Gloves are off as Dáil divided by Apple tax case

It was a bizarre day which divided members of the Dáil as the €13bn Apple tax ruling was pored over.

The eyes of Europe watched on as our party leaders attacked Brussels and denied Ireland was a tax haven. Others argued that Ireland Inc was standing up for the corporate giants, ignoring citizens and the good that could be done with €13bn in unpaid taxes.

Cork TD Billy Kelleher put it well at one stage when he said his party, Fianna Fáil, as well as Fine Gael, was essentially fighting foremost for Ireland’s reputation.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin made a direct attack on European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, accusing him and Brussels of seeking headlines with the Apple ruling.

At the same time, on the other side of Leinster House at Government buildings, Taoiseach Enda Kenny laid out the welcome mat for European Council president Donald Tusk, who was visiting Dublin. What a coincidence.

This is a new place for this minority government, which was already on shaky ground. After spending years defending Europe’s financial bailout terms, Kenny has done a U-turn and is laying the blame for the Apple decision at the door of Brussels bureaucrats.

Kenny, in his Dáil speech, waffled on about dear ol‘ Eire being an island with “a large ocean beyond”. We were “blessed in so many ways — from the beauty of our land to our wonderful people.” But he quickly turned to the commission, which, he suggested, had painted a picture of Ireland “as a country prepared to play fast and loose with the law to gain unfair advantage”.

The gloves have come off for Kenny and his Cabinet in this post-Brexit landscape. “This is not a commission finding that stands by a small country that has played by the rules,” he said.

Ultimately, the commission’s ruling that the Apple deal amounted to State aid had damaged not just us but other EU states, which investors might shy away from now, said Kenny.

This idea was echoed by others in Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, who, for the first time, really did look like they could go into a Coalition in the years ahead when it comes to mutually agreeable positions.

TD after TD from both parties took pot shots at Brussels. Fine Gael’s Colm Brophy even claimed the commission had a “warped agenda”.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny with European Council president Donald Tusk
Taoiseach Enda Kenny with European Council president Donald Tusk

Yesterday’s marathon debate was a box-ticking exercise. It allowed both Fine Gael and the Independent Alliance to get the stamp of approval from parliament to officially appeal the Apple case.

By the time a joint press conference was held by Tusk and Kenny in mid-afternoon, the Taoiseach was already trotting out the line that he was unable to say too much because the Apple case is under appeal. This will be the stock answer for months and years to come. The appeal is a holding position for the minority coalition.

Of course, there was a strong basis for ministers to come out with the fists up in the Dáil yesterday.

It’s more than just our our reputation at stake — it involves the credibility of one of the most powerful and important arms of the State, namely Revenue. Kenny says the appeal is being taken with “the strongest possible assurances” from Revenue that there was “no departure from applicable Irish law. So be it.

If the appeal is turned down though, there could be an unprecedented exodus of multinationals from Irish shores. Investment, jobs, and trust in our tax system would disappear. It is a frightening thought.

The other side of the debate is that Ireland might get to spend €13bn upwards over several years on cash-starved services, if the appeal fails.

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