What The Political Rich List Tells Us

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The Sunday Independent has published a Political Rich List claiming to show the wealth of TDs.  For various reasons I do not at all trust the methodology of this list, and anyway the rich are always adept at hiding their wealth. Leaving that aside though, the list is very revealing about certain features of Irish politics.

The first and most striking thing is that top of the list is Michael Lowry of Tipperary with a fortune of €6,423,873! What does it say about Irish politics that the TD with the biggest personal wealth is one renowned for his corruption and for facilitating the enrichment of Denis O’Brien?

But we should also note that the wealth of O’Brien is approximately 1000 (!) times greater than that of Lowry. Whenever the question of bribery and corruption of politicians comes up the focus tends to be on the person who took the bribe, when really the question is who had the wealth to pay the bribe. No working class person can bribe the likes of Lowry but a big capitalist can.

Next in line is Michael Healy-Rae with ONLY €5,450,512, €4 million of which is in property. Healy-Rae of course presents himself as the representative of ‘the common man’.

Interestingly the Sindo tells that half of the TDs have over 1 million, but of the Labour Party’s seven TDs no less than six come in over the million – only Sean Sherlock is the exception – headed by Brendan Howlin with €3.9 million and Joan Burton with €2.9 million.

Over the list as a whole there is a broad correlation between wealth and political position with those on the right being significantly wealthier than those on the left. The correlation is not exact and of course there are some exceptions such as the left wing Seamus Healy standing at €1,774,815 (due to a massive pension of €1.3 million that I don’t know the reason for) and some implausible results like Noel Rock coming in at only €90k. Nevertheless, overall it applies. Thus a majority, 29, of  Fine Gael TDs are millionaires compared to 19 who are not . In the case of Fianna Fail it is 19 millionaires compared to 26 who are not.  But interestingly of the FF 19 a higher proportion, 12, are multimillionaires (2 million or over) compared to FG’s 15 out of 29.

In contrast Sinn Fein have only 2 millionaires compared to 21 who are not and no multimillionaires. Solidarity- People Before Profit, it is good to report, have no millionaires and no one in striking distance of becoming one – also of course their incomes are much lower because they only take the average wage from their salaries, donating the rest to campaigning. So in this respect, as in others, it is clear that all politicians are NOT the same.

Finally two points bear repeating. The first is that while an individual TDs income and wealth does not absolutely determine their political behaviour, it does have an effect. ‘Independents’ like Shane Ross with a fortune of €3.7million and €2million in property, or Katherine Zappone with €1.2 million in property, are not going to be that ‘independent’ when it comes to issues that affect their interests. The second is that while the wealth of so many TDs may help secure their loyalty to the system they are all in ha’penny place compared to the big capitalists, like Denis O’Brien, Galen Weston, Dermot Desmond or Michael O’Leary  and the giant corporations, who really control the wealth and the capitalist economy.