Thursday 26 April 2018

Cabinet remains split after emergency Apple meeting

Independents fail to support Noonan in tax battle against EU

Finance Minister Michael Noonan,TD at Leinster House on the day of the EU Commission's ruling on Apple's tax arrangement in Ireland. Pic Tom Burke
Finance Minister Michael Noonan,TD at Leinster House on the day of the EU Commission's ruling on Apple's tax arrangement in Ireland. Pic Tom Burke

John Downing, Kevin Doyle, Philip Ryan & Cormac McQuinn

Finance Minister Michael Noonan has suffered an embarrassing setback as Cabinet colleagues refused to immediately back his plan to appeal the €13bn Apple tax ruling.

An emergency Cabinet meeting ended in deadlock as ministers failed to agree on a State appeal on the European Commission's findings.

Fine Gael ministers privately expressed frustration as most of their Independent colleagues have so far declined to back the plan to fight the Commission.

Amid questions over why the Government hadn't yet come to a unified position, another Cabinet meeting has been set for tomorrow in a bid to find consensus.

The Irish Independent understands that the Independent Alliance is demanding a commitment from Fine Gael to examine the issue of tax paid by multinationals in return for their support.

"There has to be a recognition that the multinational tax system must be reformed," a source said. "It's not directly linked to Apple but the area of multinational tax needs to be transparent and fair," the source added.

Fine Gael ministers are said to be annoyed with the "antics" of the Independent Alliance but believe that they will come on board with the appeal.

"They have to differentiate themselves - but at some point they need to release they are in Government. The Government makes the big decisions and we can't keep procrastinating on everything," said one minister.

Mr Noonan - who has insisted that there was nothing illegal about Ireland's tax arrangements with Apple - brought a memo on the proposed appeal to Cabinet yesterday.

The memo warns that a decision on an appeal should be made as soon as possible.

Ministers were given copies of the full Commission ruling at the meeting, but were not allowed to take them away, such is the nervousness the document might be leaked. Each copy contained a watermark linking it back to the individual minister's department. The information contained in the ruling is said to be commercially sensitive "on a global scale".

Denis Naughten is the only Independent minister who says he backs the plan to appeal, saying that Ireland needs to send a message to multinationals.

But Shane Ross and Finian McGrath of the Independent Alliance and Children's Minister Katherine Zappone are all yet to agree to an appeal.

Leaving the meeting yesterday evening, Mr Ross and Mr McGrath said they had reserved judgement until they could read the 150-page EU Commission ruling in full, and consult the other three TDs in the group - Seán Canney, John Halligan, and Kevin 'Boxer' Moran.

"We had certain difficulties in taking any of the courses proposed to us," Mr Ross said. He said it would have been wrong to have taken a decision yesterday without fuller consideration and consultation.

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Disabilities super-junior minister Mr McGrath said they would work hard to deliver a decision tomorrow.

"We're taking this very seriously. But we're working hard behind the scenes to try to resolve it," Mr McGrath said.

Ms Zappone, meanwhile, said she had grave concerns about an appeal and that she also needed more time to analyse a complex issue.

"The laws upon which the Revenue Commissioners' ruling was based, I think they were unethical and that they enabled a lack of fairness throughout our taxation system.

"And I think that implicitly this Government has recognised that by changing the legislation," she said. Ms Zappone said she believed a decision will be taken at the reconvened Cabinet meeting tomorrow.

Sources last night said the Government was not opposed to recalling the Dáil.

But the Taoiseach would require Government backing for an appeal to the EU Courts before that could happen.

Separately, Apple chief executive Tim Cook spoke to Taoiseach Enda Kenny by phone on Sunday ahead of the European Commission ruling, assuring him of the tech giant's commitment to Ireland.

"Equally, the Taoiseach expressed support for Apple's presence in Ireland," a Government spokeswoman said.

Pressure mounted on the Government to act swiftly as protests took place outside the Dáil - and Fine Gael headquarters was inundated with apples left on the railings and doorstep.

Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary also upped the ante, saying the Government should write a letter to the EU telling them to "f*** off".

Irish Independent

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