For Ireland, Apple case is about crisis management

It seems that every headless chicken in Ireland was set loose when the European Commission announced that Apple had to pay Ireland €13bn in back taxes.

People who are usually fairly staid seemed to lose the run of themselves, with some wanting to immediately take the money and run. Others declared that they would never take the money.

They had very quickly forgotten the little codicil that the money might indeed belong to other European countries.

Unfortunately, lacking on both sides were facts. Those facts are still missing. The detailed basis for the judgement has not been released.

Yet politicians, right, left and centre had no problem mouthing off ever more populist proposals, without understanding any of the issues.

Earlier this week Fergus Finlay, among other things said that “one of the first rules of crisis communications is that you gather the facts before opening your mouth”.

The description of the issue as being one of “crisis communications” perfectly fits the situation in which we find ourselves.

This announcement by Brussels not only questioned Ireland and the implementation of its own tax laws but also questioned the integrity of the Revenue Commissioners.

Just as importantly, it raised a serious question over the policies we have been operating for several decades to attract multinational companies to these shores. These multinationals, in turn, employed Irish people in good quality jobs.

Low tax is the mainstay of that policy. In Ireland, we have become very cynical about much that goes on around us.

Our respect for the Government, politicians, bankers, developers, lawyers, accountants and businesses in general and a myriad of other institutions has been on a downward spiral for some time.

We are ever ready to believe the worst in anybody as long as it fits in with our own prejudices, moral or otherwise.

We are not always wrong but, to be sure, we are more often wrong than right. After all, not everybody has an ulterior motive.

Still, there have been many decisions — whether in the courts or in the appointment of individuals to certain jobs or in the awarding of contracts — that many of us have raised serious questions over. They are never explained.

Indeed, Government has kicked the can further up the street until it could get a better idea of the state of things and until the issue vanishes over time.

Unfortunately, this one is not going to vanish. The commission has got the bit between its teeth.

Whether it’s for the right reason or the wrong ones we are not sure. It is not for turning.

To many of us, the Revenue Commissioners just seemed to be above all controversies.

If we are now to believe that they are as flexible in the way they deal with taxation laws as our political and business brethren then we have a far bigger problem. That’s a problem which is going to cost us a lot more than €13bn.

Notwithstanding the fact that we should wait for the facts to emerge before any final decisions are taken on whether to appeal or not, we should consider the implications of not appealing, or even being party to any appeal.

In effect, a failure to appeal is an admission that we had indeed given Apple a “sweetheart deal”.

The Government has repeatedly denied facilitating Apple.

Accepting that some sort of deal was done, could amount to inviting the commission to check all of the other deals that were struck between the State and multinationals.

A bad problem would become much worse.

The facts, unfortunately, might point out something different, but without the facts we are just guessing.

It is incumbent on the Government, its partners and opposition parties, including Sinn Féin and Labour, to make a responsible contribution to any debate on the facts when they become known.

Arguments about mounting an appeal should be taken on the basis of those facts.

We all know deep down that the €13bn is nobody’s but Apple’s right now.

Unfortunately, in the future it might belong to France or Germany or to somebody else and we cannot spend now what does not belong to us.

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