By Stephen Bourke
A chef who represented Irish produce at international trade shows has been told he was fortunate to avoid jail for tax evasion.
Eamonn Walsh (76), of College Square, Wainsfort Manor Drive, Terenure, pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to six sample charges of the 22 on the indictment, for failing to remit VAT to the Revenue Commissioners; failing to make income tax returns, and making incorrect returns over the course of five years starting in 2009.
Áine Bergin, an authorised officer of the Revenue Commissioners, told Diarmuid Collins BL, prosecuting, that Walsh was audited in 2014, and made disclosures in relation to the unpaid tax.
The court heard he was working as a freelance chef at European trade shows on behalf of clients including Bord Bia and a major Irish beef company, showcasing Irish produce.
Ms Bergin said Walsh charged VAT on his invoices to these clients, but he was not VAT registered at the time and did not pass on what he collected from them to Revenue.
He also failed to declare tens of thousands of euro of income over the course of four years, ranging from €30,000 in 2009 and rising to €74,000 in 2012.
His unpaid VAT and income tax totalled €60,618, she told the court.
She said the Revenue Commissioners had received a bank draft for the unpaid monies “in the last week”.
Tom Power BL, defending, said Walsh had trained in catering after moving to the UK after sitting his Inter Cert, following the death of his mother when he was nine years old.
He returned to Ireland with his wife in 1974, and operated two restaurants, first the Grey Door and then the Old Dublin, up to the time of the financial crisis in 2008 when it went out of business.
Walsh continued in the catering trade until 2010.
His firm then went into liquidation then when he was left with 750,000 ready meals went unsold during the “big snows” that winter and had to be dumped.
“He put all he had into the company,” Mr Power said. “With the restaurant gone he didn’t have the benefit of [professional] advisors. He was struggling on his own.”
Judge Martin Nolan interjected.
“You don’t need much advice to tell you that if you’re charging VAT you have to pay Revenue every two months,” he said. “I don’t think that’s your best point.”
Mr Power said Walsh had been under “tremendous pressure” but eventually managed to find investors who rescued the business and the jobs of 150 staff there.
Walsh is no longer the owner, but still works at the firm, he told the court. He has two children, and lives with his son and grandson.
“He’s 76 years of age, he’s pleaded guilty, and he’s very regretful as to how things have developed. He’s paid back all the taxes that are covered by these charges,” Mr Power said.
“I myself consider €50,000 to €60,000 is when this court starts to consider a custodial disposition,” said Judge Martin Nolan.
He said Walsh’s early guilty plea, co-operation, relevant admissions, no record of previous convictions, long work history, the considerable pressure he was under at the time and the low likelihood of his reoffending had to be considered too.
Judge Nolan sentenced Walsh to a three-year suspended sentence on condition of good behaviour.
“It was a close-run thing. You’re not going to jail,” he said.