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Political World

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

Coalition formation can’t stay on the back burner forever

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Health Minister Simon Harris and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at one of the daily COVID-19 press briefings.

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

It almost seems churlish talking about government formation in the midst of this awful crisis. But the reality is that things are coming to a head and the caretaker government will not have the mandate to continue after this weekend, even if it gets 100 per cent approval ratings.

The reasons for this are to do with Seanad Éireann. The elections for the Upper House always take place almost two months after the Dáil elections. They are happening this weekend and by early next week we will have a new Seanad. Well, almost a new Seanad.

There are 60 members in the Seanad and they are not elected in a normal way. Six are elected by graduates of the National University of Ireland and Trinity College. A further 43 are elected on vocational panels by county councillors and TDs. The remaining eleven are nominated by the Taoiseach.

And there’s the rub. The only Taoiseach entitled to appoint the eleven senators, according to Article 18 of the Constitution, is the “Taoiseach appointed next after reassembly of Dáil Éireann”.

Essentially, it means the next Taoiseach, whoever he or she is. Leo Varadkar is performing the role in a caretaker capacity.

And that has led to a bit of a limbo situation. We saw it in 2016 when it took 73 days to form the next government. It meant the new Seanad could not sit until a new Government, and a new Taoiseach, was appointed – who could then nominate the eleven senators.

So clearly, there is no new government waiting in the wings and we can’t have a new Seanad until a new government is formed.

Does it make any difference? Unfortunately, yes it does. Under our Constitution, any new legislation must make a full passage through both the Dáil and the Seanad. But if the Seanad is not up and running, the corollary is no Bills can be passed.

Already since the Coronavirus crisis has happened, the Government has rushed through one Emergency Bill with wide-ranging powers. This week with the last gasps of the outgoing Seanad, it is going to try and rush as many Bills as it can through both Houses of the Oireachtas.

Because from next week on, no legislation is possible because it would not be constitutional.

But that situation can’t go on forever. Already we have had legislation severely curtailing people’s freedom of movements – and even giving the State new powers of detention.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Connacht Tribune

Steady hand is so critical in time of unprecedented crisis

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Taoiseach Leo Varadkar addressing the nation this week.

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

There are really no words for it. I have been writing professionally for 30 years and I’m struggling to find the language to describe this tangled knot. People are absorbing huge volumes of information each day – it’s become a form of online gluttony where no matter how much you consume it’s not enough.

But of course we must. I’m reminded of Francis Fukoyama’s phrase ‘the end of history’. Inherent in the claim was that humans have become peerless. It described the triumph of neoliberalism in the 1990s. It was wrong then. It is wrong now.

There are forces in the world greater than us. A tiny microscopic virus passed from a bat to a single human being in a food market in an obscure Chinese city called Wuhan last November has the capacity to wipe out potentially millions of people.

The other phrase I have been reminded of this week when thnking of the Coronavirus outbreak is an old one: “doctors differ and patients die”.

That has been quite literal over the past month as experts try to curb the spread of a pandemic for which there is no vaccine.

Governments have followed expert advice in Ireland but there was always an element of guesswork and presumption there.

There’s no greater example than the situation in Britain where the government has eschewed widespread closures for the moment and where it promulgated the much-criticised theory of herd immunity.

It is true that when people contract this flu-like disease, they can develop immunity. But then this is a novel virus and different strains can emerge. And the difficulty there is that while the majority of people will suffer mild symptoms, there is a smaller but not insignificant percentage whose lives will be put at risk, or will die.

They are mostly elderly people with underlying conditions but those who don’t fall into those categories should not be blasé – evidence from Italy has shown that while children and young adults are generally okay, people in their 40s, 50s and 60s have ended up being intubated (on ventilators) in intensive care units.

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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Political World

Covid 19 might finally force parties into grand alliance

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Grand idea .... Coronavirus crisis may force Micheál Martin, Leo Vardakar and Mary Lou McDonald into agreement.

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

Fianna Fáil’s first parliamentary party after the general election was a strange and unreal affair, occurring five days after the poll by which stage the party’s reduced circumstances were apparent to one and all. For four hours, the 38 TDs met in the basement of Leinster House – but what was striking was the calm and the lack of raised voices.

There was no open rebellion nor retribution, nor deep-seated opposition to the decision.

There was some criticism, of course, particularly at the exclusion of Sinn Féín, but they came from expected quarters – known critics of the Fianna Fáíl leader. That formed only a tiny sliver of the meeting.

And it ended with leader Micheál Martin being given an unopposed mandate to try and form a government with any party other than Sinn Féin.

“Nobody criticised Micheál really. Nobody criticised the disastrous campaign we had. We were operating on the basis that we had won the election rather than lost it. It was as if none of that had happened,” observed one TD ruefully afterwards.

Viewed in the cold light of day, the election had been a disaster for Fianna Fáil. Instead of gaining its targeted ten extra seats, it had lost seven – and the popular vote to Sinn Féin. The questions from 2011 cropped up again, of a party that was struggling for relevancy.

By any stretch, Fianna Fáil had a disastrous campaign. Its messages were hard to decipher; it was slow to react to the pension anomaly – and it performed an inexplicable mid-campaign flip-flop on rent freeze which looked awful.

Instead of being seen as the agent of change, the party was seen as part of the government, thanks in part to confidence and supply.

Micheál Martin had a very poor outing and struggled in most of the debates – and the more trenchantly he tried to down Mary Lou McDonald the more her star rose.

What perplexed some colleagues was that, even after the horse had bolted, Martin continued to attack Sinn Féin at every opportunity although the campaign was over.

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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