herald

Wednesday 7 December 2016

Ministers for crunch meeting to decide on appeal in Apple ruling

Finance Minister Michael Noonan Picture: Tom Burke
Finance Minister Michael Noonan Picture: Tom Burke

Ministers will assemble this morning for a crunch Cabinet meeting in a desperate bid to reach agreement on appealing the European Commission's Apple ruling.

Fine Gael ministers last night scrambled to insist the issue did not represent a threat to the Government and to express hope that they will secure consensus on the matter.

Meanwhile, some of their Independent counterparts remained undecided on whether or not they'd back the plan.

Finance minister Michael Noonan wants the State to fight the Commission's demand that Ireland seek €13bn in back-taxes from the tech giant.

Wrongdoing

He rejects the Commission's ruling that Apple was the beneficiary of illegal State aid, and insists there was no wrongdoing in Apple's tax arrangements here. However, just one Independent minister - Denis Naughten - has publicly said he will support the plan to appeal the decision.

Children's minister Katherine Zappone was last night said to still have reservations on the matter.

Its understood she is seeking further assurances from Mr Noonan, but will come on board if she's satisfied with his response.

Meanwhile, the two Independent Alliance' TDs who attend Cabinet - Dublin ministers Shane Ross and Finian McGrath - held meetings throughout the day to discuss the issue.

Junior Independent Alliance minister John Halligan further complicated things by saying the Dail should be recalled to debate the Apple ruling before a decision is made on a State appeal.

"If there was a Dail debate over a period of maybe two days, then that may sway the Government or may not as to what they should do regarding this decision," he said.

That contradicts the position of Fine Gael who want an agreement to fight the Commission's decision in the European Courts before TDs are brought back to Leinster House. Mr Halligan told RTE Radio he doesn't think the issues should destabilise the Government, but criticised the level of taxation Apple has paid here.

"I think it's regretful that Apple, I don't think, have paid a reasonable amount of tax into the Irish economy as every one of us are required to do. Do I think it should bring down the Government? I don't."

Both Apple and the Finance Department have insisted that it has paid all of the tax it was legally required to in Ireland.

Elsewhere, Fine Gael ministers tried to play down the split with their Independent counterparts. Housing minister Simon Coveney insisted relations with their non-party colleagues is "pretty good".

"I'm hopeful we'll have a consensus but, of course, people have to be given the time to tease out their positions."

Of the Independent Alliance, he insisted: "They don't want to destabilise the Government. Having spoken to them, I know that's the truth."

Clarity

"My hope is that we'll reach an agreement... I wouldn't put words into my colleagues' mouths, but I think we'll be in a position then to provide a definitive decision and, more importantly, clarity in terms of the Government's response to a Commission ruling," he said.

"I don't think there is any rift. I think the situation is that every minister wants to study the full judgement," Education minister Richard Bruton said.

He hit out at the Apple ruling saying: "The European Commission has decided to set itself up as prosecutor, judge and executioner in the case of this."

Mr Bruton said the ruling was "based on a misinterpretation of tax law."

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