Cantillon: Achtung Bono – Our tax rate on world stage

Is Bono IDA Ireland’s biggest nightmare?

Once Bono enters the debate in defence of the role played by Ireland, the amount of coverage of the issue in the international media shoots through the roof

Once Bono enters the debate in defence of the role played by Ireland, the amount of coverage of the issue in the international media shoots through the roof

Thu, Sep 26, 2013, 01:00

Is Bono IDA Ireland’s biggest nightmare?

Richard Boyd Barrett may want to bring some multinational executives into Leinster House to give them a Margaret Hodge-type grilling, and Oxfam may regularly point to the way multinational subsidiaries based here book profits from trade in the developing world, thereby depriving it of tax revenues, but they are minnows, nay micro-organisms, of the media world compared to the mega celebrity that is Ireland’s most famous son.

His decision to intervene at a meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative in New York on Tuesday is a case in point. Sudanese telecoms billionaire Mo Ibrahim is probably not a household name in Europe or North America.When he said it was not acceptable that big companies operating in Africa were not paying any taxes there, mentioning Google and its use of Irish subsidiaries to the detriment of African exchequers, Bono leapt to Ireland’s aid.

The problem from the point of view of Ireland Inc is that it is probably best off keeping its head down when political debate turns to the issue of multinational tax structures and their obvious success. This is because some of the biggest names on the planet – Google, Apple, Microsoft – have subsidiaries here that are key hubs in a system that sucks up income from around the globe before sending it on its way to such tax averse places as Bermuda and the Cayman Islands.

Once Bono enters the debate in defence of the role played by Ireland, the amount of coverage of the issue in the international media shoots through the roof.

His interview with the Observer on Sunday, where he was quizzed about U2’s tax strategies, likewise was carried around the globe and drew more attention to Ireland’s role in the international corporation tax arena.

At a time when Lady Hodge in London and Senator Carl Levin in Washington DC are regularly using Ireland as an example of all that is wrong with multinational tax avoidance, the IDA is believed to be quietly doing what it can to protect Ireland’s reputation. And then, every so often, Bono comes along and the Hodge/Levin/Oxfam narrative is back in the headlines again.

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