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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

Conflicting messages help steer Covid-19 confusion to new levels

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Health Minister Stephen Donnelly...at the centre of the storm.

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

Politics can throw up unusual weeks, unreal weeks, bizarre weeks, comedic weeks, tragic weeks – even tragicomic weeks. This week – and it’s not over yet – had the lot. The Government’s new Covid-19 plan was always going to be problematic. It was too long being baked and just when it was ready to come out, somebody slammed the door of the oven.

And the door slam was Dublin.

The Covid-19 alert plan might have worked if conditions all over the country were roughly similar – but in the past few weeks, there has been a marked increase in cases in Dublin that has caused serious concern.

And so in the week leading up to the publication of the plan on Tuesday, the trajectory was looking bad. The new cases were running into the hundreds and well over half were in Dublin.

On Monday there were some 200 cases, with more than 100 in Dublin. Of the 357 cases announced on Tuesday, almost 220 were from the capital.

The pattern here could be ominous. The rate per 100,000 people over a fortnight has risen to a 100. That’s five times more than many western counties – including Galway, Mayo, Roscommon and Sligo.

The difficulty was that in the new five-level alert plan there is a big jump between Level 2 and Level 3 (but not such a big one between Level 1 and 2).

You can’t attend matches at Level 3. You have to work from home. You can’t visit other people’s homes. You are not allowed to travel around your own county.

As Micheál Martin and Stephen Donnelly argued it would have been a serious decision to move to Level 3 – and they were right.

But the difficulty was that we have known for much of September that Dublin was in a different place from the rest of the country.

When the Cabinet sub-committee, chaired by Martin, met on Monday, it was made aware of the potential gravity of the situation in Dublin. The infection had increased ten-fold in the county in the space of a few weeks and there was no sign of the numbers abating.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Galway diner’s alarm clock is a wake-up call for us all

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Food timer...the photo from McGinn's that went viral this week.

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

That picture from McGinn’s Hop House in Woodquay will tug at your heart strings. It’s a man with a flat cap sitting in a snug; in front of him, the remnants of a meal and a half-finished pint of Guinness. The other object in this modern-day still life is a tiny alarm clock.

Presumably it’s set at 105 minutes – that strange period of time (one hour and 45 minutes) has become standard for anyone who frequents a pub.

Our life is now measured by all these new figures and instructions: two metres, one metre; 15 minutes indoors; two kilometre restriction zones. Work from home; no non-essential journeys; wash your hands; cocoons; wear a mask; sneeze into your elbow stay in your pods.

There are other changes to our world too; this week Google announced it was not going ahead with a deal to lease a huge new office development in Dublin.

The one thing we know about the virus is that when you are outdoors you are as safe as you could possibly be.

I was listening to an interview with Dr Gabriel Scally about the return to school. He said that the school he attended on the Falls Road in Belfast was a perfect building – high ceilings and lots of big windows to circulate the air going through.

Of course that school was built at a time when another disease – tuberculosis – was rampant. Even then they knew the free passage of air and a breeze was an optimal response.

Recently too I was listening to a podcast featuring the New York Times specialist reporter on coronavirus. He was recommending that all the windows be knocked out of subway trains and buses in the city to allow air circulate freely.

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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Storm clouds still on the horizon for Government

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Stormy weather.... Taoiseach Micheál Martin.

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

The new storm names came into play this week – even if the world of Irish politics is still picking up the pieces after Storm Dara and Storm Phil. And whatever about the prevailing winds, the question now is whether or not we’re in for another autumn of discontent.

Governments are elected to lead – not to be led – but since the summer this regime has been led by the nose, reacting to the public mood rather than making strong decisions, be they right or wrong.

Fianna Fáil has had a disastrous start to government and is floundering at the moment. It has already lost two Ministers – a disaster in itself. Two of the other ministers, Norma Foley and Stephen Donnelly, are in very difficult departments and have made some blunders in terms of finding their feet.

Micheál Martin himself has had to deal with a second surge of the virus but just does not seem to have had the same authority or acumen as Leo Varadkar when talking to the public about it.

His first priority was of course to deal with Covid-19 – and that’s an all-hands-on-deck situation. Then you have to deal with the fall out and the economic consequences, which will be huge.

I dread to think of what’s going to happen in the winter and the spring as hundreds of businesses realise they have no future and they will have to shutter up permanently.

Somehow, Martin needs to be able to set out what he wants to do; his vision. I’m sure he wants to leave a legacy besides the current one – the Minister who brought in the smoking ban in Ireland.

It’s a tall order – but so is being in government at the best of times, and he needs to set out his big ideas as well as everything else.

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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