Excerpt from article in The Sunday Times: Published on October 18, 2015
In conversation with Larissa Nolan.
Photo by: Fergal Phillips
MARY WHITE hopes that vocal opposition to any form of inheritance tax will help win her a seat for Fianna Fáil in the new constituency of Dublin Rathdown at the upcoming general election.
While a tax reduction was part of the budget last week, she believes it is not nearly enough to address the concerns of voters in South Dublin, whose homes are among the most valuable in Ireland.
A senator since 2002,White, 71, made her name in business as a co founder of Lir Chocolates. The idea grew out of a job creation scheme in 1986 when sh met Connie Doody, who was making gourmet handmade chocolates in her kitchen. They sold the company for a reported €8m in 2007.
Born in Dundalk, Co. Louth, White’s family later moved to Newbridge, Co.Kildare. She studied architecture at Bolton Street College in Dublin returning to education as a mature student to study economics and politics at University College Dublin. She is married to Padraic White, former head of the Industrial Development Authority, which promotes investment by multinational companies. They have one daughter, Clionadh, and live in Dundrum Co Dublin.
How much money do you keep in your wallet?
No matter how much I take out of the ATM it doesn’t last long. I try to take out as little as possible, maybe €50. I use cards alot especially for bigger things.
Is card fraud a concern?
I was a victim of fraud. Someone saw my PIN once and I had left my card behind.Money was taken from my account but the bank spotted unusual transactions and called me. They looked after me and the Gardaí investigated. Before this, I never hid my PIN when buying goods – I didn’t want to insult the person in the shop – but now I always cover it.
Spender or Saver
I spend whatever I get, and I don’t save. That said, I don’t waste money. If there is a good reason to spend, I’ll spend; if there is not, I won’t throw money away.
Have you ever been hard up?
My husband Padraic and I lived in a flat in Ranelagh, Dublin, for two years before we put a deposit on a house in Dundrum. When we moved in, we didn’t have money for carpets or even a vacuum cleaner. While we weren’t impoverished, things were tight at the beginning.
Are you Materialistic?
Not at all.Material things don’t make you happy. Only peace and health for you and your family bring happiness.
Are you better off than your parents ?
Yes. My father was a postman in Dundalk and my mother also worked for the post office, where she was trained in Morse Code. She had to give up her job when she had children. I was the only child for five years- then my mother had five more children. I had to develop responsibility quickly and become a decision maker. It stood to me. We didn’t have much, but I never felt deprived. We didn’t have the money to send me on a school trip to Rome but I didn’t mind.
Do you own property?
We bought our first house in Dundrum in 1972 and sold it in 1977. We moved further down the road to a house with a big beautiful garden. We’re still there, 38 years later. We love it.
What was your first job and how much did it pay?
My family moved from Dundalk to Newbridge when I was in school. During the summers in Co.Kildare everyone my age would pick fruit. A lorry would collect us and bring us to a farm in Athy to pick strawberries. I can’t recall how much I was paid but I bought a tennis racket with my first pay packet.
Have you seen people spend money in a way that shocked you?
I’m not a teetotaller- I enjoy a glass of wine- but I’m a bit shocked when I see people filling supermarket trolleys with alcohol. Alcohol is a drug; we should be far more careful with it.
In 1986 I set up a community employment centre in Dundrum where I met Connie Doody, who was making wonderful chocolates at home. We set up Lir Chocolates, which was my best investment-more for personal than for financial reasons. For 16 years we worked 24/7. We created jobs at a time of mass unemployment and 250 people got to employment from Lir Chocolates. The business eventually needed a financial injection and a firm from Hamburg [Zertus] owns it now.
Any tips for starting a business?
My advice would be to watch our money. Don’t spend what you haven’t got. You need to pay the wages to sell the product.
How would you change the tax system?
Scrap the inheritance tax. It’s more than a stealth tax: it’s a scam-a communist measure. People don’t realise this is happening. When I tell the older people about it, they go into shock. They have worked their whole lives to pay the mortgage and to have a house to leave to their children. If it is worth say €500,000, your child will have to pay €80,000 to €90,000 tax within a year of inheriting. What happens if they haven’t got it?If you cant borrow the money, they have to sell the house to pay the tax.
Inheritance tax has been abolished in many progressive countries and it should be abolished here too.
Any thoughts on last week’s budget?
The cut to Universal Social Charge (USC) is important for people;it will make a difference. The changes to inheritance tax were puny. The tax-free threshold for asset transfers from parents to children increased by 24% to €280,000. It’s still very low. The extension of the early childhood care and education scheme did not go far enough. It provides only three hours of pre-school a day for 38 weeks of the year. This leaves full time working parents, usually mothers, with the issue of how to find and pay for childcare for the rest of the time.