Flawed heroes: JP McManus and Tiger Woods

There was only one hero in Ireland last week. His name is JP McManus, and he managed to persuade the world's greatest golfer to walk among us. Céad míle fáilte, Tiger Woods. He also got Michael Douglas to pop in, along with the actor's glamorous wife, Catherine Zeta Jones. And the one and only Samuel L Jackson came to town. Check out the dude with Mr Cool written across his forehead.

Adare in Co Limerick was teeming with all manner of celebrities who gathered at JP's invitation for a golf tournament to raise money for charity. The money will be channelled through the JP McManus Foundation, which distributes to good causes, mainly in the mid-west area, centred on JP's hometown of Limerick.

Naturally, everybody thinks JP is a hero. He gives generously. He is a friend to the stars. He comes across as an earthy character, who never lost touch with his roots, and comports himself in an understated manner, at odds with the arrogance sometimes evident among the super rich.

Tiger spoke for many during the week, when he said: "JP has meant a lot to my life and I truly believe in what he's doing to help others and that's why I'm here."

It's not just in Limerick that JP is a hero. For weeks prior to his Pro-Am tournament last Monday and Tuesday, radio stations advertised the gig through the voice of Des Cahill, leading sports broadcaster with RTÉ, the public service station. In the week prior to the tournament, one article in a national newspaper began with the intro "Philanthropist JP McManus..."

Earlier last week, sports bulletins on radio led with reports from Adare. This reflected the status of the event in the eyes of the media, although in golfing terms it was Mickey Mouse stuff.

Critical faculties were also suspended when assessing the amount to be raised through the event. A figure of €30m was repeatedly thrown around, although McManus' people would not officially comment on it. There were reportedly 80,000 spectators, paying €50 a skull, which adds up to €4m. Even allowing for corporate sponsorship and what not, it's still a long way to €30m. But, who's counting? The point is, it's a lot of money and the world must take notice that it's down to JP.

In Limerick, his foundation has plugged many of the gaps left in social services and education by a state which neglects its duty. Reputedly, he prefers that his donations are made privately, but more often than not, somebody in the know leaks details to the press, ensuring that JP receives due credit for his generosity.

The status accorded McManus tells a lot about the value system at work in Irish society. The multi millionaire is a tax exile, which means he chooses to live abroad for at least six months of the year in order to avoid any obligation to pay tax in the state.

That in turn means less money to fund social services and education, and all the services required to operate a state. Unlike McManus, your average taxpayer has no say in what exactly his or her contribution goes towards. Unlike McManus, the average taxpayer is not routinely lauded for contributing to the welfare of others. Unlike McManus, the average taxpayer has a basic contract with the state without which the state could not function.

And what about those with great wealth who choose to honour their contract with the state? Is it more laudable to be a taxpayer or a high-profile philanthropist? Michael O'Leary might be a pain in the ass, but at least he's a fully paid-up citizen.

McManus went into tax exile in Geneva in 1994. One wonders whether the money he has saved through avoiding tax in this state is greater than that which he has donated to charity? In any event, the notion that charity is a substitute for social justice is one which was supposed to have died with the Imperial Age.

Last September, at a function in Limerick, McManus was asked about the state of the country. He rarely comments on matters of public interest, but on that occasion he declared of the government: "I think we are in good hands and we will leave it to them." What's with the 'we'? Did he not repudiate the basic contract with the state that is the lot of any citizen?

In the USA, where they venerate the wealthy, he would be described as a tax fugitive, somebody who has fled a basic moral obligation. The Americans have straightforward notions about obligation. Yet here in this Republic, McManus is a great man, particularly in his feudal territory, where he distributes money, not unlike an absentee landlord, doling out euros to the peasantry at the gates of his weekend mansion.

He is perfectly entitled to act as he does. He is breaking no law in following his chosen path. The people of Limerick won't hear a bad word about him.

All of which tells how far down in the societal pecking order are the basic tenets of social justice in this country. Access to celebrity, a winning smile, throwing money around your feudal patch and projecting the demeanour of a decent skin, can trump any obligation to contribute in a meaningful way according to one's means.

As long as people are willing to construct tawdry pedestals, there will be no shortage of candidates lining up to mount them.