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Sweetheart deal or just good business?

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Minister of Finance, Michael Noonan: "I remain of the view that there was no breach of State Aid rules."

World of Politics with Harry McGee – harrymcgee@gmail.com

It sounds utterly bizarre, but the Government has this week ended up with a windfall of billions of euro that it just doesn’t want to take.

The money could be used as a once-off for capital spending to alleviate the housing and homelessness crisis, deficits in the health service, transport infrastructure, and to address a shortage of school buildings.

But no, the Government will tell the EU Commission ‘no thanks, it’s a kind offer, but we don’t want it. We’d rather do without the money, thank you very much’.

Of course, the windfall we are talking about is the EU Commission’s investigation as to whether Ireland’s tax arrangements with software and tech giant, Apple, were essentially a sweetheart deal.

Technically, the investigation examined whether a deal was struck with Apple that allowed it pay a ridiculously low percentage of tax. That, the Commission has found, constituted a State aid where the Government policy favoured an individual company or sector, with no similar deal being offered to rivals. In other words, it was inherently anti-competitive. And anything that distorts the market in Europe is completely verboten, as far as the EU Commission is concerned.

The whole arrangement came to light during Congressional hearings in the United States, where it was disclosed that Apple was paying a pitifully small amount of tax on the multiple billions of dollars of profit it was making in the EU each year – some claimed it was as low as 1%, but that was never verified.

It is a magnificent windfall. But the Government doesn’t want it. No sir. Not at all. Indeed, it will appeal the decision.

In a Dáil response to Pearse Doherty of Sinn Féin in June, Minister for Finance Michael Noonan said: “I remain of the view that there was no breach of State Aid rules in this case and that the legislative provisions were correctly applied.  In the event that the Commission forms the view that there was State Aid, Ireland is entitled to challenge this decision in the European Courts.  As the Government has already indicated, we will take that course of action, if necessary, to continue to vigorously defend the Irish position.”

In fairness, the deal was not struck by the present government but by a previous administration. To ordinary people – in other words, those who are not involved in the tricksterish world of finance – it would have come as a shock to learn about this situation.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

 

Connacht Tribune

Rapidly changing times in the ever-evolving world of media

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Newspaper business...changing times.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

In one of his last major speeches as Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar announced what was effectively the end of lockdown on June 29 – and during the course of that speech he name-checked a list of front-line and essential professions who had been in the trenches during the pandemic.

The media was among them. I’m always among the first to defend journalists who just don’t deserve the low trust ratings they get from the public.

But that said, I don’t think most journalists who worked during the pandemic were asked to do anything too radically different than pre-Covid. Most were working from home and those who went to events were subject to strict social distancing rules.

Only a few journalists actually braved going into Covid-19 wards or nursing homes. So for that reason, I am not sure if we should have been mentioned in the same breath as those people who were working in environments with potential exposure to the virus.

Perhaps that’s not what Varadkar was referring to. The media did a job in terms of keeping the public informed throughout. In that sense, it underlined the vital role that journalists play in society.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about journalism and its place in society, and how it has evolved, changed and diffused. My focus has been mainly on political journalism, which has become – by default – my specialism over the past 17 years.

In August 2003, I left the Sunday Tribune, where I was special correspondent, to become political editor of the Irish Examiner. I have been working in political journalist ever since – from early 2009 with The Irish Times.

That has been an enormous time of change for our medium; from print alone to a variety of new platforms…online to video to audio to social media.

In the newspaper days, you wrote perhaps two or three articles each day, generally filing them in the evening. Sometimes you were given a bit of leeway to write a longer piece that might take up a page at the weekend.

All that still happens now.

The difference is that there are dozens of other things that you must do each day. If there is a fast-moving story you are expected to file immediately for breaking news.

For example, when the Ministerial appointments were being made last week there was a race between all the media organisations to get first with the news that so-and-so had landed a big job, or somebody else was fired.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Connacht Tribune

New Taoiseach has to rescue the country – and Fianna Fáil

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Seal of office.... new Taoiseach Micheál Martin with President Michael D Higgins at Aras an Uachtarain.

World of Politics with Harry McGee – harrymcgee@gmail.com

New governments almost always step into the unknown – but the permutations have rarely been as polarized as they are for the three components in Ireland’s new regime, as they approach the end of their first week in office.

At one end of the spectrum, we could be in for the mother of all recessions – only this time one affecting everybody. We might need another bailout – only this time there might not be anybody willing to give it to us, or we will have to join a very long queue.

An infinitely more optimistic assessment could see Ireland exiting from the worst of the Covid-19 downturn by the end of the year, leaving the State with a challenge – but an achievable one.

In that scenario, by the end of 2021, we might be on a steep upward trajectory again. That would obviously also depend on Covid-19 not producing a big second wave – or alternatively a vaccine being found.

Truth is the reality probably lies somewhere between those two extremes.

The coming months should tell a lot about where coronavirus is at, and how countries are beginning to recover.

But history shows we have had such outbreaks before, and the world has managed to bounce back. The difference this time is that modern travel has made it all happen so much quicker and across a much wider area – and possibly cutting much deeper as well.

By the time it has made its way through Africa, the Middle East and South America will Covid-19 have claimed as many lives as the 50 million killed by the Spanish flu?

And now we have a new Government; an unusual new Government in keeping with a very unusual period in our history.

Micheál Martin has been waiting a long time to become Taoiseach. He certainly felt it could have happened in different circumstances, as a rotating Taoiseach in a coalition that was unimaginable up until the last decade – a merging of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.

The irony is that moment of triumph for Martin might also be the moment of the end for Fianna Fáil.

He inherited the party at its lowest ever ebb – having taken a drubbing for its responsibility in losing Ireland its sovereignty.

He seemed to be taking the party back on an upward trajectory with solid elections in 2016 (general) and again in the 2019 locals.

But the great catch-all party of de Valera and Lemass and Haughey and Ahern could no longer catch all.

 For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

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Connacht Tribune

Chaos beckons if Coalition programme bites the dust

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Political trinity...moment of truth for Leo Varadkar, Eamon Ryan and Micheal Martin.

World of Politics with Harry McGee – harrymcgee@gmail.com

There was an ad that ran on telly for many years for a tinned fruit company. It showed a middle-aged chisel-jawed man in a linen suit and Panama hat arriving at a fruit planation somewhere in Latin America. This rich man tasted the fruit. The locals gathered and watched with bated breath for his verdict. When he nodded his head, the gleeful should went out ‘The Man from Del Monte Says Yes!’ Cue widespread celebration.

I remember coming across an article about the marginal lives of those who work on fruit plantations in the developing world, and their dependency on fickle harvests, and even more fickle world food prices. The headline was really clever: What happens when the man from Del Monte says NO.

So that’s the kind of quandary that faces us this weekend when we find out the fate of this new government, before it has been even fully formed.

If any of the three parties (in reality the Greens) vote down the programme for government, we are in for a very unpredictable and very turbulent moment in Irish politics.

The choices are unpalatable. But they will have to be made. And somehow the country will muddle through. But will the chance be lost to tackle the big environmental and climate change issues – or the equally daunting economic depression looming around us?

What happens if the Man from Del Monte says No.

In Fine Gael, the vote is weighted in favour of the parliamentary party, which has 50 per cent of the share. With TDs and Senators already unanimously backing the deal, it’s as near as you can get to a foregone conclusion.

Fianna Fáil’s 14,500 members will decide its position. There are some in the party who feel very uneasy about a coalition with Fine Gael, which they believe will result in a collapse of identity.

Others are suspicious of the Greens but some of their fears have been allayed by the strong commitments on REPS (Rural Environment Protection Scheme) money in the programme. Feedback from constituency meetings is that the 50 per cent threshold will be easily surpassed.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Get the Connacht Tribune Live app

The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

 

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