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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

Polls provide reality check for Fine Gael’s third term hopes

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Independent members of Galway County Council endorsing Minister Seán Canney in Galway East (from left) Gabe Cronnelly, James Charity Geraldine Donohue and Pat Hynes. Tim Broderick and Jim Cuddy have also confirmed their support.

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

There’s nothing quite like an opinion poll to kick-start an election campaign – not that this one was moribund, but the first Irish Times survey on Monday certainly injected a new urgency into the next two and a half weeks.

It saw a big slide for Fine Gael, a massive surge for Sinn Féin – and steady as she goes for Fianna Fáil.

The key findings showed Fianna Fáil at 25 per cent (no change), 23 per cent for Fine Gael (down six), 21 per cent for Sinn Féin (up seven), 5 per cent for Labour (down one), eight per cent for the Green Party (no change) and 18 per cent for Independents and small parties (no change). The comparison is with the most recent Irish Times poll last October.

Fine Gael had no way to put a gloss on this; a six point drop is significant and suggests the party does not have momentum at the start of the campaign.

Judged in isolation, Fianna Fáil is treading water but the fact that it is edging in front of Fine Gael at the start of the campaign is significant – and Leo Varadkar must know that it’s very difficult to be returned for a third time.

The TV debates will now play a crucial part. I have no doubt that Fine Fine Gael agreed to the live TV debate on Wednesday on Virgin Media because it knew it was lagging behind and needed to regain momentum… and quick.

It’s a remarkable surge for Sinn Féin. The party had a terrible local election and lost a raft of seats. However, it did perform well in a number of key constituencies.

It must not be forgotten that it had a spate of resignations, and bullying claims, at local level and they might have reflected in the local elections, but do not seem to have carried on as a factor the national picture.

The November by-elections helped steady the ship for it. On this showing Sinn Féin will be recalibrating the number of seats they are capable of holding in the election.

There is a caveat. If you look at the pattern of the 2016 election, the party started off at 19 per cent in the first Irish Times poll and ended up with 13.8 per cent.

The challenge for the party this time will be consolidating the vote and ensure less slippage. It attracts a vote from younger voters and working class voters that don’t turn out in huge numbers.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Hard to separate big guns – but small parties hold the key

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Micheal Martin....battle for every last seat.

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

AS unpalatable as some will find an election in early February, the reality is that all of the choices Leo Varadkar still possessed were fully spent by the time it came to early January. The chances of making it to May fell on simple arithmetic.

Since Dara Murphy’s departure, Fine Gael’s strength had been reduced to 47 TDs. With the Independence Alliance’s four TDs, and two Independent Deputies, Katherine Zappone and Sean Canney, that brought the numbers to 53.

If Fianna Fáil’s 44 Deputies all abstained that brought the number to 98. Ceann Comhairle Sean Ó Fearghaíl bought the number to 99.

At present there are 157 Deputies in Leinster House. There were three Independent TDs who supported the Government in crucial votes – Michael Lowry, Noel Grealish and Denis Naughten. That brought its strength to 56. And the combined opposition strength was then 55. That is how tight it was.

However, even that was not certain. The Government could no longer rely on Grealish or Naughten for every vote. Fianna Fáil’s John McGuinness, an awkward and negative politician, was threatening to vote against the Government in a no confidence vote.

Even if the Coalition survived a vote of no confidence in Simon Harris on February 5, the Dáil would be reduced to a parliamentary farce between now and Easter as Opposition parties and groups tabled as many no confidence motions as possible.

And so the writing was on the wall – and now that the starting gun has sounded, people will be thinking about policies and priorities and what parties or personalities closest to their own world view.

Fine Gael has been marginally ahead in most opinion polls for the past year but that means little. It’s only if one of the big parties opens a large gap, of if there is a measurable surge from a smaller party, that we sit up and taken notice.

What distinguished Ireland from other countries is our multi-seat constituencies and our transferable votes. That means a more even spread for parties but will always make it difficult for any one party, or small combination of parties, to form a government.

There will be 160 TDs in the new Dáíl, an increase of two, and one less constituency, with Laois and Offaly combined into one five-seater.

I’ve done a preliminary pass of all 39 constituencies and my initial calculation is it’s going to be very tight between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael with only one seat between them.

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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Battle lines begin to firm up as election looms on horizon

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Main players...Leo Varadkar and Micheal Martin ahead of election battle.

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

The touted meeting between Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Micheál Martin this week was always going to disappoint given all of the hype that surrounded it in advance. It’s all a bit academic we have an ‘early’ election, or one later in the spring – because either way, we know we are in the end-game of this Dáil.

The only thing we don’t really know is how close. But in reality it’s only a matter of a few short months between early and late elections.

Some of my colleagues put a lot of emphasis on Leo Varadkar’s insistence over Christmas that Fianna Fáil guarantees his government would not fall on a confidence motion.

This addressed the delicate balance in the Dáil where Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil now have an identical number of seats.

If the awkward Fianna Fáil TD, John McGuinness, made good on his word and voted against the Fine Gael-led Coalition in a no-confidence motion, that would lead to the fall of the Government if Fianna Fáil did nothing to defend it.

Hence, Varadkar’s insistence on some guarantee. In his letter to Martin, he wrote: “I think it is reasonable of me to ask that you formally secure the support of all your TDs for this arrangement or agree to vote with the Government, where necessary, rather than abstain. This is the only way we can both be sure that it is sustainable.”

One interpretation of this was an insistence on Fianna Fáil voting for the government.  A number of commentators believed Varadkar was making Martin an offer he had no choice but to refuse, thus forcing a general election.

My own sense is that a more practical arrangement would be found. In other words, Martin would make sure McGuinness was whipped into line.

Besides, Varadkar had specified a number of priorities including negotiation a deal on a future relationship with the UK after Brexit; restoring power-sharing in the North; reforming the Local Property Tax; and reforming the way in which TDs and Senators claim for expenses and allowances.

All of that suggested to me that both leaders were content with an April or a May election. But until they actually state it, you always run the risk of being wrong.

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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