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This book examines the politics of taxation in Ireland between the seventeenth and twenty-first centuries. Combining political, economic, and policy history, it contributes to a growing interdisciplinary literature on public finance, while also providing context for the ongoing debate on taxation and austerity in post-Celtic Tiger Ireland. Taxation, Politics, and Protest in Ireland illuminates a neglected aspect of Irish history, and will be of interest to scholars, policymakers, and members of the public who wish to understand a subject that is central to the modern Irish experience.



Chapter 1. Introduction

This introductory chapter reviews the historiography of Irish taxation, summarises the chapters in the anthology, and identifies directions for future research. It emphasises the centrality of taxation to Irish politics since the seventeenth century, when Ireland began to make the transition from a ‘demesne state’—featuring low levels of taxation, decentralised decision making, and privatised methods of revenue collection—to a modern ‘tax state’—characterised by high levels of extraction, centralised policymaking, the bureaucratisation of revenue collection, and the employment of sophisticated financial instruments to facilitate deficit spending. From that time to the present, fiscal policy has shaped the Irish state, informed Irish national identity, and influenced Irish economic activity, electoral preferences, and conceptions of civic morality. Taxation has also served as a node, bringing Irish subjects/citizens into persistent contact with the state and colouring the relationship between taxpayers and their government (whether based in Dublin, London, or Belfast). As such, it has invited conflict as well as compliance.
Douglas Kanter, Patrick Walsh

Chapter 2. Ireland, Mercantilism, and the Navigation Acts, 1660–1686

This chapter explores the making of Ireland’s second-class position in the ‘mercantile system’ created by the Restoration-era Navigation Acts and the Irish Customs and Excise Acts of 1662. The role of legislator and Treasury reformer Sir George Downing is highlighted, together with the centralising administration of the 1671 English Customs Commissioners and the 1682 Irish Revenue Commissioners. By the mid-1680s, merchant compliance with the discriminatory English Navigation Code was essentially achieved with the end of revenue farming in Ireland and improved central government enforcement from London. The events are best understood as an episode in seventeenth-century state formation.
James Guilfoyle

Chapter 3. Politics, Parliament, Patriot Opinion, and the Irish National Debt in the Age of Jonathan Swift

This chapter examines the process by which the principal of the Irish national debt was increased fourfold in 1729–1730 and the evolution in Irish taxation policy which accompanied that occurrence. It also assesses wider attitudes at the time towards parliamentary taxation and a national debt and the proposal for increasing it and offers a detailed analysis of the political and parliamentary activities relating to the increase in the debt, including the adoption of the concept of direct appropriation of taxation for debt repayment, and the emergence of the idea for establishing a sinking fund. Such considerations also take into account the wider economic conditions of the time and their impact upon public and political opinion. Ultimately, the chapter highlights how the actions of the Irish Parliament in relation to taxation and the national debt in the late 1720s and early 1730s represented a key moment in the evolution of fiscal policy and structures in Ireland and the extent to which public or more specifically Patriot opinion and wider political and economic considerations impacted upon that process.
Charles Ivar McGrath

Chapter 4. Patterns of Taxation in Eighteenth-Century Ireland

What taxes were levied on the Irish population in the eighteenth century and by whom? How was the burden of taxation spread across society, and how did popular resistance shape the distribution and typologies of Irish taxation? This chapter addresses these subjects through an analysis of the patterns of Irish taxation in the period from the Williamite wars to the Act of Union. It is concerned with ascertaining what was the burden of taxation in eighteenth-century Ireland, how was it borne, by whom, and where. Drawing on the most complete dataset of Irish taxation yet assembled, it provides an innovative and hopefully definitive analysis of Irish taxation. Finally this analysis of the political economy of Irish taxation and the geographies of fiscal extraction is situated, throughout the chapter, within a comparative context looking at both England and Scotland.
Patrick Walsh

Chapter 5. Finance and Politics in Ireland, 1801–17

This chapter explains how financial relations between Britain and Ireland were arranged by the Act of Union (1800) and presents some of the consequent financial and political difficulties. The arrangements were intended to be generous to Ireland. Nevertheless, Ireland struggled to meet its financial obligations. As Irish debt increased and options for raising income from taxation shrank, it became important to minimise collection costs. But this meant addressing the issue of patronage and challenging the existing culture of political management in Ireland and even the viceregal system of government of the Lord Lieutenant and his Chief Secretary. The Chancellors of the Irish Exchequer were frustrated in their attempts to manage Irish public finance.
Trevor McCavery

Chapter 6. That ‘Absurd Phantom Called Free Trade’: The Politics of Protection in Ireland, c. 1829–52

This chapter examines the evolution of protectionist ideas in Irish Conservative political circles between 1829 and 1852. In particular, it explores the attempts made by some Conservatives to, as Isaac Butt put it, use protectionism as a lever by which to reclaim ‘from the priests and agitators the popular mind of this country’. It also traces the tensions which emerged between the landed advocates of protectionism, who generally saw it as a necessary instrument to preserve the agricultural interest, and those Protestant populists, active in the late 1820s and early 1830s, who supported it as a means of creating employment opportunities for the Irish Protestant working class.
Andrew Shields

Chapter 7. Resistance to the Collection of Rates Under the Poor Law, 1842–44

The Irish Poor Law was introduced in 1838. While it was generally seen as unpopular in Ireland, there was initially little opposition to its implementation in practice. Indeed, in some areas, local opinion pressed for the act to be brought into effect quickly in order to deal with distress. However, as the financial implications of the act, in particular the collection of poor rates, became more apparent, opposition grew. This chapter examines the resistance to the collection of poor rates, which peaked around 1843, from a geographical and political perspective.
Mel Cousins

Chapter 8. Taxation and the Economics of Nationalism in 1840s Ireland

In terms of popular protest, the years of the Irish Famine decade are known to many scholars as ‘conspicuous for their tranquillity rather than their turbulence’. In contrast, recent research has uncovered how food shortages provoked riots at the time. There has been less scholarly interest, however, in how tax changes by the British government provoked other types of popular protest in Ireland. This chapter uncovers two important examples of this phenomenon. The first is how the tariff-cutting budget of 1842 fuelled popular support for Daniel O’Connell’s campaign to repeal the Act of Union. The second is how excessive property taxation for poor relief resulted in middle-class emigration during the Famine. Both outcomes drove popular support for Irish nationalism.
Charles Read

Chapter 9. The Campaign Against Over-Taxation, 1863–65: A Reappraisal

This chapter uses the ephemeral campaign against over-taxation, 1863–65, as a window onto the politics of Irish public finance in the mid-nineteenth century. It identifies the influences that encouraged the tax protest, analyses the organisation and geography of the agitation, and reappraises the case against post-Famine public finance in order to recover an alternative Irish fiscal policy. By demonstrating that grievances concerning taxation were subsequently incorporated into the home rule movement, it concludes that a long-forgotten campaign for tax reform had significant consequences for late Victorian and Edwardian politics.
Douglas Kanter

Chapter 10. Tides of Change and Changing Sides: The Collection of Rates in the Irish War of Independence, 1919–21

Sinn Féin’s landslide victory in the 1918 general election, leading to the creation of the separatist Dáil Éireann government by the Sinn Féin representatives, was followed in 1920 by local election victories by a combination of Sinn Féin and Labour. At the same time, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) waged a guerrilla war against the forces of the British government in Ireland. The first item on the agenda for these republican local councils was a vote of allegiance to the Dáil, rejecting the British Local Government Board (LGB) in favour of the Dáil’s underground Department of Local Government. This chapter documents the Dáil’s attempts to win control of rate collection from the LGB and explores its efforts to maintain this control amid centrifugal forces and the growing strength of the IRA.
Robin J. C. Adams

Chapter 11. Taxation and the Revolutionary Inheritance: Tax Proposals, Legitimacy, and the Irish Free State, 1922–32

Irish revolutionary leaders were generally not original economic thinkers, but important economic assumptions underlay Irish revolutionary ideology. Central among these was a belief that British economic policy harmed Ireland by squashing its industries, reducing its population, and overtaxing its residents, and that economic success would follow from repealing the Union. This chapter analyses the ways in which politicians’ economic visions intersected with the revolutionary legacy, the quest for political legitimacy, and the attempt to create a taxation policy suitable for a postcolonial state. These debates revealed significantly different visions for the Free State, as well as disagreements over whether political legitimacy should be measured by international markets or by the standards of living and distribution of wealth within Irish society.
Jason Knirck

Chapter 12. The Economic War and the Pamphlet War

In 1932, the Irish Free State became embroiled in an Economic War, when the newly elected de Valera government intentionally defaulted on annuities owed by Irish farmers to the British government under the terms of the 1891 – 1909 Land Acts. This ‘post-colonial wrangle’, as the economic historian Cormac Ó Gráda termed it, was one of the seminal elements of 1930s Irish politics; the debates and actions around the annuities issue helped to redefine the Treatyite divisions of 1920s Ireland into the economic divisions of a populist Fianna Fáil versus a conservative and quasi-fascist Fine Gael in the 1930s. This chapter studies the various pamphlets published in the 1920s and 1930s in which these politico-economic issues were debated, from the socialist writings of Peadar O’Donnell to works produced by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael ideologues.
Aidan Beatty

Chapter 13. The Irish Tax State and Historical Legacies: Slowly Converging Capacity, Persistent Unwillingness to Pay

The historical tax state in Ireland prior to independence was characterised by low administrative capacity, a regressive tax structure, and popular resistance to taxation. We chart the impact of this history for both formal institutions—the revenue authority’s administrative capacity—and informal institutions—norms and attitudes towards taxation. We argue that, in terms of formal institutions, a historical legacy of administrative weakness has meant that, compared to other European countries, there have been lags in the adoption of modern tax practices and administration. However, significant reforms in the 1990s turned the Irish Revenue Commissioners into an impressive institution on par with tax authorities in other countries. While administrative capacity has converged with other OECD member states, the second legacy of resistant attitudes towards taxation has been harder to erode. Unwillingness to pay has been a theme in Irish tax politics and has constrained successive governments in their attempts to create a sustainable revenue base. The Irish case suggests that historical legacies may persist or subside at different rates in formal and informal institutions, with attitudes towards taxation proving more persistent.
Michelle D’Arcy, Marina Nistotskaya


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