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'Ireland has done nothing wrong' says finance minister over Apple tax

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'Ireland has done nothing wrong' says finance minister over Apple tax

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Ireland’s government insisted it has done nothing wrong as the Dublin parliament debated its fight with the European Commission over Apple’s tax bill.

Finance Minister Michael Noonan, from the Fine Gael party in the minority coalition government, defended the decision to appeal against Brussels ruling that Apple owes 13 billion euros in unpaid taxes.

He said that ruling is damaging the country’s reputation: “We have a proven tax record in international tax reform and a matchless commitment to meeting the best international standards. We should not see ourselves through the eyes of our detractors. Those who would paint a cartoonish and negative image of Ireland.”

Noonan pointed out if Ireland took the money and Apple’s appeal to EU courts was then successful it would have to be paid back.

“A cynical lie”

Left-wing members, led by Sinn Féin, spoke out against the appeal.

Sinn Fein finance spokesman Pearse Doherty accused Fine Gael of lying: “They’re trying to mix up that this is some new attempt to undermine sovereignty and it is a dishonest assertion by them. It is a cynical lie to suggest that there is any new threat to our corporation tax rate in last week’s move. It is a lie and those who are peddling it, know it only too well.”

An opinion poll published just before the debate showed 62 percent of those questioned supported the Irish government appealing against the decision – agreeing with it that the country’s low-tax status is vital to attracting multinationals.

The poll was carried out for Ireland’s national broadcaster RTE.

Fighting to restore investment reputation

Ireland has started a campaign to redress the impact of the EU ruling abroad.

Officials and multinational advisors say they are confident it will not interrupt record flows of investment into the country.

“The Commission’s decision has been reported around the world, it’s a global story and some people obviously won’t get past the headline. That’s problematic for Ireland,” said Martin Shanahan, chief executive of IDA Ireland, the state agency in charge of attracting foreign direct investment.

“When IDA tries to attract companies in, those companies work on the basis that the taxation system is what is laid down in law. The Commission decision calls into question whether that is the case and that’s unhelpful, not just for Ireland.”

Shanahan, who began the damage limitation with a series of media interviews in London within hours of the ruling, will use Brexit-related trade missions to London, New York and the US west coast to provide clarity for investors in the coming weeks.

Brexit vote boost

Ireland is hoping for a bonus from Britain’s June vote to leave the EU, which leaves it as the only English-speaking country offering a base in the eurozone and a future in the bloc. It had more than 35 concrete enquiries by the end of last month from financial groups looking at setting up a base or expanding in Ireland as a result of the Brexit referendum.

Shanahan, who oversees the strategy responsible for around 190,000 jobs – or almost one in every 10 Irish workers – said the huge increase in inquiries has continued and he did not see the Commission’s ruling damaging those prospects.

“We will robustly defend ourselves”

“When we talk about damage to the reputation, if we step back, yes, it looks very bad,” said Eoghan Murphy, the junior minister leading the effort to capture whatever business leaves Britain’s financial centre.

“But when we actually talk to the different sectors, they understand what’s happening, they understand the overreach by the Commission. That doesn’t mean we don’t have to go out and robustly defend ourselves, and we will.”

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