Tuesday 27 September 2016

Adrian Weckler: Apple boss gets to point of Ireland, tax and Cork

Published 13/11/2015 | 02:30

Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs

If there were doubts about where Tim Cook comes down on Irish tax rates, "special deals" and the linking of both to Apple's investment in Cork, the Alabaman was doing his best to dispel them.

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Soft spoken and relaxed on the fifth floor of a Talbot Street office, the chief executive of the world's biggest technology company got right to the point about Ireland, tax and Cork.

"Our advisers have looked at it and they're very clear there was no special deal," he said. "An adverse [EU] ruling will not affect it [Apple's Cork investment]."

Many will say that Mr Cook is bound to give this line out publicly. And they will point to the billions that Apple - and many other multinationals - have saved by avoiding tax through an Irish code that has proven to be (at best) naive.

There is no question that Apple lobbies the Irish Government on issues, as many other firms and interests do. But do its enormous investments in Ireland of late - more than €1bn when the new Athenry data centre is counted - represent an integral part of some strategic relationship allied to taxation?

Mr Cook says there is no link between the two, despite a "deep sense of partnership" with Ireland.

Its single biggest recent investment in the country, for example, is an €850m data centre in Athenry. But most experts say that this is being put here chiefly for technical purposes involving "peering" arrangements (for speed) and the availability of renewable energy. This last point should not be underestimated: Apple is very serious about green energy. It spends a lot more than it might on kitting out its industrial buildings with solar panels and other renewable materials.

Besides, Apple is hardly alone. Ireland is booming with big budget data centre builds, from Microsoft to Facebook to Google. They come here for a mixture of infrastructure, climate and geopolitical regulatory issues (such as the current row between the US and the EU over so-called Safe Harbour data transfers).

As for Apple's Hollyhill facility in Cork, it's hard to overlook the scale and longevity of the investment there. For 35 of Apple's 39 years, Apple has been in Cork. When the late Steve Jobs helped open the plant in 1980, he was a kid in a shirt and tie.

Thirty-five years later, Hollyhill is still Apple's only self-owned active manufacturing plant in the world (it makes iMacs there.)

While Hollyhill is also where Apple's global billions in revenue are processed, it is regarded within Apple as a core industrial facility.

Any analysis of the relationship between the world's richest technology company and a country that is dependent on inward investment must consider issues such as tax, especially when the investor has reaped such an extraordinary fiscal dividend over a long period.

Apple is known to be an intensely loyal company that sticks with the friends it chooses. Whether the European Commission agrees might be another matter.

Analysis

Irish Independent

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