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Big tech paid less tax last year but total still surged

Wholesale and retail sector has dramatic rise with extra €1bn


Drop: The amount paid by the likes of Facebook last year actually fell

Drop: The amount paid by the likes of Facebook last year actually fell

Drop: The amount paid by the likes of Facebook last year actually fell

Technology companies played no role in the surge in corporation tax paid last year which pushed the Irish Exchequer into surplus, according to a detailed report from the Revenue Commissioners.

A record €10.887bn in corporation tax paid here last year lifted Ireland's overall government finances to a budget surplus, the first since the global financial crisis.

Separate figures from Revenue show it has "warehoused" €1.5bn of tax owed mostly by small firms since the start of the Covid-19 crisis, in what is effectively a huge interest-free loan to companies.

The warehousing of VAT and employer taxes means companies don't have to make payments during the pandemic crisis, although they do have to make tax returns and will have to pay the tax eventually.

A dramatic increase in corporate tax receipts over the last five years has significantly improved the State's finances but also prompted warnings from the Fiscal Advisory Council and Central Bank about an over-reliance on a volatile and hard to explain windfall.

Figures published last night by the Revenue Commissioners confirm the outsized role a handful of big corporations play in the tax take. Only 10 companies paid 40pc of the corporate tax total last year, and the biggest 100 tax-paying firms accounted for 70pc of the overall take.

However, a breakdown of the sectors paying most corporation tax shows the share of tax paid by big technology firms such as Google and Facebook fell last year.

The manufacturing sector, which includes pharmaceuticals, is the biggest contributor of corporation tax, paying €2.9bn in 2019 - although that was €300m less than in the previous year.

Finance and insurance firms paid €2.478bn in corporation tax last year, up €372m on 2018. The most dramatic rise in tax paid was by the wholesale and retail sector, which paid an extra €1bn in corporate tax last year for a total of €1.861bn.

The €1.12bn of corporate tax paid in 2109 by the information and communications technology (ICT) industry was actually almost a billion lower than in 2018. Corporate tax income can be volatile - the dominance of a handful of companies in the total paid means the fortunes of individual companies or changes to their corporate structures can cause big swings.

Even so, the numbers undermine the notion that the re-organisation by big technology companies of intellectual property assets has been the major factor in the rise in the overall tax paid here.

The details released by Revenue include a breakdown of slightly more detailed tax returns from 2018. These show foreign multinationals paid a higher effective tax rate than their Irish-owned peers.

Foreign multinationals' effective tax rate in 2018 was 11.6pc, strikingly close to the official 12.5pc rate. Irish multi-nationals' effective tax rate was 9.2pc and smaller non-multinationals' effective corporate tax rate was 7.4pc.

There are numerous reasons companies can avoid paying the full 12.5pc rate, including tax breaks on activities such as research and development or because they have historic losses which can be used to reduce tax bills.

Irish Independent