Ireland: reaction north and south of the border

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The Irish government assisted Apple to appeal against a decision by the European Commission to order the company to pay €13bn in taxes to the Irish states.

Ireland: caught in the crossfire

On 17 May Enda Kenny announced his long-awaited retirement as leader of Fine Gael – the right-wing party that heads the ruling coalition in the Twenty-Six Counties. Having wanted to get rid of him from time immemorial, his party and the Irish media now praise his ‘extraordinary leadership’ in tackling ‘the Brexit issue’, elbowing his way into the great chambers of Brussels and securing his nation a prominent place at the negotiating table. Ireland has indeed found its way to the table – not as a ‘player’, but as a Brexit bargaining chip. Today’s ‘Irish question’ sits between the exit bill and citizens’ rights – ‘progress’ on all three being an EU precondition for commencing trade talks with Britain. As rivalry sharpens between the major imperialist powers, Ireland – chained to foreign capital – finds itself caught in the crossfire.

Europe, Trump and Irish taxes

During the race for the French presidency Emmanuel Macron explicitly attacked Irish tax practices. The Twenty-Six Counties has an official corporation tax rate of 12.5% – but in practice major foreign companies are assisted to pay at a rate well below this. Macron, who plans to reduce French corporation tax from 33% to 25%, advocates a tax ‘harmonisation’ process in the eurozone – in this he has the support of Jean Claude Junker’s European Commission. Macron cited the fiasco following the Commission judgment in 2016 that Ireland’s bespoke tax arrangements with Apple (their profits were taxed at a rate of 0.005%) had amounted to illegal state aid. The company was ordered to pay €13bn in back taxes to the Irish government. A handy rebate for a state with official debts of €185bn – but one that was promptly refused. In fact, the Irish government has since assisted Apple to appeal the judgment. Clement Beaune, Macron’s chief European affairs advisor, claims their intention is to eliminate ‘unfair practices such as excessive competition’ within the eurozone. Of course, it has nothing to do with fairness. Macron’s assault on Irish ‘bias for the digital sector’ comes just four months after the French Constitutional Council blocked proposals for a so-called ‘Google Tax’ to counter tax avoidance in France by the major US tech companies.

In the past, the United States has intervened to defend Ireland’s corporation tax rate in the face of German and French pressure. The election of Donald Trump therefore caused some jitters in Dublin with government and business wary of any change in the US approach. After all, Trump’s core backers have not been the Facebooks or the Pfizers, nor any of the other US giants that have made a killing in Ireland. In April, the White House announced its plans to slash federal corporation tax to 15% and introduce a one-off ‘repatriation tax rate’ to encourage US multinationals to transfer profits held abroad to the US. However, the feared import tariffs and tax exemptions for US exports – intended to induce US multinationals to relocate to home soil – did not feature.

The ‘Tory Taoiseach’

Replacing Kenny as Fine Gael leader is Leo Varadkar. Victory in his party’s leadership contest attracted rare international media attention to ‘Irish affairs’. Predictably, identity trumped policy in such coverage. Ireland’s presumptive taoiseach is gay, mixed race and in his thirties – that was the story.

The ‘socially liberal’ Varadkar (Financial Times) is the type of social liberal that opposes abortion rights. ‘The son of an Indian immigrant,’ he is the kind of ‘step forward for equality’ (The Guardian) that advocates ‘repatriation’ schemes to turf out Ireland’s unemployed migrant workers. As minister for social welfare he led this spring’s gallant charge against ‘welfare cheats’, encouraging people to spy and snitch on their neighbours.

Guardians of the peace

The government Varadkar takes charge of has been wading through streams of scandal since the turn of the year. The 2014 saga of corruption and whistle-blower persecution in An Garda Siochana (the Free State police) reared its head once more in February. Since then, the revelations have kept coming: illegal phone tapping; ‘misappropriation’ of EU funds; a million faked breath tests, resulting in 14,000 wrongful convictions for motoring offences; and the suggestion that garda commissioner Noirín O’Sullivan may have known more than she’s letting on. Fancy that.

Meanwhile, in April the Department of Justice was ordered to release a suppressed garda report to the Irish Sunday Times concerning the British police agent Mark Kennedy. The report acknowledges that British undercover officers have operated in the Twenty-Six Counties, targeting a variety of protest groups with, at least, the knowledge of An Garda Siochana. The suggestion is that this was kept secret from the government.

Opposition to capitalist corruption and state repression in the Twenty-Six Counties is inseparable from the wider fight against national oppression and imperialism. As Brexit thrusts partition to the fore of Irish politics, the national question must be made central to the struggles to come.

Patrick Casey

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 258 June/July 2017


May’s ‘friends and allies’ in the north of Ireland

Quite accidently, the outcome of Britain’s general election has thrust Brexit’s ‘Irish dimension’ to the fore – precisely where it is not wanted. The results recorded in the occupied Six Counties reflect the polarising effect of Brexit on Irish politics. Amplified were those features that characterised the Assembly elections just three months earlier: significant rises in voter turnout, and a marked coalescence of the nationalist and unionist vote around Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) respectively. Of the statelet’s 18 seats, the two parties took 17 between them – 10 going to the DUP and seven to Sinn Fein. The Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) and the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) lost all their seats. Sinn Fein has made the SDLP irrelevant as it is now the party of the north’s Catholic middle class.

Old friends

Theresa May’s announcement that she will form a minority government propped up by her ‘friends and allies’ in the DUP has thrown a spotlight on the Loyalist party, a bastion of reactionary prejudice. As it happens, the DUP have some ‘friends and allies’ of their own. While negotiations on the election with the UUP had begun early and led to that party stepping down in North Belfast to give the DUP a clear run, the Orange Order spearheaded a drive to register would-be Loyalist voters. The Ulster Defence Association (UDA) meanwhile, took time out from its latest internecine turf-war to pledge support for the DUP in the key North and South Belfast constituencies. The DUP won both. Four days before polls opened, a statement by the Loyalist Communities Council (representing factions of the proscribed UDA, Ulster Volunteer Force and Red Hand Commandos) provided advice on which Loyalist to vote for in four tight contests – included was the DUP’s Gavin Robinson in Belfast East. Robinson won the seat easily in what was supposed to be a close-run-thing with the Alliance Party.

The DUP will have plenty on its Westminster wish-list. Back in Belfast, talks to restore devolution were to recommence following the election, with another unlikely ‘deadline’ scheduled for 29 June. The general election was the seventh occasion voters in the north have been summoned to the polls in just three years. They may be called on again before the year is out.

Patrick Casey

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 258 June/July 2017

Ireland: the key to the British revolution by David Reed