Tuesday 20 August 2019

One bitter Cabinet split over Apple tax appeal truly threatened our new Coalition's future

'Similar to the Apple tax ruling itself, the split at Cabinet that engulfed Ms Zappone made headlines across the globe.' Pic Colin O'Riordan
'Similar to the Apple tax ruling itself, the split at Cabinet that engulfed Ms Zappone made headlines across the globe.' Pic Colin O'Riordan

Niall O'Connor

From Irish Water to the Eighth Amendment, judicial appointments and even the issue of Ireland's neutrality.

These are just a sample from the myriad of issues that have been the subject of tense and at times bitter exchanges at the Cabinet table.

It is no secret that the vast majority of the disputes within Government in recent months have involved members of the Independent Alliance, most notably Transport Minister Shane Ross.

Mr Ross appears to thrive on winding up Fine Gael ministers, and particularly Taoiseach Enda Kenny, whom he infamously described as a "political corpse" just days before supporting him in his bid to become Taoiseach.

During one of the more colourful stand-offs between the pair, Mr Kenny even resorted to waiving a copy of Bunreacht na hÉireann as a means of reminding Mr Ross of our commitment to neutrality.

As former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds noted: "It's the little things that trip you up."

But as the European Commission reminded us yesterday, there is nothing little about a ruling that says Ireland facilitated Apple in avoiding billions of dollars in tax.

This was the one and only issue that has actually really threatened the stability of this minority administration.

As the month of August entered its final hours, the Cabinet was recalled to devise a response to the €13bn tax ruling.

It was here that Mr Kenny and Finance Minister Michael Noonan were blocked in their attempts to launch an immediate appeal against the Commission's judgment.

Leading the charge that stunned the Fine Gael-side of Cabinet was the softly spoken and highly capable Children's Minister, Katherine Zappone.

Cusp

Over a period of a few days which saw the Cabinet hold two emergency meetings, Ms Zappone was on the cusp of leaving Government - a move many in Fine Gael believe would have been followed by others.

The Dublin South West TD felt that the tax ruling exposed a common-held belief about Ireland: We are a tax haven.

At one point, the Cabinet meeting was adjourned to allow Ms Zappone a period of 30 minutes to "clear her head" and consider her future.

She was staunchly opposed to an appeal and informed some of her closest advisors and supporters that her stint in Cabinet looked set to be one of the shortest in history.

But after agonising over the decision, Ms Zappone agreed to the appeal in return for a series of compromises.

These include the staging of a conference next year on tax justice and the introduction of a motion designed to ensure more transparent tax dealings with multi-national corporations.

As part of this, the Revenue Commissioner has begun a review of its arrangements with global firms.

Similar to the Apple tax ruling itself, the split at Cabinet that engulfed Ms Zappone made headlines across the globe.

Irish Independent

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