‘She’s too good for you’ — Competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager is not for turning

Ever since Brussels declared last August that Apple owed Ireland some €13bn in unpaid taxes, politicians for or against the EU decision have been waiting to find out more.

Yesterday gave them that chance with the appearance of the meticulous competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager.

Politicians of all hues went to take her on. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael joined forces to accuse Brussels of interfering in Irish tax laws and of using state aid rules as a “veil” for their own ends.

Those on the left, though took to defending the EU ruling, a bizarre situation given they are usually strong critics of the bureaucracy in Brussels.

AAA-PBP TD Richard Boyd Barrett noted the irony of the situation, at one stage complimenting Ms Vestager: “Thank you so much. I commend you for your work.”

The greater conversation revolved around whether the EU was ultimately trying to dabble in Ireland’s tax affairs, namely our 12.5% corporation tax rate and dealings with multinationals.

Ms Vestager was having none of it. She stressed time and again that it was about ensuring a “level playing field” in Europe for business, about monitoring state aid in member states.

The commissioner dealt with pushy TDs by emphasising she had sworn to uphold EU treaties. The Apple case was not about pointing fingers, she insisted.

Some Government TDs raised legitimate concerns. Fine Gael TD Peter Burke said given the Revenue agreement with Apple had been found against by the EU, this may cause problems for other companies coming here seeking an understanding of their tax obligations.

Fine Gael senator Kieran O’Donnell said the EU had taken the decision to put out the ruling, leading to “repercussions” for Ireland — this was not based on the breaking of any laws or international agreements, he claimed. Ms Vestager disagreed. Ms Vestager told AAA-PBP TD Paul Murphy she could not say if the Apple money would have to be used to pay down state debt, as argued by the Government.

Again and again, committee members tried to get the answers they wanted. It proved a futile exercise, as Labour’s Sean Sherlock at one stage told Mr Murphy: “She’s too good for you.”

Mr Boyd Barrett hit back with: “You guys as well.”

Ultimately, Ms Vestager told the committee Apple had not paid the standard 12.5% corporate tax rates, a level agreed by the Dáil.

While we didn’t learn too much new yesterday from the commissioner about how the Apple case might play out, she and her EU officials look confident about seeing off Ireland’s appeal and ultimately forcing Apple to pay the €13bn in taxes.

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