Bank of Ireland should give Parliament Building on College Green to the State

I welcome the chance to make a statement on Philanthropy and the Arts. With funding from the State to the arts under extreme pressure, it is important that we put in place structures to encourage people, whether wealthy or not, to support, donate and give money to the arts within reason.

Corporate sponsorship has been a great support to the arts and cultural organisations in Ireland over the last ten years but the collapse of our banks and development companies has ended a major source of revenue for the arts. Alternative sources need to be found, and we should encourage the many tech and pharma companies located here to support the arts.

We have put billions into the bank but what have we got in return? Some of the better pieces of art from AIB and Bank of Ireland’s extensive corporate collection have been given to the State but one item that hasn’t is the building currently occupied by Bank of Ireland on College Green where our first parliament sat.

As a gesture to the Irish people I believe the Bank should gift Grattan’s Parliament to the people of Ireland or city of Dublin. It is the perfect location for a new Central Library for Dublin City.

Should we find ourselves in the position where any further state support has to be given to Bank of Ireland it should be conditional on College Green being handed over to the State. We, the people of Ireland control 15% of the shares in Bank of Ireland and I would call on the Minister for Finance through our representatives on the Board to ask for the Irish Parliament building to be gifted to the State. The Bank must recognise the incredible support the Irish people have shown to keeping it alive as a functioning bank.

The second issue I want to address is the recent report from the Forum on Philanthropy and Fundraising. It set the worthy goal of increasing giving by 60% from 500 Million to €800 million by 2016.

However, it proposed a series of changes in tax law to encourage giving. I think providing a tax relief to the wealthy so that they give more money to worthy causes is questionable in the current climate.
If someone wants to give away €1 million or just €20, the State should not be subsidising their personal choice to give money. That subsidy is at the expensive of social services – the Government must make decisions in the common good. A private donor has a choice about who or what they give their money to.

The current rules on tax relief already discriminate against ordinary citizens as you must donate over €250 to a single charity before you claim the relief which goes to the charity if you are a PAYE worker. I would question any change in the current tax regime.

The report made 6 key proposals on the fiscal and tax infrastructure but there are 2 that I would have strong reservations about. On the first proposal in that section – I believe relief should be reduced to the standard rate of 20%, not pegged at 33% as proposed in the report. I do agree that the threshold should be lowered from €250.

On the second proposal – decoupling relief from the high earners restriction – I believe the cap of €80,000 should be lowered, not removed or increased to €1 million. Donations should not require a public subsidy that reduces the amount of state revenue available to spend on the democratically decided, common good.

The idea of allowing companies and wealth people to decide where their tax euros go is against the democratic good. There are other proposals I have issues with in the report but I don’t have time to go into them all.

I want to finish with this. At a time of austerity and reductions in spending across social services I have to repeat that it would be unacceptable to provide tax relief to millionaires to give to worthy causes of their own selection. If someone wants to donate their wealth, they should not need a subsidy from the tax payer.

The Philanthropy Leverage Initiative is welcome and I hope it succeeds in encouraging more donations to the arts and culture sector