On the Edge
ON more than one occasion as the Apple ‘unpaid taxes’ debacle unfolded last week I thought I had fallen asleep and woken up on the set of Father Ted or in the newsroom of Waterford Whispers. The Irish Government was appealing a European Commission ruling ordering the American digital technology giant to pay €13 billion into this country’s austerity fatigued coffers.
“Down with that sort of thing.” €13 billion. Like, that’s more a hurricane of money than a mere windfall. It’s a tsunami of nine zeros. It could build houses for the homeless. It could reopen hospital wards. It could fix all the potholes in County Mayo and in Ireland. It could buy fuel for elderly people living alone. It could drain the Shannon, stop the flooding. It could open new clinics for heroin addicts. It could inject money into Ireland’s potential for harnessing wave energy. It could ensure that no primary school pupil ever would ever have to sit in a prefab again. It could expedite the rollout of broadband into rural Ireland. It could create incentives to attract a whole generation of economic emigrants back home again. It could ensure there was more equality in third-level education.
Isn’t the Nobel Prize winning economist, Professor Joseph Stiglitz right? The Government’s rationale for declining to take the money and, furthermore, appealing it, is ‘utter balderdash’, in his opinion. Speaking on a panel with Minister Richard Bruton on RTÉ radio last week, he said: “The fact is that you were encouraging tax avoidance, you knew it.”
“Let’s not make any pretence about it, you got a few jobs at the cost of stealing revenues from countries around the world. That’s the kind of activity that has to be stopped.
“If Apple is saying that this is Irish income, you have an obligation to impose taxes on income that they say originated in Ireland,” Stiglitz continued.
Prof Stiglitz said he found it mystifying that Ireland didn’t ‘just pocket that €13billion and use it for the enormous hardship that the people of Ireland have had to face’.
He dismissed arguments that there would be job losses if Apple was penalised by paying the tax.
Challenge to our ideology
OF course, we all know by now it is a rather more complex transaction than handing over or not handing over the spondulix. Irish Times columnist, Fintan O’Toole is correct when he says the EC ruling that we must recoup the €13 billion in unpaid taxes is ‘arguably the greatest single challenge to the State’s economic policy consensus since TK Whitaker and Seán Lemass engineered the abandonment of economic nationalism in 1958’.
O’Toole argues that whatever decision is made by the Government will influence the future ethos and ideology of our State.
“It is not just about the potential windfall, vast as it is. It is about what kind of State we have and what kind of future we see for ourselves as a republic,” O’Toole argues.
So, do we want a republic which is ‘more closely allied than any other democracy with the interests of global transnational corporations’? We all know we have gained – with jobs and tax revenues – from this cosy little relationship. And, as O’Toole concludes, if the windfall was only a few million, we might be able to turn a blind eye. But €13 billion, which could even rise to €19 billion with interest, is hard to ignore.
Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary knows damned well it is not as simple as the Government telling the EC to ‘f**k off”. The fact that within a day of the ruling Independent Alliance ministers had refused to support Finance Minister Michael Noonan’s proposal to approve an appeal against the EU’s Apple ruling was ominous and ensured how hot this political potato could rattle the fragile stability of our so-called new politics.
But it is hard not to feel aghast and be cynical, at the utter irony of the fiasco. So Michael Noonan has said there has been ‘no sweetheart deal’ with Apple. After all, he says, it has paid its taxes according to our corporate rate of 12.5 percent for the last 15 years. Fianna Fáil’s Finance spokesman, Deputy Michael McGrath, agrees. He questioned the EC’s economic rationale which has made the assumption that some 60 percent of Apple’s global profits for a decade should have been solely taxed in Ireland.
I wonder how those boffins in the EC came to that conclusion?
Meanwhile, those Apple executives in its penthouse offices in Cupertino, California, are probably out on the golf course or sailing their yachts. Well, with over €205 billion in cash, neither they, nor the stock market, blinked too strenuously in the face of a tax rebate of a paltry €13 billion.
“That’s mad, Ted.”