Apple and the national interest
Published 04/09/2016 | 02:30
The decision of the Government to appeal the ruling of the European Commission on the Apple State aid case is the correct one but the tortuous manner in which the decision was eventually arrived at bodes ill for 'New Politics' in general and the minority administration specifically, which has shown itself to be so riven by competing forces and agendas as to be bordering on the dysfunctional. The manner in which the Government is currently operating is simply not good enough at a time when the country needs cohesive and stable leadership in the face of unprecedented challenges such as the UK exit from the European Union and the EC ruling on the Apple case itself.
Exchequer returns for the end of August, also published last week, saw a record deficit of €329m as compared with a deficit of €1,291m in the same period last year. This €962m year-on-year improvement in the Exchequer balance is said by the Department of Finance to be driven primarily by a year-on-year increase in tax revenue, albeit partially offset by increased voted expenditure and reduced non-tax revenue.
The improvement in the State's finances is to be welcomed, but the Government can not rest on the assumption that all will continue to be well. The social fabric of the country is still shredded by the consequences of decisions taken during the austerity years, and, at minimum, ministers must get on with facing up to those challenges, particularly in the general area of housing, and also in a deficient health service and education system. These are the bread-and-butter issues which are faced by governments throughout the developed world. As if that were not enough to contend with, the demands presented by Brexit and now the Apple State aid decision, which of themselves have the potential to fundamentally undermine existing and successful economic policy that give rise to such healthy Exchequer returns, demand that the Government must act collectively and decisively to protect the national interest.
To date, such collective and decisive actions have been shown, nationally and now internationally, to be woefully lacking. That is not to say that the requirement for new politics is not as relevant now as it was when this minority government was formed. By any interpretation, the electorate has voted for greater democratic accountability in Dail Eireann, and this newspaper has advocated for such accountability and will continue to do so.
There are occasions, however, when such a challenge to the national interest as the Apple ruling requires government to present a far more united front than was immediately evident last week. It is widely recognised that Ireland's corporate taxation regime has stood the country in good stead throughout recent decades and must be defended at all costs. It is also evident that entities such as Apple have a moral, let alone corporate, responsibility to pay its fair share of tax to whichever sovereign interest it is due. Ireland shares in that responsibility, which ultimately is a process under way at an international level that is rightly gaining momentum. However, the first duty of the Government is to ensure that Ireland is not unfairly singled out by competing forces in Europe and the US but to protect the national interest. Ultimately, that is the decision taken to appeal the European Commission Apple State aid case ruling, but the ham-fisted manner in which it arrived at that decision leaves a lot to be desired.