would ask him for his fare, he’d just say in his west Brit accent [adopts accent]: ‘Can I sign you a cheque?’.” They laugh like a drain…

Hilarious stuff, I think you’ll agree.

And what of this?

The young, broke U2 who managed to get a few gigs in dingy Dublin venues regularly had their shows broken up by a skinhead gang of the time called The Black Catholics. “There was this gang called The Black Catholics in (late 1970s) Dublin,” says Bono. “They would try to break up our gigs. But I dealt with it. I knew which bus stop one of them got off at on his way home. I waited for him. It ended after that, that’s all I’ll say.”

Ooops… Not sure I like what that seems to imply. And neither, in truth, do they…

The study goes quite for a moment.


Then there’s this:

“It’s all to do with how you can play outdoors without using a proscenium stage with a big bank of speakers on the left and right. Every outdoor show you’ve ever seen has that. So at the moment we’re just trying to get the design architecture right – and the financial architecture. If we can get away with what we want to do, it will mean more people in the venue, better sightlines and everyone will be closer to the action. We want to have a significant percentage of cheap tickets. In this climate you have to give better value.”

Sheesh, that’s big of them… after all these years…

And a statement which rings true, at least to me…

“When I hear a U2 song I wince,” says Bono. “I wince because of what I think is an unfinished lyric or a vocal moment I don’t like.

Ah no, Bono. No need to explain further.

Anyhow, enough fluff. What about tax. Let’s talk about it. Yeah!

As the Irish Times, suddenly in less cheery mode, notes:

In 2006, U2 moved part of their business from Ireland to The Netherlands where the tax rate on royalty earnings is far lower than in this country. This followed an Irish Government decision to limit tax-free earnings for artists. Prior to this, all artistic earnings had been tax-free. Now artists would have to pay tax on earnings over €250,000.


Criticism rained down on the band, and on Bono in particular, from politicians, journalists and lobby groups.

Their response?

“We haven’t commented on it,” says Bono.

Okay… so nothing to see here then… er… not quite…

“And we don’t comment on it for a very good reason,” adds The Edge,

Go on…

“and that’s because it’s our own private thing. We do business all over the world, we pay taxes all over the world and we are totally tax compliant.”

Totally compliant – eh? Sort of missing the point Edge old son. Of course you’re tax compliant, otherwise you’d be in breach of some code or another somewhere or another and open to prosecution. I’m thinking more of the correctness of shifting from this state – which one would hope they might have some passing affection – to another in order to minimise exposure to taxation.

And our own private thing? Hmmm… I beg to differ. I actually think tax is a crucial element of the relationship between citizen and state/society. I think it’s particularly important to those who make great claims in other areas.

“We pay millions and millions of dollars in tax,” says Bono.

No, no. I get that. I really do. And with all due respect they have to. Again, it’s a little issue of compliance. The point is where they pay said millions.

“The thing that stung us was the accusation of hypocrisy for my work as an activist.

What ingrates could possibly begrudge them shifting their income from one jurisdiction to another for assessment at the best possible rates?

In a 2007 report entitled Death and Taxes: The True Toll of Tax Dodging , the development agency Christian Aid examined the impact of tax avoidance on the developing world and mentioned Bono as one of the people responsible. When a group such as Christian Aid (with whom Bono would have some common cause) criticise the move, that must hurt?

Common cause? Hurt? You might think… but… previously he gives a peculiar and extended apologia for his own actions by suggesting that:

“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. And the financial services brought billions of dollars every year directly to the Exchequer.

Er… yes. But that’s not really addressing the issue. They live in Ireland, as soon as the tax environment became less… favourable… they shunted ‘millions and millions’ (perhaps) abroad to an easier tax environment, thereby decreasing the amount of money to this state.

“What’s actually hypocritical is the idea that then you couldn’t use a financial services centre in Holland.

Erm… nope. The idea is that as a citizen of this state who had benefited directly from previous tax regimes he and they might see their way, in view of the very large sums earned, to supporting this state rather than the Dutch state.

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.

Was… Past tense. Was.

And as for gains…obviously not, in the sense that they shifted their financial doings abroad. That surely constitutes a net loss.

So there was no hypocrisy for me – we’re just part of a system that has benefited the nation greatly and that’s a system that will be closed down in time. Ireland will have to find other ways of being competitive and attractive.”

Lovely lovely stuff. It’s not him, it’s them (or us in a sense)… Bono ain’t gonna pay any more than he can get away with to the Republic of Ireland until it suits him.

Except as always it is him… for the apologia takes a most curious turn…

“It hurts when the criticism comes in internationally,” says Bono. “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.

The preferring to pay as little tax to this state as is humanly possible one… hardly a caricature…or a stereotype. And not sure what not ‘knowing the music’ bit is about…

People who know the music know that the music reveals the people, not the edifice around it. That’s why we’ve decided to draw a ring around our audience and ourselves. Outside that there’s no point trying to explain ourselves. Without the musical part it’s all irrelevant.”

WTF? W…T…F…?

What a convenient way to step neatly aside from any serious investigation of such matters.

A masterclass, as I said.


1. Garibaldy - February 28, 2009

I was going to tread onto your musical turf, and write a piece saying how much I enjoyed BBC 2’s Culture Show special on U2 last night about the new album, but I can see that it would drive you over the edge (so to speak).


2. ec - February 28, 2009

Bono’s incoherent mania in his IT apologia eerily echoes the incoherent mania of his Impersonator at the press call that has just got so much attention. See the faux interview and statements at the end of this: http://vimeo.com/3368196


3. CL - February 28, 2009

The mainstream media ‘report worshipfully on Bono’s peregrinations around the planet in the company of the liars, murderers, thieves and whores who were have run the global economy into ruin’
and the latest album, -‘no grit, no danger, nothing jagged or ragged to disturb tranquillity, but a toxic cloud of fluffy rhetoric, a soundtrack for the terminally self-satisfied, not forgetting heart-felt homilies on how to live a moral life’- E.McCann


4. WorldbyStorm - February 28, 2009

Hey Garibaldy, please do write that… a thousand flowers bloom, etc, etc…

Thanks for that ec… I think 😉

CL, it’s scary, I find that genuinely scary.


5. D. J. P. O'Kane - February 28, 2009

You don’t seriously think that a young Paul Hewson lurked at bus stops to adminster the revolutionary justice of the people to members of the Black Catholic gang, do you?


6. WorldbyStorm - February 28, 2009

It seems unlikely…


7. sonofstan - February 28, 2009

Whatever about the rest of it, the stuff about the Black Catholics is complete bollocks


8. barratree - February 28, 2009

to paraphrase that end line from the batman film, Bono is the hero Dublin deserves…He’s a silent guardian, a watchful protector. A dark knight.

Protecting the street of Dublin from the Black Catholic gang….but he’s fully tax complicit.


9. Leveller on the Liffey - February 28, 2009

Is ex-PD Madam Editor and The Irish Times tacitly endorsing law-breaking (i.e. fare dodging on the LUAS or the DART) so long as it is by aspiring young rockers following in the footsteps of the sainted Bono, Adam, and Mr Edge?

Oh, how the Times-reading judges in the courts must share the merry mirth of fare dodgers.


10. Leveller on the Liffey - February 28, 2009

Just struck me – for U2, tax dodging is an extension of fare dodging.


11. sonofstan - February 28, 2009

…actually, I know a few of the Blacks Catholics still – now all firmly ex-hoolies, busy bringing up a second generation – but i guess they might all be interested in a meet up with the ex-pat vigilante for a bit of ‘truth and reconciliation’


12. Tortoise - March 1, 2009

Ah, well, Bono, I guess Africa will just have to “find other ways of being competitive and attractive” . It’s a jungle out there, man!


13. WorldbyStorm - March 1, 2009

Ouch! Genius, pure genius Tortoise… 🙂

SoS… I remember the Black Catholics, but I was of an age that I thought they were an urban myth…


14. Crocodile - March 1, 2009

The Black catholics v. U2 (The White Protestants?). Only time I saw Bono in a fight, he was put firmly in his place by a 10 stone Trinity mathematician


15. ejh - March 1, 2009

We and the world need to know more


16. sonofstan - March 1, 2009

The Black catholics v. U2 (The White Protestants?). Only time I saw Bono in a fight, he was put firmly in his place by a 10 stone Trinity mathematician

Art’s Block Foyer after a lunchtime gig in the Ed Burke?! I was there when he crucified our (would be) Lord!


17. smiffy - March 1, 2009

““There was this gang called The Black Catholics in (late 1970s) Dublin,” says Bono. “They would try to break up our gigs. But I dealt with it. I knew which bus stop one of them got off at on his way home. I waited for him. It ended after that, that’s all I’ll say.””

I waited for him, I immediately started weeping, fell to me knees begging him never to hit me again, and arranged to give him all my pocket money every week. It ended after that, that’s all I’ll say.

Almost as funny as Gavin Friday’s claims to a Canadian TV show to have grown up with Bono on the mean streets of Ballymun, like a Northside Kietel and De Niro (unfortunately the video has been removed from Youtube).


18. Worldbystorm - March 1, 2009



19. EWI - March 1, 2009

Almost as funny as Gavin Friday’s claims to a Canadian TV show to have grown up with Bono on the mean streets of Ballymun, like a Northside Kietel and De Niro

Well, there we have independant corroboration of Bono’s claim at his Obama inauguration gig to have grown up as a underprivileged Northsider, so it must be true!


20. Crocodile - March 1, 2009

John Burns in the Sunday Times remarks that the British have a lower ‘Bono threshold’ than the Irish.
I’ve always wondered why he seems so popular in his home country – the pushiness, the egocentricity, the earnestness, the bombast – they’re all so,well, un-Irish. Or were, until we started making heroes of the likes of Michael O’Leary and Denis O’Brien.


21. WorldbyStorm - March 1, 2009

I’d never quite thought of it like that Crocodile, but when you mention those voices, and can I throw in Eoghan Harris and a brace of Sunday Indo types… well, you make a very persuasive case..


22. dustin - March 12, 2009

dear fellow punk rockers, i love ur music (u2) n d prunes r god.
why d lies man. dustin n poor tracy


23. WorldbyStorm - March 12, 2009

Very good dustin. I too love the prunes. It’s that U2 bunch I’m not so keen on…


24. Phil - March 12, 2009

I remember Dave McCullough writing about U2 and the Virgin Prunes on pretty equal terms, before anyone here (e.g. me) had ever heard of either of them; meet the next shiny jangly and yet strangely weird big thing from Ireland, and their best mates, the next weird and… actually just plain weird… big thing from Ireland. Gavin Friday saying he’d pleaded with his mate Paul not to call himself Bono Vox, I remember that bit. (He could talk, he was in a band with Haa-Lacka Binttii.)

Or was it the ‘mean streets’ bit you were laughing at?


25. smiffy - March 12, 2009

It was, indeed, the mean streets stuff.


26. WorldbyStorm - March 12, 2009

I met Binttii years later and found him great, except for thinking the Jesus and Mary Chain ripped off the Velvet Underground… but I always felt that was pot and kettle stuff… 🙂


27. Personal Blog — John Keyes – Linkeyes — 13th March 2009 - March 14, 2009

[…] detailed look at U2’s tax position from The Cedar Lounge […]


28. Brennan - June 5, 2009

Dont you talk about Bono that way. Hes not just some riffraff. He’s a Knight of the British Empire. And that means he’s very civilized. i mean the British Empire and dealing with famine go hand in hand. i believe that one time there was this famine on this one island and the British kindly let the starving people build roads through mountains and forests till they collapsed of starvation and died. So all Irish people should be proud of how our most famous citizen Sir Bono Knight of The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire bends over and takes it from behind( the sword) Seriously i guess every attention whore has his price. I’ll just end my discussion of Kings Queens and Maggie Thatcher with the IRA shouldn’t have missed.


29. WorldbyStorm - June 5, 2009



30. Mark P - October 8, 2009

I was pleased to see that Bono appeared at the Conservative Party conference. Best place for him.


31. Men of the People « The Cedar Lounge Revolution - October 20, 2009

[…] the People October 20, 2009 Posted by Garibaldy in Capitalism, Music. trackback Just because they don’t like paying tax on their enormous income and are annoyed by the herd’s ressentiment of the successful, […]


32. Hugh Murphy - October 20, 2009

Bono should be praised for the publicity good-will and worthwhile sentiments that he’s brought to the north-side of Dublin, but why end it there. Bono, seeing he’s got such fine memories of the place should do something constructive – like invest some money. His actions [small at the start until he saw the potential] could create industries which in turn would have a dominion effect – this, would make more and more jobs and eventually help to lift Dublin people back to the proud position of being working class.
From his own perspective, he’d be worshiped by equals – surely this is truly worthy of Sainthood, in his eyes.
He would be honoured and respected for not being selfish, and not hated, as he is now. Even if he saw fit not to limit his generosity to Ireland but extended it to every country in the world whose system has been thrashed by greedy men, he would still be honoured.
If he did this, Bono would very good for Ireland.
Through his actions in creating work and prosperity in his own country, and by demanding that every person has and a decent standard of living – AND – be a tax-payer, I would nominate him for President.
As he well knows, Taxes help the less fortunate who can’t work and depend on those with money to support them.
When the workers, every morning, in Bono’s factories worship the huge letter ‘B’ which hangs from the ceiling, they will thank Bono for having the foresight and enough Dutch Courage to play the system and invest some of his millions back in the country that reared him.
TELL ME, who wouldn’t vote for Bono for President, if he spent some of his money on creating work for the Irish people who made him wealthy.


33. gerry molyneaux - April 23, 2015

Oi Bono….you still alive…..wanna join the black catholics,get a few hells angels……..has gay still got de bike…is he an angel?????


34. gerry molyneaux - April 23, 2015

Gay Byrne that is…the workin class Howth snob.


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