Independent Ministers demand early recall of Dáil to debate Apple appeal

Shane Ross and Finian McGrath seek ‘strong motion on tax’ in return for supporting appeal

Taoiseach Enda Kenny: ‘We will have discussions with colleagues. It is important that colleagues would have the opportunity to have any anxieties or any questions raised that they want answered’.  Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

Taoiseach Enda Kenny: ‘We will have discussions with colleagues. It is important that colleagues would have the opportunity to have any anxieties or any questions raised that they want answered’. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

 

Independent Alliance Ministers have demanded an early recall of the Dáil in return for supporting Ireland’s appeal against the €13 billion award made by the European Commission against Apple.

The Cabinet has been meeting on Wednesday to discuss the implications of the ruling from the European Commission which directed Apple to pay €13 billion in back taxes to the Irish State.

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan and Taoiseach Enda Kenny have signalled their intention to appeal the ruling .

An Independent Alliance source said Minister of State for Disability Finian McGrath and Minister for Transport Shane Ross would “fight for a Dáil recall and a strong motion on tax in return for support for an appeal.”

The Cabinet meeting, which began shortly after 11am, has now ended. Ministers will meet again on Friday.

It is understood that Fine Gael has not yet agreed to an early recall of the Dáil - the first sitting after the Summer recess is scheduled for Tuesday, September 27th.

Fine Gael Ministers, primarily Mr Noonan, have been adamant that Ireland will appeal the EC decision, principally on the ground that, otherwise, the Government would be conceding Apple’s tax arrangements in Ireland amounted to illegal State aid.

While Independent Ministers reserved their position on Tuesday, there were clear indications ahead of the Cabinet meeting they would not be willing to accept the Fine Gael position without some concessions.

Members of the Independent Alliance on Tuesday privately expressed concern at the scale of the judgement. The total of €13 million was far higher than estimates provided to them by Department of Finance officials, and by Mr Noonan, in briefings.

Collapse of the Government

While the Independents are aware that if they were to take a stance on this issue, it would probably precipitate a collapse of the Government.

Following the internal Cabinet disputes on a private members motion on abortion earlier this summer, Fine Gael has indicated strongly it is not willing to divert from its position on this issue.

With foreign direct investment at the heart of its economic and jobs policies, it is not willing to concede on an appeal. It is also arguing for an early decision to lodge an appeal, in order to send out a strong signal to an international audience.

However, Mr Ross and Mr McGrath have adopted a more robust approach at the meeting and have followed a strategy whereby they are seeking more time to consider how the appeal will be framed, as well as the opportunity for parliament to debate the issues.

Its members see this as important in the context of the ‘new politics’ which Independent TDs have made central to their approach to government.

Another Independent member of Government, Katherine Zappone, said a decision on an appeal should not be made imminently.

“Maybe there is a role for the Oireachtas and the Public Accounts Committee in this. It is really important that we take the time before we make a decision in relation to this,” she said. “I’m going in having these questions and concerns that I am bringing to Cabinet, but we probably need more time.”

She is not a member of the Independent Alliance.

Other Opposition parties including Sinn Féin, the AAA-PBP alliance as well as Roscommon-Galway Independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice have all demanded the Dáil be recalled to discuss the issue.

On Tuesday, high-level Government sources were describing the Cabinet meeting as a “matter of course”, a rubber-stamp, more or less, for a decision that had already been made to appeal.

Mr Noonan has been suggesting for months – since it became clear to Dublin the commission was going to find against Ireland – that the Government would appeal the decision.

Minister of State Eoghan Murphy was unequivocal on Sunday that the decision would be appealed and all day on Tuesday, as the shock news of the €13 billion ruling was digested, Fine Gael Ministers fanned out across the media in a co-ordinated operation to present the Government’s opposition to the decision, and its intention to appeal.

Changing context

However, the size of the cash amount in the EU’s decision changed the context and last night Independent sources would only confirm that their members would meet on Wednesday morning before the Cabinet meeting.

Before the Cabinet meeting, Mr Kenny was asked about suggestions that his Independent colleagues in Government had reservations about an appeal.

“We will have discussions with colleagues” Mr Kenny said. “It is important that colleagues would have the opportunity to have any anxieties or any questions raised that they want answered. This is a complicated document from the European Commission, it is 150 pages. It will need time to absorb and digest properly.”

Independent Minister Katherine Zappone raised the possibility a decision on an appeal should not be made imminently.

“Maybe there is a role for the Oireachtas and the Public Accounts Committee in this. It is really important that we take the time before we make a decision in relation to this,” she said. “I’m going in having these questions and concerns that I am bringing to Cabinet, but we probably need more time.”

Also speaking before Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting, Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan said he was in favour of lodging an appeal and said he hoped Cabinet would “be in a position to have an agreed decision”.

“My party will be proposing that this should be appealed. But of course we have to recognise the political realities. Not only do we not have a Fine Gael government, but we don’t have a majority government,” he said.

‘Glaring inconsistencies’

Mr Flanagan said he found the decision by the European Commission “quite baffling” and “fundamentally disagreed” with it.

“ The Irish Government takes this matter most seriously. We have always enforced our tax laws . . . There are a number of glaring inconsistencies in what the commission says.”

Minister for Health Simon Harris said he was of the view the Government should “robustly” address the matter.

“It’s important that all Cabinet ministers, including the Independent ministers, get the opportunity to get fully briefed by the Minister for Finance,” he said. “I’m sure our Independent colleagues are looking forward to that opportunity before we reach a collective Cabinet position.”

Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Simon Coveney was adamant that the Government had to appeal the decision.

He said the judgment brought into question the capacity of sovereign governments to make their own decisions relating to tax. “The idea that State aid rule and competition rule would determine a retrospective judgment on a taxation issue is something I’m deeply uncomfortable with.”

Mr Coveney hoped the Independent members of Cabinet, most notably Mr Ross, would come around to the notion that an appeal was the best way forward.

“We fundamentally disagree with it (the judgment) and anybody who needs clarity or reassurance needs to be given the time to do it. The Government needs to work through this and bring a decision to appeal quite quickly,” he said.