An extraordinary set of challenges have unfolded for Ireland over the past two months and it will require an enormous amount of hard work and leadership to navigate a favourable outcome for the economy.
Kneejerk vitriolic responses serve few purposes. The more important work will be taking place across diplomatic, political and business channels as we set out to address the formidable challenges posed by the Commission’s decision on Apple and the UK government’s decisions on Brexit.
We’ve been here before. I remember Cork in 1980. I remember the double-digit percentage unemployment rate, the endless torrent of emigration, interest rates of over 10%, and the air of gloom pervading the community.
I remember a leading economist on The Late Late Show advising the last person left in Ireland to turn off the lights. What a pleasant message for my 18-year-old self.
I remember, too, as one after another, most of our third-level educated friends flew off — forever. It was in that economic morass that civil servants and politicians were desperately trying to devise policies that would turn things for the better.
It was then that Apple opened up its first facility in Cork.
Last week’s handling of the Ireland-Apple case by the Commission was extraordinary. It was staged with great drama.
It triggered a global wave of unequivocally negative newsflow about Ireland and Apple. The finer detail, including the Commission’s acknowledgement that Ireland’s 12.5% corporate tax regime was entirely legitimate, was lost in the ocean of headlines.
What a disgraceful way for a key EU institution to portray one of its sovereign member states.
The Government decision to appeal the Commission’s judgement is the only step that has integrity.
Anything else would be the height of ‘cute hoorism’ that tacitly suggests Ireland and Apple were up to no good. A serious exercise in repairing reputational damage must be undertaken.
I dare suggest that the EU Commission needs to engage in that process. Allowing Ireland’s name to be sullied in the way presided over last week by the Competition Directorate is a disgrace.
Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker (himself a native of ultra low tax Luxembourg) should correct the appalling media spinning that took place.
The much broader challenge to Ireland revolves around the consequences of Brexit.
A very large number of Irish companies, including the food sector and SMEs with large sterling contracts, are suffering.
That currency-related pressure comes even before any hard decisions have been taken.
Newsflow in UK political circles points to a wide gyration between a hard Brexit that takes the UK out of the single market and a soft Swiss-type solution that facilitates market access with the movement of people.
It will seem to some that the Apple and Brexit issues are huge structural threats to Ireland. But I see nothing new in this.
Ireland is a relatively young democracy. It has endured the exchange of one British empire for another Roman one, both of which left deeps scars in its psyche.
Everything else, including the gleeful drubbing of Ireland’s reputation in certain quarters last week, should be considered against that benchmark.
Joe Gill is director of corporate broking at Goodbody Stockbrokers. His views are personal.
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