September 01, 2016
High noon in Dublin
The three independent ministers refused to support Michael Noonan in his request to launch an appeal against the Commission’s ruling on Apple, putting the future of the Irish government in question. They say that the would support the appeal in principle but only after the parliament is summoned for a vote (ahead of its first meeting end of September). They also want an examination on how multinationals use the tax law and to put in a motion on tax justice, the Irish Times reports. Meetings will continue today, with Fine Gael insisting that an agreement will have to be reached by tomorrow. The government wants to make a decision on this matter in its meeting on Friday morning. Some ministers warned that if there is no agreement on the appeal it will be the end of the coalition government, and general elections loom.
The Apple ruling of the European commission is devious for Ireland, especially as the sum of €13bn, which could come up to €19bn with interest payments, is so enormous that it matters. It forces the Irish government to confront fundamental choices: whether it wants to forego €13bn in tax payments, or use it to towards some policy objective that benefits the Irish people; whether to be loyal to the EU or to US companies, thereby also thinking of Ireland’s role after Brexit. Whether to stick with the Irish tax haven policy in times when tax avoidance has become unpopular internationally. Whether the EU has the right to interfere with national tax policies using the state aid argument.
Columnists agree that the decision will redefine the relationship between Ireland and the EU, but they have different futures in mind. David McWilliams in the Independent writes the EU is a thing of the past and an Atlantic Ireland is the future. He sees Ireland as a mercantile part of a supply chain of innovative companies from the US, reminding his readers that, without multinational investment, Ireland would be "Albania with brutal weather". McWilliams sees this as a win-win situation for Ireland. Either they lose the appeal and get a €13bn in windfall profit, or win the appeal, and get the credibility of being the place to be for multinational companies doing business in Europe. And, just to counter resentment against the profit-making of which the Irish people hardly see anything, he suggests that large companies such as Apple pay a contribution in shares to an Irish wealth fund.
Fintan O'Toole in the Irish Times recommends the opposite. His argument is that the decade-old model allowing multinational companies to legally avoid taxes is a thing of the past. In times when capitalism is accused of producing huge inequalities, this is now an opportunity to make the right choices. With this enormous amount of €19bn, the Irish government could really make a difference in e.g. combatting child poverty. The Irish society has to decide whether their collective identity lies in being the world’s best pal for global corporations, or whether Ireland should be part of an international order in which those corporations have responsibilities, including the duty to pay fair taxes. This decision is the greatest single challenge since abandoning economic nationalism in 1958, he writes, as it is about what kind of future the Irish see for themselves as a republic.