Matt Cooper goes looking for a slice of that big Apple pie
Radio review: ‘The Last Word’, ‘Lunchtime’, ‘Morning Ireland’, ‘Today with Sean O’Rourke’
Ping-pong: Minister of State for Financial Services – behind Minister for Finance Michael Noonan and Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe – has the kind of charged argument that Matt Cooper revels in. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
Listening to debates about the Apple tax debacle, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Karl Marx was right. Not about politics or economics but with his observation that history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce.
In 2008, faced with a fiscal dilemma beyond its control, the government of the day took a tough but unpopular decision involving billions of euro in tax money, claiming it was necessary to protect our international reputation.
This week much the same scenario prevails. The difference, of course, is that while eight years ago the State bailed out the banks, this time it has turned down €13 billion in tax that the European Commission deems due from Apple. Matt Cooper, for one, sounds gobsmacked by the situation on The Last Word (Today FM, weekdays).
“This is like winning the Lotto and then refusing to cash in your ticket,” Cooper says to Minister of State for Financial Services and Public Procurement Eoghan Murphy. But Murphy is having none of it. “No, this is like winning the Lotto when the numbers are wrong and you don’t deserve it,” he says, unwisely attempting to flip his host’s metaphor.
What follows is the kind of charged ping-pong argument that Cooper revels in, particularly when his guest is up for a quarrel. Murphy fights his corner with a passion that suggests he is genuine in his conviction that Ireland has been “charged with doing something illegal” and must challenge the decision, to preserve our international standing.
Cooper disagrees. He upbraids the Minister of State’s characterisation of the commission’s finding as an “allegation”. He suggests that the Government’s stance is due to the fact that “Apple has the power and we’re the supplicants”.
When Murphy resists this line Cooper wonders if it’s all a bit of a game. “Aren’t you playing on Apple’s side but secretly hoping you’ll be made take the €13 billion?” he says, in a tone of exaggerated mischievousness.
Such attention-grabbing tactics risk undermining Cooper’s otherwise thorough interrogation, but he gets back on track. When Murphy says the Government is “defending Ireland’s sovereign responsibilities” Cooper refers to the elephant in the room: “Why didn’t you fight the bondholders this hard?”
Murphy vigorously contests this comparison, saying it conflates two different issues. He also complains that all this is “getting back into the past”. Cooper replies: “It’s not the past, because we’re still repaying that money.”
By the end the item goes from mere political interview to tetchy battle royale, with both journalist and politician unyielding in their philosophical positions. It’s a riveting clash, although after a while the drama overshadows the arguments. At any rate, the discussion between the two is unbalanced. One has the power; the other is just a radio host.
It is not only contrarian presenters who feel the State should take the Apple money. So do members of the amorphous bunch of puppetmasters known as “the elite”. Donal Donovan, former deputy director of the International Monetary Fund, is on Lunchtime (Newstalk, weekdays) to tell Tara Duggan that the Government shouldn’t launch a “full-frontal assault” on the ruling.
Donovan’s reasons are largely practical. He says Dublin is short of European allies in its stance and that Ireland will need all the political goodwill it can muster when negotiating special conditions for Brexit. But he also sees an ethical dimension. Referring to the “uprising against these multinationals that don’t pay tax anywhere”, he says that Ireland should take the tax and “be on the right – and moral – side of history”.
The Apple affair is a complicated issue, but when such suggestions are made by a former executive of the IMF – hardly a Marxist hotbed – the Government may want to listen.
Elsewhere, unspeakable tragedy is in the air. Early in the week presenters and guests alike struggle in the coverage of the appalling murder-suicide of the Hawe family, in Co Cavan. Even clerics, normally well versed with such testing times, fall short.
On Morning Ireland (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays), Bishop Leo O’Reilly of Kilmore sounds lost as he tries to make sense of the killings. “There are no answers,” he says.
It is left to Una Butler, whose daughters, Zoe and Ella, were killed by her husband in 2010, to try to draw lessons from the dreadful event. On Today with Sean O’Rourke (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) she says that despite there having been 27 such tragedies in recent years – there are no official figures – no research is being done into why they occur: “These cases are being brushed under the carpet.”
Butler still sounds fragile but is adamant in her point. O’Rourke, meanwhile, sounds uncharacteristically shaken. Amid this the Apple farce seems little more than a distraction.