Treasury Today Country Profiles in association with Citi

Pro Bono – but not in the public interest

Tax-campaigning rock band U2 faced a protest of their own at the Glastonbury music festival at the end of June – with activists claiming the Irish stars do not pay enough.

Lead singer Bono famously campaigns for governments to do more to end poverty – but stands accused of moving some of the band’s business to the Netherlands to reduce its tax bill.

The Art Uncut group displayed a 5 metre-high balloon at U2’s Glastonbury performance emblazoned with the words “U pay tax 2?” which was removed by the festival’s security team.

A spokesperson for the protesters said: “Bono claims to care about the developing world, but U2 greedily indulges in the very kind of tax avoidance that is crippling poor nations.”

Ireland has a long standing policy of exempting artists from income tax on the sale of their work, with ‘art’ including writing books, plays and music, as well as painting and sculpting.

But that changed in 2006 when the government began taxing artists’ income once it reached over €250,000 per year. As of 2011, the limit is €40,000.

That quarter of a million Euro limit persuaded U2 to move parts of its publishing company to the Netherlands, where the tax regime is more favourable – though the next year Bono joined the government’s Irish Aid Hunger Task Force, which looks to identify the best steps the country can take to combat hunger internationally.

In 2006 the then-finance spokesperson for Ireland’s Labour party, Joan Burton, said: “I share Bono’s desire to see more resources devoted to Ireland Aid but it is more difficult to make a case for it if everyone is not willing to be part of the social contract that stipulates that everybody should pay their fair share in what is a low-tax country.”

U2 has long maintained that it “is a global business and pays taxes globally”, with guitarist, the Edge, saying “We do business all over the world, we pay taxes all over the world and we are totally tax compliant.”