The Taoiseach has said the European Commission’s decision that Ireland granted undue tax benefits of up to €13bn to Apple has created an “unprecedented situation” — not quite Charles Haughey’s ‘Gubu’ pronouncement, but close.
As the Cabinet met yesterday to discuss the ruling, it was clear Finance Minister Michael Noonan’s view that the EC decision was wrong and should be appealed was not shared by many of his colleagues. His view of the Apple ruling contrasts with the stance he took in July in relation to Ireland’s extra €280 million EU budget liability based on extraordinary GDP figures boosted by the presence of Apple, Google, and other multinationals in Ireland. Minister Noonan said he accepted that Ireland rightly had the extra liability, would pay it and could afford to do so.
On this occasion, he is prepared to spend millions of Irish taxpayers’ money to ensure that Ireland does not get up to €20bn (including fines and penalties) from Apple. Indeed, if the commission’s ruling is not appealed and is enforced, there is every reason to believe that it could be applied to other multinationals, leading to a windfall of tens of billions of euro for Ireland.
Who in their right mind would consider opposing such a windfall, especially considering the billions we had to pay to bondholders, funded by years of cuts and austerity?
When it comes to dealing with multinationals, successive Irish governments and ministers have adopted the politics of fear.
Fear that once we insist these multi-billion euro organisations pay their fair share (which still amounts to only 12.5%) that they will leave the country and set up elsewhere.
Fear that the much-trumpeted reason for their setting up shop here is not our tax policy but the presence of a highly educated workforce will be exposed as a pious platitude at best or fraud at worst.
Fear that our indigenous industries will never be able to replace lost jobs if they do leave.
In other words, fear of failure.
We should never give in to those politics of fear. We began our fight for independence at the height of the Great War. Against the odds, we achieved it. We survived a spiteful economic war begun by the British because of Irish neutrality throughout the Second World War.
From the 1960s on, we finally managed to build an economy to be proud of, creating our own pan-national corporations. In more recent times, culminating in the same-sex marriage referendum, we achieved a society to be proud of.
Whatever the merits of the EC ruling, allowing multinationals to pay virtually no tax is unconscionable.
Instead of fear, we should show courage by taking the €13bn and let them run if they dare.