Facebook removes Paddy Cosgrave’s tax campaign page

Web summit founder confirmed he is behind the anonymous Irish Tax Agency site

Facebook has removed the page on its platform for Paddy Cosgrave's Irish Tax Agency website for a violation of its policies against impersonation.

Web Summit founder Mr Cosgrave revealed on Monday that he was involved in running the Irish Tax Agency page, which had anonymously targeted ads at European users of Facebook.

In a statement, a spokeswoman for Facebook said “we do not allow pages that are misleading or deceptive on Facebook which is why we have removed the Irish Tax Agency page for violating our policies against impersonation”.

The ads contained the tagline “reduce your taxes on global revenue to 1 per cent”. Users are told that “companies have saved billions in tax by relocating to Ireland from high tax EU nations”.

Initially there was no information online about the organisation running the ads, on either its Facebook page or its website. A contact number for the Department of Foreign Affairs press office was listed on the site.

Mr Cosgrave revealed he was behind the campaign in a post on his own Facebook page, and on the Irish Tax Agency website.

Mr Cosgrave has strongly criticised the tax practices of the Irish state. In an online video he claimed the advert, which aims to highlight Ireland’s “indefensible tax structure”, had reached one million Facebook users.

In response to emailed questions about the issue of corporate tax avoidance, and his use of the anonymous page, Mr Cosgrave referred to a competition he has launched.

“My money is currently on The Irish Times to win the €1,000 prize for the Irish media organisation that provides the best defence of indefensible tax structures by side stepping the giant elephant in the room,” he said.

In addition to removing the page, it is understood Facebook recently rejected ads from the Irish Tax Agency due to what the social media company said was a non-functional landing page. The Irish Tax Agency site contains links to Wikipedia pages about three tax efficient structures available under Irish law - the Irish Collective Asset Management Vehicle (Icav), the Section 110 company, and the L-Qiaif.

Icavs and, in particular, Section 110 companies, were popular among overseas investors who bought distressed loans secured on Irish property during the downturn. They were used to reduce tax bills to nominal amounts of €250. The L-Qiaif is a more recent structure, but it has been alleged by Fianna Fáil health spokesman Stephen Donnelly that it offers many of the same benefits as the other structures, albeit with additional secrecy.

Facebook algorithm

The ads were initially targeted at users in ten European countries with Ireland being added on Monday.

One user in Brussels was targeted because Facebook’s algorithm suggested they were interested in Fianna Fáil. Irish users who were in their 20s and had expressed an interest in Sinn Féin were among those targeted with the ad.

Ads also ran on Instagram, the photo sharing social network owned by Facebook.

It comes after it emerged at the weekend that IDA Ireland had paid an agency to help it counteract edits to pages about the agency and its chief executive on Wikipedia. Asked about Mr Cosgrave's campaign and the edits to Wikipedia, an IDA spokesman said "Ireland trades on its reputation and digital platforms are one place where opinions are formed and reputations established".

The Wikipedia user which was responsible for large chunks of the edits to the IDA pages is an anonymous account called Britishfinance. According to its page on Wikipedia, that user has made over 40,000 edits since last March, with a focus on Irish corporate tax, and the Irish economy.

Britishfinance has also made significant numbers of edits to the Wikipedia articles on Irish corporate tax structures linked to by the Irish Tax Agency webpage.

Mark Gorman, a partner with Anderson Tax in Dublin that the Irish tax system “isn’t perfect, but a lot of the issues relating to Irish property income not being taxed were addressed in 2016. The ‘issue’ here is that funds generally don’t pay tax, other than on certain types of income. This is true of Irish funds, Luxembourg funds, and even UK funds.”

Tax changes

Responding to Mr Cosgrave’s post, Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe defended Ireland’s corporate tax regime and said the State had not been given recognition for recent changes made to it.

"I wish Paddy Cosgrave every luck in his business endeavours and success and whatever he is doing in his own business and his various web forums, I wish him success in it," Mr Donohoe said. "The only endeavour I am concerned about is the endeavour of the Irish economy and a highly competitive environment that we operate within.

“This is the kind of environment I spent time working on and explaining when I was in Washington. That I spend time working on and explaining every month internationally and I would take this as an opportunity to say that the Irish corporate tax code does not get the recognition it deserves for the changes that we have already made.”

The Dublin Central TD listed a number of changes made in recent years, such as the ending of the so-called “double Irish”, which sought to exploit the different definitions of corporate residency between Ireland and the United States.

“I am one of the few finance ministers that have published a document that has said: ‘This is what I am going to do with our corporate tax code, by when and how I am going do it,’” he added.