Minister of State at the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation (Deputy Damien English):
I thank the Acting Chairman for the opportunity to address this motion. I support the Government’s decision to appeal the Commission’s ruling that Ireland provided unlawful State aid to Apple, which was not the case and is untrue. There was no proof in the ruling, yet the position taken was damaging. As such, it was imperative that the Government made its decision in a strong, considered and timely manner. I welcome the opportunity to debate it now and for everyone to put his or her thoughts on the record.
In a modern and fast-moving world, the Commission’s decision does not constitute sensible economics. Rather, it constitutes an attempt by the Commission, an appointed body as opposed to an elected one, to meddle in the national taxation affairs of a sovereign member state and of its people. Taxation is not an area of competency of the EU under the treaties, each of which was voted for by the Irish people in a referendum. The European Commission is meant to serve the interests of the EU as a whole, which is how it has generally defended its behaviour, but the EU’s very existence is meant to serve the needs of the member states, not to control or replace them.
It is important that Ireland remains in control of its tax and economic affairs. Having spent time in the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, I see the benefits of being in control of our tax and economic affairs when it comes to winning jobs.
The politics of populism and protest from the fringes of the Opposition has already pocketed the €13 billion from Apple, adding some €6 billion in interest, to apply it as the magic formula to cure all our social issues. The politics of populism is spreading false hope, sowing the seeds of resentment and, ultimately, damaging politics and democracy. This is the wrong approach and one I oppose.
Earlier, a speaker claimed the Government was stealing this money. This kind of language is just being used to get news coverage and headlines. It is not helping Ireland’s recovery or job creation. The people have already copped on to this behaviour. Any Member who has spent time knocking on doors and talking to people will have realised the people understand what is at play and what the Government must do. The people understand what the majority of political parties which have been in government for a long number of years are doing to drive the country’s economic affairs. They will not buy into this populism of making grand statements in the Dáil, claiming that the Government is stealing money, just to get news coverage and headlines.
We need to maintain control over our economic affairs and taxation because we are a small island country off another island which is off the coast of Europe. We have few natural resources in the traditional sense. Yet, we are a magnet for indigenous and global business investment. Why? Why did IDA Ireland have its best year in 2015? Why did Apple decide to locate here in the 1980s? Why did Shire decide to create a new state-of-the-art biologics manufacturing campus in County Meath which it expects will lead to the creation of approximately 400 permanent jobs for the locality? Why did Facebook in April of this year begin construction on its newest data centre at Clonee, County Meath, a facility which will be the size of 14 Aviva Stadiums? Why are there 6,855 people employed in Meath in 164 companies supported by Enterprise Ireland in 2015?
It is because of our pro-enterprise environment, one of certainty and stability. That is why the Commission’s ruling going back over 25 years is a crazy decision. It is because we have a young, well-educated and flexible workforce. It is because we have an education system responsive to the needs of enterprise, one that is ever reforming and changing with new apprenticeships, traineeships, Springboard and other conversion courses to deal with the IT sector’s needs. It is because of our historic ties with Britain and that we are a bridge between America and the European Union. It is because of our vast global diaspora acting as unofficial ambassadors worldwide, spreading the message of how beneficial it is to locate business in Ireland. Finally, it is because of our taxation policy, one to which all major political parties have subscribed and respected while in government through the years.
It is also a taxation policy that the European Commission and others have tried to strike down, most recently in their response to the economic crisis. The Apple tax ruling by the European Commission is our biggest economic and sovereign challenge since the arrival of troika. It will have to be dealt with in the same way. Unless overturned, it is a challenge to our open global economy and Irish jobs. My personal view is that our position is correct, the Commission is wrong and we will win the appeal. Backing this position is backing Ireland in its hunt for the best of international capital, investment and jobs. Backing this position is backing Irish research, innovation and talent. Backing this position continues to create opportunities for all our people beyond what an island nation of ours could otherwise expect or hope.
All of our businesses can avail of our taxation system. It is fair, equal and transparent, a point on which Revenue has been clear. Ireland has over 180,000 direct jobs from foreign direct investment. Around them, there are 200,000 other jobs. The wage bill alone from the multinationals comes to over €9 billion a year, money which is spent in the economy. We have gone through a transformation over the past five years, winning back jobs that were lost in the construction sector. We are still not fully there as we still have high unemployment. We cannot rest for the next two years. To turn our backs on jobs and investment, to damage Ireland’s reputation and to cede control to others to dictate our economic policy and tax affairs is wrong for jobs and the future of this country.