Little Enda and the big Apple


At first and maybe second glance, it seems crazy. Enda Kenny and his Cabinet have agreed that they’ll appeal against that European Commission ruling which says that the south of Ireland should be given £11 billion in unpaid taxes by Apple. The CEO of Apple, Tim Cook, says he’s very confident the ruling will be overturned, and says he find the Commission’s decision “maddening” and “political” (Well, as Mandy-Rice Davies said so long ago, he would say that, wouldn’t he? So would you, very probably, if you were in his very expensive shoes.) Mr Kenny is much more dignified and statesmanlike in his response: “This is about Ireland, it is about our people, it’s about us as a sovereign nation, actually setting out what we consider our appropriate policies”.

Now before you fall back on your sofa paralytic with mirth at the thought of Mr Kenny (i) saying this is about Ireland when he means it’s about the south of Ireland; (ii) saying that Ireland is a sovereign nation when six counties of that ‘sovereign nation’ are ruled from Westminster and (iii) saying nothing but nodding a lot when Angela Merkel wrote the south’s budget – as I say, before you crack up at these wrecking-ball contradictions, consider this: by appealing the European Commission’s decision, Mr Kenny is saying to them “You want to give us £11 billion? Nah – don’t want it”.

Assuming Mr Kenny hasn’t taken leave of his senses, why on earth would he refuse £11 billion? That’s what appealing the European Commission’s decision means. Try not to be lulled into some sort of patriotic trance by all that ‘sovereign nation’ high-grade hogwash. The day the Troika came to town and told the Irish government to apply some spine-stretching austerity to the Irish people in the twenty-six counties, that was the day when any notion of sovereignty went out the window. (Although I do accept your point, Virginia – it could be said that sovereignty went off the table nearly a hundred years ago, when the Treaty was signed.)

The thing you need to decipher is the message behind Mr Kenny’s talk of sovereignty. Can you hear it? Shhhh – it’s coming through now: ‘We don’t want to do or say, or not do or not say, anything that might upset Apple, because we depend on Apple for thousands of jobs’.

That’s why Mr Kenny has prostrated himself before the mighty god Apple and is happy to join Apple in contesting this most appalling of European rulings.

What’s appalling about £11 billion? Well, if Apple were forced to stump up, Apple has almost certainly made it clear to Enda and Co that it will take its technology and go home. Or more accurately, take its technology and all the jobs that means to some other, more flexible country. And it likely wouldn’t stop there. Because if Apple goes, why would Google and Facebook and all the rest not follow suit? Suddenly, an effective tax rate for Apple of €50 for every €1,000,000 earned seems a not-unreasonable rate.

It goes against my instincts but I find myself feeling some sympathy for Mr Kenny. It’s crazy but it’s true: it might well not be worth his while to collect the £11 billion. The last thing you want to see, if you’re a Taoiseach, is Apple and Google and all the rest shaking the Irish dust from their sandals and setting up elsewhere.

There’s only one answer to this international problem: inter-government co-operation. Left to themselves, the Apples of this world will hold governments to ransom. Tim Cook doesn’t say it but he doesn’t need to: the people in the south of Ireland are very lucky to have the likes of Apple setting up shop there. One peep, however, about hiking taxation and we’re off. And so Mr Kenny declares that he’s standing shoulder to shoulder with Apple, and what’s good for them is good for us.

As I say, there’s only one answer to this kind of bullying, and that is for the nations and states of Europe and beyond to act as one. If all potential host countries made it clear that being based with them means ponying up when the taxman calls, Apple and other such corporate giants would accept the modest 12.5% rate of taxation the south (theoretically) requires.

I mean, you’d settle for a tax rate of around 13%, wouldn’t you? Let alone the 0.005% Apple was paying What calls the shots at present is a group of international bullies accountable to no one but their share-holders, with said group confronting democratically-elected governments and telling them to do things their way or the deal is off.

So here’s the thing. Are there any signs that Mr Kenny might grow a, um, backbone, and work with other elected leaders to force the bullies to back off? Oh look – there’s a squadron of pigs flying low over Dublin 4.


6 Responses to Little Enda and the big Apple

  1. Perkin Warbeck September 11, 2016 at 7:24 pm #

    One wonders, Esteemed Blogmeister, could Tim Cook and his illustrious namesake, Captain Cook be in any ways related ?

    No, one is not referring to the recently deceased pirate wireless head-honcho, Captain Cook of Radio Dublin infamy. He, curiously, also dominated the Free Southern Stateeen news bulletin as recently as the month before last and not for the most savoury of reasons either.

    For he was noted for his goatish tendencies whereby he attained the less than flattering nickname of ‘The Cookie Monster’.

    One is referring to Captain James rather than Captain Eamonn: both were nautically minded and so drawn to the waves, the watery variety in one case and the air type in the other. A somewhat more tenuous connection was their connection with the name, Cairns, town and boy.

    Captain James Cook too was responsible for the first circumnavigation of the globe by an animal: in this instance, a goat. There was less madness and more method in having this ruminant along for the voyage. Being a nanny rather than a billy, she supplied fresh milk for his crew: a cuppa caprine milk a day keeps the scurvy away, as may have been noted in the chorus of a sea shanty or two, me hearties.

    Tim Cook has circumnavigated the globe more often than Captain James Cook had cups of caprine milk. Though what separates him from his distinguished namesake was his choice of ruminant: the sheep, rather than the goat.

    (One trusts that too many Cooks here are not riling the wrath of faithful reader).

    Enda the Shepherd tends to his flock with such an iron crook (with an r) that there have been times over the past couple of weeks on Liffeyside that one could have sworn that FG (and its devoted opposition, FF ) were less political parties and more akin to the c-word.

    That would be c for cult, m’lud.

    Incidentally, this lonely calling as a shepherd gives the intellectually gifted Enda ample scope to indulge his innate talent for, erm, ruminating.

    To finish on the note goatish: Frank Capra, the famous fillum director, made many Oscar-nominated movies, perhaps the most famous being that perennial favourite at Chrimbo (the term Christmas having long been consigned to Limbo):

    -It’s a Wonderful World.

    But it is another motion picture of he whose surname translates from the original Italian as, erm, Nanny Goat, (T.C. CEO would understand) which is perhaps of more relevance to the topic under discush:

    -You can’t take it with you.

    Tim Cook, who dwells not a billionaire’s expectoration away from Hollywood, would beg. That is, to differ.

    PS You mention, EB, the ‘very expensive shoes’ of Mr. Cook. Could have sworn he was wearing a pair of penny loafers at the recent launch of the latest Apple thingummybob. But then, that would only be in keeping with the deathless dictum of the incomparable Dolly Parton:

    -Ah’m so rich, suh, ah can afford to dress way, way down !

    More worrying, however, was the red and green undervest that one fancied one caught a fleeting glimpse of under the handmedown jacket that Mr. Cook was wearing on the same occasion.

    Could it have been his cleanest dirty (gulp) Mayo gansey ???

    Or, is this just one’s Dublin paranoia?

  2. Ryan September 11, 2016 at 8:06 pm #

    “Are there any signs that Mr Kenny might grow a, um, backbone, and work with other elected leaders to force the bullies to back off?”

    Does Mr Kenny have the clout to take on a massive corporation such as Apple? Of course he doesn’t. Even the Brits don’t have the muscle to take on such a huge American Corporation.

    The reality is Apple does create thousands of high paying jobs in Ireland. As does Google, Facebook, Microsoft, IBM, etc Ireland has beat competition from other major economic centres to get this investment. There’s a reason why Ireland is the only country to leave the EU bailout programme after just 3 years and its thanks to this foreign investment and our exports. If we didn’t have this investment then we would be in Greece’s shoes and judging by our culture of emigration I think if we were in Greece’s position then I reckon Ireland would’ve lost maybe a 3rd of its population, and that’s no exaggeration. 50% unemployment is something even we haven’t felt in living memory but the Greeks/Spaniards have. We’re a people who jump the boat without thinking. I agree with Economist David McWilliams that we do have to become more “German” in our outlook.

    So you have to consider the position Mr Kenny is in. If me or anyone else here were in his position, would we REALLY want to challenge Apple? Is £11 Billion really worth losing thousands upon thousands of jobs? it might sound like a big figure but £11 Billion would be gone within a short while if we got it. This would also have a domino effect. If Apple left, then so would many other multinationals.

    The problem with big companies paying tax is a Global one. We here in Ireland cant even sort out our own problems, the North, Emigration, British interference, EU interference, etc we haven’t a chance of making a dent on the issue of mega companies paying tax. All we would succeed in doing is hitting the self destruct button.

    But the EU isn’t thinking “Oh, those poor Irish, they need more money. Yeah, lets help them, lets make sure Apple pays that £11 Billion, those guys could do with it”. Remember, these guys are the same people demanding butchering austerity in Greece, so much austerity that Greek GDP has shrunk by 25%. Yes, 25%. They demanded similar brutal austerity here and we only got out of the red because of big companies like Apple, Microsoft, etc and many others investing, creating jobs and telling the world that Ireland is a great place to do business, which it is. Don’t be fooled by the EU, Germany and France has long wanted to control Ireland’s Tax powers. 3 Years ago the German Economic Minister even said Germany was “Jealous” of Ireland’s growth.

    What Ireland and its people need to do is continue to make Ireland a top place to do business and invest. But we also have to stop being dependent on big foreign companies too. We need our own entrepreneurs to think big, to create successful companies and GROW them, not sell them off when they are offered a ton of cash. We need to be creating the Apples and Microsoft’s of tomorrow. Most of all, we need to be BUILDING and SELLING stuff worldwide.

  3. Michael September 11, 2016 at 8:31 pm #

    If Apple owes £13 billion in unpaid taxes how much does Google, Microsoft, Dell etc etc owe?

  4. Scott Rutherford September 11, 2016 at 10:22 pm #

    I liked the analogy the Irish finance minister used when trying to explain why it would detrimental for the Republic to take the £11 billion from Apple.

    The finance minister (Cowan I think he’s called) said “it would be like eating the seed potatoes” sums it up well, in a uniquely Irish way.

    The ROI whole economic model is built on the outside investment it can attract with its pro business laws and low tax rates. It does however leave the ROI badly exposed to the whims of these handful of multi national corporations.

    It’s also a bitter pill for people to swallow to see these companies who are wealthy beyond imagination paying a minuscule amount of there profits, while ordinary citizens are forced to pay a regressive water charges tax that takes money from people whether you can afford it or not.

    • Ryan September 12, 2016 at 4:33 pm #

      “The finance minister (Cowan I think he’s called) said “it would be like eating the seed potatoes” sums it up well, in a uniquely Irish way”

      Michael Noonan Scott. I think your referring to Brian Cowan, who was Taoiseach from 2008 to 2011. Cowan left office with a yearly pension of over 150,000 euros a year. He’s now studying in Stanford University in the USA, apparently. Not a bad little nest egg for someone who ignored the warning signs for years and when actually became Taoiseach he handed the pursue strings over to the EU (returned in 2013) and then blew off.

      Forget fraud, scams, robbing banks, etc if you want to get rich quick and get away with it with the Laws support, politics is the way to go!

      • Scott Rutherford September 12, 2016 at 9:18 pm #

        Cheers Ryan knew I wasn’t quite sure who it was.

        Ireland has undoubtedly done very well from its pro business, low tax policies but do you think the scales have tipped to far now and Ireland has become too reliant on a relatively small amount of business for its economic success?