John McManus: Do US firms now have a taste for Irish politics?
During the marriage referendum they overtly tried to influence the outcome of the democratic process in their favour
Members of the public beside a mural in Dublin’s Temple Bar area by street artist SUMS supporting a yes vote in the marriage equality referendum. Niall Carson/PA Wire
One of the more unusual aspects of the marriage referendum was the decision of a number of US multinationals with significant operations here to enter the debate.
PayPal, eBay and Twitter all spoke out, as did Google. All supported the Yes vote. At one level this was simply a case of walking the walk having talked the talk. Like many technology companies they had well-publicised corporate commitments to diversity that it behoves us to take at face value. And they have demonstrated their commitment to it in their own back yard, with many of them lending their support to campaign for marriage equality in the US.
At another level there seemed to be quite a lot of what could be best termed enlightened self-interest in what they did. Head of eBay John Donahoe articulated the dual argument particularly well. He pointed out that eBay had a “strong commitment to diversity inclusion for the very simple reason that we’ve a diverse customer base”. They also believe that diverse and inclusive workforces produce the best results, he said.
The decision to encourage their Irish employees to vote was entirely consistent with this corporate policy he said, but he was candid enough to admit it did no harm in terms of helping the company attract, retain and develop the right people.
“It’s a dynamic world out there, and sentiment is changing on these issues. Many of the most talented people out there care about these issues and they want to work for a company that cares,” he said. “It’s not just that we want to attract people of different sexual orientations, genders or background, but even those who are in what can be described as more traditional demographics care.”
Twitter’s Irish boss Stephen McIntyre also managed to blend the intellectual argument with the business case for a Yes vote. “First, people perform better in the long run when they can be themselves. Second, talent is attracted to organisations which demonstrate an appreciation for diversity, inclusiveness and equality. Finally, Ireland’s international reputation as a good place to do business will be enhanced by a Yes vote.”
His final point was endorsed by the IDA in the form of its chief executive Martin Shanahan, who in an interview with The Irish Times argued that a Yes vote would be good for Ireland’s efforts to attract FDI.
Behind closed doorsIreland
The marriage referendum was different because they overtly tried to influence the outcome of a democratic process in their favour. The fact that they were on the same side as the vast majority of the Irish population is really neither here not there. The point is that they felt it was appropriate for them to do so.
The significance of all of this got somewhat lost in the wake of the referendum last May, but it will be interesting to see if they feel sufficiently emboldened to enter the fray in the coming general election.
And there is plenty at stake in the coming election to give them cause for concern. Business values stability and one of the likely scenarios post-election is a very unstable coalition having to negotiate a number of issues that have a direct bearing on their commercial interests. They include pressure from Europe over corporate tax rates and a possible exit from the EU of the UK to name but two.
One of the less likely scenarios is the prospect of Sinn Féin holding political office. But a decent election for them will not be without consequences for economic policy.
‘Raise some concerns’CommerzbankLabour
There would appear to be a very powerful incentive for US corporations with operations here to help ensure the current Government is returned and Sinn Féin does as badly as possible. And having crossed the Rubicon into domestic politics once, there is nothing to stop them doing it again. But they won’t. Not publicly anyway. It might well be in their interest but it would hardly be enlightened.