The French president has said that he is continuing to work with the Government over the thorny issue of corporation tax – but it was an issue the State needed to lead on.
Emmanuel Macron was in Dublin for a one-day visit on Thursday, his first trip to Ireland since entering office.
The State is facing calls from the French government to sign up to global tax reform. The country is one of only a handful of nations not to agree to a major Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) agreement on tax, which is backed by more than 130 countries worldwide, as well as the EU.
The Government has previously pledged to defend the State’s 12.5 per cent corporation tax and is still considering how the tax agreement would be implemented. On Thursday, Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe met his French counterpart Bruno Le Maire.
At a press conference in Dublin on Thursday, Mr Macron denied that he was putting pressure on the State on the issue.
“This is for you to lead. This is not for France to put pressure. But I think the OECD framework works in the context,” Mr Macron said.
“It makes sense in terms of co-operation. It makes sense in terms of the EU.
“I think our citizens no more understand that when you are an SME you pay tax. But when you are a big corporation you don’t pay tax.
“I am confident, but I’m not putting pressure. I’m working with your Taoiseach,” he said.
He said that the Irish economy had achieved “tremendous results” in recent decades and acknowledged that a low corporate tax base had been a crucial part of that success.
“What you have managed to do in past decades is unique,” Mr Macron said. But he said that things had to change following the Covid-19 pandemic. “The situation is quite different. The post-Covid world is quite new,” he said.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin, speaking alongside the French president, acknowledged that the State had “reservations” about the corporate tax proposals. “We had a good discussion. Ireland has always been constructive with multi-lateral organisations like the OECD,” Mr Martin said.
Mr Macron also said he will co-ordinate with “our American allies” in response to the explosions outside Kabul airport.
Speaking in French during the visit, he said: “As we speak in front of you, the situation is worsening around the military airport.
“We are being confronted with a very tense situation, which leads us to co-ordinate with our American allies.
“We will also closely co-ordinate on the issues to be dealt with in the near future, military co-operation, migration issues and co-operate with the UN Security Council, because in the coming days and weeks we will have to define the course of the mandate of the United Nations.
“The coming hours will remain extremely dangerous in Kabul and around the airport.”
He added: “Nobody expected such a rapid and brutal situation in Kabul. President Biden confirmed to us during the G7 that he will leave the military airport and stop its operations with Afghanistan.
“I think de facto all of us are put in a position where we cannot protect all the Afghan people we wanted to protect.” He noted that talks with the Taliban in Afghanistan are under way as buses with French citizens and people France wants to protect are at the entrance of Kabul airport.
Following a meeting with Mr Macron on Thursday, Mr Martin said that Britain and the EU can find sensible solutions to issues over Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit trading arrangements with the right political will.
“A positive and constructive future partnership is in everyone’s interests but it will only be delivered if there is a relationship of trust and a willingness to deliver on commitments entered into,” Mr Martin said after the meeting.
The EU had “demonstrated commitment, patience and creativity in its work to implement the [EU-UK Brexit] withdrawal agreement and the [Northern Ireland] protocol”, he added. The protocol is an element of the withdrawal agreement which creates special post-Brexit trading arrangements for Northern Ireland and has been the source of politicial tensions among unionists and between the EU and Britain.
Mr Macron told Mr Martin that France would not let Ireland down when it came to its Brexit difficulties and that the EU would remain united after London’s request to renegotiate the protocol.
“We will make sure that the agreements signed after very lengthy negotiations will be complied with when it comes to fisheries or with the Northern Ireland protocol,” Mr Macron said. “To put it bluntly: we will not let you down.”
Earlier on Thursday, Mr Macron was welcomed to Ireland by President Michael D Higgins .
Writing in the Áras an Uachtaráin guestbook, Mr Macron said Ireland “occupies a precious place in the heart of the European dream”.
He said France would “remain a faithful friend” to Ireland in the future.
“Because Ireland has constantly struggled in favour of peace, was a land of the exile before it became the land of the welcome, because its society showed solidarity and is open, Ireland occupies a precious place in the heart of the European dream,” he said.
“Your invitation on this day to meet the minds which shape Ireland is a great honour and a source of inspiration.
“France is your closest neighbour within the European Union and will remain a faithful friend for the future. In confidence, Emmanuel Macron.”
Mr Macron arrived at the Áras in Dublin’s Phoenix Park at about 10.30am.The two presidents discussed a range of topics including the future of the European Union after Brexit, Africa, Covid-19 vaccinations, climate change and the ongoing situations in Afghanistan, Ethiopia and Haiti.
An Áras statement said: “The meeting builds on the very close and positive bilateral relationship between the two countries, a partnership based on the shared European values of tolerance, respect for human rights and a commitment to multilateral co-operation.
“President Higgins stressed his support for a social Europe, and the need to develop new connections between economics, ethics and ecology.
“President Higgins thanked President Macron for his continuing support for Ireland, our shared ideals in the European Union and France’s assistance in relation to our citizens in Afghanistan.”
The Army Number One band of the Irish Defence Forces performed the Irish and French national anthems on Mr Macron’s arrival.
The two men later walked out of the garden side of Áras an Uachtaráin and down a gravel path, laughing regularly as they spoke at length in English.
Mr Higgins asked Mr Macron to ring the Peace Bell, which was inaugurated by former Irish president Mary McAleese to mark the 10th anniversary of the Belfast Agreement. He was also greeted by Mr Higgins’s dogs, Bród and Misneach.
Mr Higgins joked “this is an experienced diplomat, he is nine years old”, as he spoke about Bród, the older of his two Bernese Mountain dogs.
As well as his finance minister, Mr Macron’s delegation included foreign affairs minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, European affairs minister Clément Beaune and the French ambassador to Ireland, Vincent Guérend.
During his one-day tour of Dublin, Mr Macron will also visit Trinity College Dublin and the Guinness Enterprise Centre.
The visit fulfils part of an election pledge by Mr Macron to visit all 27 EU member states, with the Republic one of only four countries yet to be crossed off his list.
Later on Thursday, Mr Macron will return to Áras an Uachtaráin, where Mr Higgins will host a reception in his honour. - PA/Reuters