Tuesday 27 September 2016

Taoiseach comes out swinging - but Sinn Féin morphs into the EU's friend

Published 08/09/2016 | 02:30

Taoiseach Enda Kenny TD speaking to media following a working lunch with President of the European Council, Donald Tusk at Government Buildings, Dublin. Discussions focused on the future of Europe and preparations for the upcoming Informal Summit of 27 EU Heads of State and Government in Bratislava. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Taoiseach Enda Kenny TD speaking to media following a working lunch with President of the European Council, Donald Tusk at Government Buildings, Dublin. Discussions focused on the future of Europe and preparations for the upcoming Informal Summit of 27 EU Heads of State and Government in Bratislava. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

Verily, a week can be a long time in politics. Last Wednesday, the Cabinet was struggling to agree a united stance on appealing the EU Commission's €13bn back-tax bill which Ireland must collect from the Apple Corporation.

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By yesterday, the Dáil was back for one day only, three weeks ahead of the end of the summer holiday, to debate the self-same issue.

But there was an air of a foregone conclusion about the proceedings and suggestions the action was elsewhere, as speculation grew about junior minister John Halligan's intentions. And the Taoiseach met EU Council President Donald Tusk at Government Buildings ahead of next week's crucial Brexit leaders' summit.

No, we are not writing off what happened in this Apple multinational tax debate which, unlike many other such Dáil debates, was not a history lesson.

True, some of it was predictable, but some of the nuances confirm a trend of a change in Ireland's stance on EU relations.

In simple terms, the Taoiseach, who had been absent from this controversy for long periods, came out swinging. Mr Kenny stressed that Ireland's EU membership was, and would remain, beneficial.

With that out of the way, he then launched a scathing attack on the EU decision on Apple Corporation's €13bn bill for back taxes. Mr Kenny called on TDs of all parties to back the country's opposition to the controversial Brussels finding, which the Cabinet had eventually decided last Friday to appeal in the EU Courts.

Mr Kenny described the EU Commission ruling as a blow to economic development and job creation, not just in Ireland, but all across the European Union. "This is not a Commission finding that stands by a small country that has played by the rules. It cannot be allowed to stand," the Taoiseach said, also predicting a successful appeal to the EU Court.

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams began proceedings by seeking to have this debate broadened to take in the ongoing sale of Nama's Northern Ireland loanbook. That issue had again been explored by a BBC television programme on Tuesday night and Independent TD Mick Wallace, who has frequently raised the matter, lost in his effort to have it further discussed.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin suggested party leaders should consider the Nama 'Project Eagle' issue and how best to proceed. But Mr Martin was far less emollient when it came to Sinn Féin's stance on the Apple issue itself.

After a few swipes at the Government's fumbled reaction to the controversy last week, Mr Martin made it clear that his party were 100pc supportive of an EU Court appeal.

In a clear blast at Sinn Féin, Mr Martin denounced those who suggested that Ireland could glean €13bn from the Apple conundrum. Mr Adams responded in kind, accusing the Government, Fianna Fáil and Labour of hypocrisy. "What's a few billion between friends?" he taunted.

Mr Adams, whose party opposed nine EU referendums from 1972 to 2012, confirmed he was now morphing into the "EU's friend". Government assertions on Apple had as much credibility as a "heap of horse manure".

The AAA-PBP were equally scathing about the Government court appeal. Bríd Smith believed the windfall could build 89,000 houses.

The change of tone in Government-EU relations could be gauged by the contribution of Fine Gael newcomer, Colm Brophy of Dublin South West. He was committed to the EU project since he was a teenager, but he was now both angered and saddened, as he castigated the European Commission's stance.

"The EU sentiment can very quickly turn and the EU and Commission might end up with another country which will no longer value its membership of the EU. For everybody's sake that would be a disaster," Mr Brophy said.

Apple could be Ireland's EU game-changer.

Irish Independent

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