Taoiseach defends State’s €7m bill in Apple case

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar on his first visit to Apple’s European headquarters in Hollyhill, Cork.

The Taoiseach has defended the State’s €7m legal bill in the €14bn Apple tax case insisting Ireland must defend its international reputation from suggestions it’s a tax haven.

Leo Varadkar was speaking after his first visit to Apple’s vast European headquarters in Cork yesterday. It is the city’s largest private employer.

He was reacting to Sinn Féin’s finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty who criticised the soaring legal costs associated with the State’s element of the Apple tax case.

He said it was time for “a serious conversation” about how the €14bn tax pile, which is sitting in an escrow account, could be put to use here if Apple loses the case.

Mr Varadkar said the view of Margrethe Vestager, the European Commissioner for Competition, who in 2016 ruled that Ireland had a special tax deal with Apple, could cause reputational damage.

“We have a duty to avoid that,” he said.

“The damage to our international reputation could be significant. Whatever people may say about us, nobody seriously classifies us as a tax haven.

No international body legitimately says Ireland was ever involved in cutting special deals for certain companies.

He also said the assumption that Ireland is in line for a windfall if Apple loses the case is incorrect.

“It’s quite likely to be divided up among a lot of different counties and may even end up going to American revenue. 

"So this idea that this is money definitely coming to Ireland if only for the Apple case is just incorrect.”

He said he didn’t discuss the tax case during his visit to the Apple campus but did raise the company’s data centre plans in Ireland following the Supreme Court’s dismissal on Thursday of an appeal by two local residents of the 2016 An Bord Pleanála approval of the first phase of Apple’s €850m data centre project in Athenry, Co Galway — a project the firm has since abandoned.

“The people of Athenry and East Galway really wanted that investment,” said Mr Varadkar.

“€500m investment in Dublin or Cork is huge but for East Galway it would have been the biggest investment ever.

“Now that the legal issues are gone I wanted to talk to them to see if either they’d still use it or that they’d talk to the IDA about maybe finding somebody else that would use it. We had a good, positive engagement on that.”

Leo Varadkar speaking to guests of Midleton Chamber of Commerce at Irish Distillers in Midleton, Co Cork. Picture: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

Apple’s vice president of European Operations, Cathy Kearney, accompanied the Taoiseach during his tour of the recently extended Hollyhill campus where an estimated €220m has been invested since 2012. 

A new building was opened recently with capacity for 1,400 employees.

Mr Varadkar’s visit coincided with a visit by almost 100 transition year students from Coláiste an Spioraid Naoimh and St Vincent’s who have been involved with some of the education initiatives supported by the Apple team in Cork.

More than 40 Apple staff have volunteered at Terence MacSwiney College since 2016, teaching students to develop and communicate ideas through drawing, music, video, and photography.

College principal Phil O’Flynn said many of their students have the odds stacked against them.

“But the Apple volunteering programme has helped nurture them, and we’ve discovered talents that we never knew they had,” she said.

“You have to create hope, no matter what context you work in. Sometimes you need a bit of help with that, and that’s what this programme does — it lifts the school.

“For students, the fact that somebody believes in you is priceless.”

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