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PUNT: Google is searching for excuses

THE "Occupy" mobs have been particularly quiet in recent months. What had at one stage seemed to be a seminal movement in social and financial history appears to have had little long-term effect.

If the protesters want to see the "unacceptable face of capitalism", however, perhaps they should look beyond the power suits of Wall Street and instead pick out a genial middle-aged man with grey hair and an open-necked shirt.

Eric Schmidt is Google's chairman, former chief executive, and general public face of the search giant. What he says matters. Yesterday he was in fine form, defending his company's right to pay as little tax as possible in countries like Britain and Ireland.

He is right of course. Google is not breaking any laws; it is up to governments to tighten their tax laws – something the Irish Government shows little inclination to do.

However, he adopted what might be called the "Sean Dunne" defence for his company. Namely, that because Google does things for society, like employing 2,000 people and promoting ecommerce, it should be excused for minimising its tax bill.

If you'll excuse us, this argument is patently ridiculous, and dredges up Dunne's absurd reasoning that because his companies paid taxes, he has paid his debt to the State.

Mr Schmidt should just call a spade a spade and tell us that as a public company, Google is required to maximise returns for shareholders. Paying as little tax as possible is part of that strategy. To hide behind the fig leaf of "social good" is unbecoming for a man of his status.

Report far too hot to handle

ONE can only imagine Joan Burton's face when she first got hold of the major report she commissioned the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development to do into pensions in this country.

A greater collection of politically unpalatable recommendations it is hard to imagine.

These include mandatory pensions for all those who do not have one, increasing the state pensions age beyond 68, and means testing free travel and the lucrative household benefits package that pensioners get.

For the minister who spent the weekend railing against austerity, the recommendations seem like those of a austerity-junkie.

No wonder Ms Burton was as non-committal as a politician can get when questioned about the unsavoury political recommendations yesterday.

So don't expect her to be in any rush to implement any of the recommendations in the expensive OECD report.

And anyway, her department has displayed a slower than slow approach to have anything to do with pensions lately.

We are still awaiting some policy decisions on the vexed question of who gets what when pension schemes wind up. At the moment, the existing pensioners get first preference on the assets. Active and deferred members get what is left.

This is inequitable, the OECD said.

At the very least, the minister should deal with this glaring issue.

Firms reign supreme at awards

TWO Northern Irish businesses are among the interesting array of British companies, producing everything from nail varnish to bullet-proof vests, who have won a "Queen's Award to Enterprise".

A bed-spring manufacturer, a lingerie retailer and a "theatrical flying systems" company behind the famous flaming cauldron scene at the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics are just some of the other recipients.

There were 152 awardees in what organisers call "the UK's most prestigious business awards". Winners are announced each year on April 21, the queen's birthday.

Despite the monarchy's associations with tradition and history, there's no doubt the awards are trying to keep up with the times; recipient Neon Play is the first mobile games company to enjoy recognition.

Fashion fans will be happy to see London nail varnish trendsetters Nails Inc among the winners, too, as well as The Cambridge Satchel Company, which manufactures leather satchels beloved by middle-class university students. The business started five years ago from a kitchen table and now generates £5m (€5.8m) in annual sales.

Quite what small talk these fashionistas will make at the awards ceremony with one of the Northern Irish winners, an offal exporter, The Punt can only speculate.

Irish Independent