Saturday 26 May 2018

Kenny stalwart Phil Hogan backs Brussels in €13bn Apple tax ruling

EU Commissioner Phil Hogan Photo: Collins
EU Commissioner Phil Hogan Photo: Collins

John Downing and Kevin Doyle

EU Commissioner Phil Hogan supported Brussels in the €13bn tax ruling against Apple.

The former Cabinet Minister confirmed that he supported the finding that Ireland granted Apple illegal state aid and the company must pay €13bn plus interest to the Exchequer.

The news came as a furious behind-the-scenes row broke out between the Department of Finance and the Taoiseach's office over who is to blame for the Government's ham-fisted response to the crisis.

Apple's global boss, Tim Cook, also heavily criticised the EU's actions.

Read more: Apple employs top law firm to help fight its legal war with EU over €13bn tax bill

In his first public comment on the issue, Mr Hogan said all 28 Commission members supported the decision made public on Tuesday. He has insisted that, as an EU Court appeal is now expected, he cannot make further comment.

Click here to view full-size graphic
Click here to view full-size graphic

Mr Hogan was a key lieutenant of Taoiseach Enda Kenny and the main mover in defeating a heave against Mr Kenny's Fine Gael party leadership in June 2010.

He was also seen as "taking a hit for the team" in 2011 and 2012 by pushing new unpopular local property taxes and water charges.

Mr Hogan's appointment to the biggest job in the Taoiseach's gift in autumn 2014 was seen in part as a reward.

Mr Kenny also lobbied EU Commission president, Jean Claude Juncker, to secure the agriculture portfolio for Mr Hogan, giving him control of almost 40pc of the EU's €150bn yearly Budget, and spreading his influence across most member states.

Speaking about the Apple ruling for the first time yesterday, Mr Hogan told the Irish Independent it was "a collegiate decision made in the normal way by the Commission in respect of the findings of an investigation into state aids by the Commissioner for Competition.

"It was approved by all 28 Commissioners. It will be appealed by the company involved, and perhaps by the Irish Government, if that is what they decide. Given these pending EU court proceedings I can make no further comment at this time."

Brussels officials say that, while EU Commissioners often act as informal advocates for their country of origin on issues like disputes over regional or farm grants, Mr Hogan was banned from being Ireland's advocate in this matter. "State aid cases are entirely a matter of EU law and are done strictly by the book," one official said.

Other Brussels diplomats criticised the Irish Government's failure to "prepare the ground in Ireland" by forewarning the public in advance of the decision.

Read more: 'This is a decision made on facts' - EC chief rejects Tim Cook's criticism of Apple tax decision  

It emerged Apple has engaged top-flight lawyers, Freshfields, to take their case to the EU Courts in Luxembourg, which could take several years.

In Dublin, Finance Minister Michael Noonan faced heavy criticism from Fine Gael colleagues for not ensuring that the Independent Alliance was on board with an appeal before media interviews on Tuesday.

A number of ministers believe that the Department of Finance "dropped the ball" and "let the side down."

However, sources at the Department hit back, saying that they informed Enda Kenny's office over the weekend that a cross-government response would be required.

The Irish Independent has learned that senior officials in Government Buildings were told on Saturday to prepare the Independents for the fallout from the Commission's ruling.

"That still hadn't happened on Sunday and Mr Noonan made some phone calls to Shane Ross and others himself," a source said.

Irish Independent

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