Dundalk must not view eBay loss as full-time result

The Dundalk FC faithful gathered in the bar of the club’s Oriel Park home last Friday morning.

The draw for the Europa League was being made and the prospect of a potential pairing with the likes of Manchester United or Inter Milan was on the cards.

In the end, the club had to settle for unglamorous match-ups with Russian, Dutch, and Israeli opposition. 

It says a lot for ‘The Town’ that supporters were initially disappointed. Dundalk’s dizzying run through Europe has raised expectations.

The draw took place just 18 hours after the news that eBay was leaving Dundalk. 

Its 150 staff face uncertain futures after PayPal — eBay’s local landlord — notified the company it wanted the space back next year.

Some of those same 150 staff may well find work with PayPal as it expands — but it has been a timely reminder for Dundalk and Ireland as to their precarious place in the world. 

You can be bringing big foreign names to town one week; dumped out of the competition on your backside the next. 

Ireland, like Dundalk FC, has been out-scoring the continental opposition when it comes to bagging foreign direct investment (FDI) for some time. Its strengths are well known.

An English-speaking workforce ensures a strong defence at the back. In the middle of the park there is the IDA — a ‘box-to-box’ player who covers the ground. 

The star striker up front is the corporation tax regime. 

The old 12.5% rate keeps the scoreboard looking healthy. Our reliance on foreign investment and the bountiful corporation tax receipts of late is earning greater scrutiny.

The statistic that keeps popping up is one that was recently flagged by the Government’s economic watchdog, the Fiscal Advisory Council: Ten companies contributed 40% of all corporation tax paid here last year. 

That 40% of corporation tax was equivalent to 6% of all tax collected by Revenue in 2015.

Some observers compare the current role of corporation tax to that played by stamp duty during the height of the boom years. 

The tax base is certainly broader than it was when stamp duty was fuelling the budget giveaways of yesteryear. But these numbers raise eyebrows.

As the Government assesses the budget submissions and ponders the various requests to cut tax and boost spending it all poses a big question. 

Does Government — despite all the talk about ‘rainy day funds’ and ‘counter-cyclical fiscal policy’ — deploy the fruits of this welcome windfall? 

Or does it — with Brexit still to properly unfold and a softening in certain tax headings — hold fire?

Sinn Féin snagged some coverage last week with the revelation that the Department of Finance had war-gamed ways in which they could counter-balance an immediate abolition of the Universal Social Charge. 

Among the options; adding €1.50 to the price of a pint. Another was to increase the property tax by 600%.

None of the proposals would ever fly — they are essentially illustrative. 

The point Sinn Féin went on to make was that while the USC is not going to disappear overnight, and none of these measures are likely to be rolled out, should the tax base be narrowed during a time of heady corpo tax returns — another economic disaster down the line could necessitate such drastic surgery.

The investigation by the European Commission into Ireland’s corporate tax dealings with Apple is an historic one that has no bearing on future FDI. But it draws deeply unwanted international focus and makes the IDA’s job more difficult. 

Places like Dundalk cannot afford to be complacent about the loss of even one foreign employer. Its unemployment rate is relatively high.

The weakening of sterling is already having an effect, as more shoppers make the short hop to Newry. What exactly happens to the border has yet to play out.

Paul Colgan is economics editor with Ireland Live News on UTV Ireland.


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