Taoiseach gave written assurance to Apple on stalled data centre

Government would ‘do all we can’ on Athenry, Varadkar wrote to CEO Tim Cook

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar meeting Apple’s Tim Cook: Athenry data centre, the subject of appeals and court objections since it was granted planning in 2015, has caused tensions between the Government and Apple.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar meeting Apple’s Tim Cook: Athenry data centre, the subject of appeals and court objections since it was granted planning in 2015, has caused tensions between the Government and Apple.

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar gave a written assurance to Apple chief executive Tim Cook that the Government would “do all we can” to support the company’s stalled plans to build a data centre in Athenry, Co Galway.

Mr Varadkar wrote to the tech company’s chief two weeks after Mr Cook declined to provide guarantees that the €850 million project would proceed when they met in early November during the Taoiseach’s trade mission to California.

“Please be assured that the Irish Government and IDA Ireland will do all we can to continue to support your operations and future plans in Cork and Galway as your business needs develop,” the Taoiseach told Mr Cook in a letter dated November 16th last.

He told Mr Cook that the company was “a longstanding and very valued investor in Ireland and a key part of both the history and future of the technology sector in Ireland”.

Mr Varadkar wrote that he hoped they could “catch up again” at the opening of the company’s new office block in Cork in April or at the World Economic Forum in Davos this week. A spokesman for the Taoiseach said his meetings during the Swiss gathering were still being finalised.

His letter to Mr Cook, released under the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act, emphasised Mr Varadkar’s commitment to help Apple build the centre after the Taoiseach’s office said Apple only agreed at their meeting to “continue to consider Athenry in the context of their future business plans”.

Since then, the California-based iPhone maker has promised to invest tens of billions of dollars in the US following the passage of President Donald Trump’s business-friendly tax law last month.

Creation of tensions

The company said last week it would invest more than $30 billion (€24 billion) in the US over the next five years and create 20,000 jobs as it repatriates $245 billion from its overseas cash pile.

The stalled data centre, the subject of appeals and court objections since it was granted planning in 2015, has caused tensions between the Government and Apple, one of the country’s biggest employers.

Apple, which employs almost 6,000 people in Ireland, has said the data centre would employ about 300 people in the construction phase and another 50 people on a full-time basis once completed.

The company has expressed concern over the “indeterminable nature” of the Irish planning process. It completed a data centre in Denmark and announced plans for a second there over the same period.

The data centre was even raised in a congratulatory letter Mr Cook sent Mr Varadkar two days after he became Taoiseach. “The project is still awaiting final planning approval,” he wrote on June 16th last.

At a meeting with the Taoiseach and State officials at Government Buildings on September 7th, Cathy Kearney, the head of Apple’s operations in Ireland, raised the Athenry project again.

“While the independence of the legal process under way in this case must be respected, it was suggested that it would be helpful to have more certainty about the timelines for decision-making on applications of this nature in the future,” a Department of the Taoiseach note says of her remarks.

Availability of accommodation

Ms Kearney also outlined challenges Apple was facing on the cost and availability of accommodation for their employees in Cork where Apple’s Irish headquarters are based.

In a follow-up letter, sent six days after their meeting, Ms Kearney thanked Mr Varadkar for the opportunity to brief him directly on “some of the challenges we face”.

“These have the potential to impact directly on the generation of additional employment operations. I appreciate your understanding the critical nature of these challenges and the urgency in seeking their resolution,” she said.

The Department of the Taoiseach declined to release under the FoI Act a briefing note for Mr Varadkar prepared for his meeting with Mr Cook in California on November 2nd.