Posts By Donagh Brennan

The Euro is a mismatch between 19th century money and a 20th century economy

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This quote from Wolfgang Münchau’s column in the Financial Times today has received a fair bit of traction on social media:

“A few things that many of us took for granted, and that some of us believed in, ended in a single weekend. By forcing Alexis Tsipras into a humiliating defeat, Greece’s creditors have done a lot more than bring about regime change in Greece or endanger its relations with the eurozone. They have destroyed the eurozone as we know it and demolished the idea of a monetary union as a step towards a democratic political union.

In doing so they reverted to the nationalist European power struggles of the 19th and early 20th century. They demoted the eurozone into a toxic fixed exchange-rate system, with a shared single currency, run in the interests of Germany, held together by the threat of absolute destitution for those who challenge the prevailing order. The best thing that can be said of the weekend is the brutal honesty of those perpetrating this regime change.

But it was not just the brutality that stood out, nor even the total capitulation of Greece. The material shift is that Germany has formally proposed an exit mechanism. On Saturday, Wolfgang Schäuble, finance minister, insisted on a time-limited exit — a “timeout” as he called it. I have heard quite a few crazy proposals in my time, and this one is right up there. A member state pushed for the expulsion of another. This was the real coup over the weekend: regime change in the eurozone.

But what Münchau points out as a recent development within the EU, coming out of the so called ‘deal’ this weekend with the humiliated Greek government, is actually fundamental to the structure of the Eurozone and the single currency.

As John Ross pointed out in 1997 in his analysis of the proposed single currency and the strictures of the Maastricht Treaty, the current political power struggle is reflective of the fact that with the Euro a 19th century economic model was imposed on 20th (and indeed 21st) century economies:

Fundamental errors of the Maastricht Treaty

Maastricht, in essence, attempts to solve the problem of creating a single currency by grafting a 19th century monetary system, with the same rigidity in exchange rates as a gold based one, onto a 20th century economy. By irrevocably fixing the ratios between national currencies (i.e. abolishing them), adjustments between different levels of productivity, and other factors affecting costs, can no longer take place via exchange rates – this, incidentally, would occur with any attempt to introduce a single currency, and not simply under the Maastricht Treaty. The only issue is ‘what type’ of adjustments will take place in the real economy.

If there existed a 19th century productive economy, to correspond to a 19thcentury concept of exchange rates, the price system could take the strain of adjustment. Regions falling behind in productivity, for example as with the UK due to low rates of investment, would reduce their prices relative to those in other regions. In order for relative prices to fall in these regions, firms would have to accept reductions in profits, labour would accept reductions in wages etc. In reality, of course, this will not occur – because the 19th century economy no longer exists. Firms engaged in imperfect competition/monopoly will respond, just as textbooks de scribe, and as the history of the 20th century demonstrates, not by reducing prices but by reducing output. Labour will not react with favour to reductions in wages. Recessions will multiply, regional imbalances will intensify, racism and xenophobia will spread, the trade unions will be attacked to attempt to reduce wages, the welfare system will be eroded to drive down costs, crime will soar as unemployment rises etc. The experience of the UK re-joining the gold standard, or of its ERM membership, will be repeated on a European scale.

All the phenomena, in short, experienced with the move to implement the Treaty of Maastricht will intensify to a qualitatively higher level. The mismatch between 19th century money and a 20th century economy, while an interesting ‘theoretical’ experiment, will be most unfunny to witness in practice.” 

But the events of the weekend confirmed, that despite the repeated depoliticizing attempt to shroud discussion of the issues in technocratic detail, this was never about making a coherent economic argument. As Greece’s ex-Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis points out in the revealing New Statesman interview today:

It’s not that [my arguments] didn’t go down well – it’s that there was point blank refusal to engage in economic arguments. Point blank. … You put forward an argument that you’ve really worked on – to make sure it’s logically coherent – and you’re just faced with blank stares. It is as if you haven’t spoken. What you say is independent of what they say. You might as well have sung the Swedish national anthem – you’d have got the same reply. And that’s startling, for somebody who’s used to academic debate. … The other side always engages. Well there was no engagement at all. It was not even annoyance, it was as if one had not spoken.

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Those Were the Days, Wha? Jerry Beades’ Old Ways Given a New [Land League] Gloss

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I would like to point out that one does not need a long memory to recall when Mr De Rossa and Mr Rabbitte were constantly using the media to get their socialist message across to the masses.

Jerry Beades 1996

Like a lot of people, I try and avoid reading media stories that have all the hallmarks of absurdity. As these stories grow, boosted by some invisible force they annoy me more because they prove difficult to ignore. You find that you have the gist of what is going on without even trying. Work colleagues discuss them in your presence, people waiting in supermarket queues rattle through the reported facts, and even sometimes, curiosity gets the better of you and in a bored moment you click a link to a seductive news headline and scan the article’s salacious content.

Then the deed is done. You’ve gone deeper than you ever indended. The mind recoils at the avoidance of facts contained in it and the framing of the story to justify the attention given to something that deserves none.

The example I am talking about is this Irish Times story about the ‘repossession‘ and Jerry Beades role in it.

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Guaranteeing Recidivism

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This article originally appeared in Irish Left Review, Issue 2, Vol 1., published in November 2013. 

Recidivism (from recidive and ism, from Latin recidivus “recurring”, from re- “back” and cado “I fall”) is the act of a person repeating an undesirable behaviour after he/she has either experienced negative consequences of that behavior, or has been treated or trained to extinguish that behavior.

In June 2013, the ongoing rumblings of discontent at the blanket guarantee decision exploded on to the front pages with the publishing of the ‘Anglo Tapes’ recordings by the Irish Independent. After three bank inquires of a sort, through the Nyberg Report, the Honohan Report and the Public Accounts Committee Inquiry, the remaining fog around the events leading up to the guarantee and what happened on the night and early morning of 29th and 30th of September 2008 was such that it only took the selective leaking of a fraction of the tapes held by the ongoing criminal investigation to stoke up public rage and renew calls for a proper inquiry or tribunal[i].

This continuing fog and the far reaching consequence of the decision have led many to reach all sorts of conclusions about who ultimately was responsible. In 2013 commentators like Fintan O’Toole[ii] and Stephen Donnelly TD appear to think that the protection of Irish banks provided by the 2008 guarantee was so devastating for the Irish economy that it must have been insisted upon by the ECB.

More often than not, however, this regularly repeated belief is a conflation of the 2008 guarantee with what Brian Lenihan, and later Michael Noonan, suggested was the insistence of the ECB that unguaranteed senior debt must be paid back after the 2010 bailout.

There is no indication of ECB involvement in the 2008 decision despite Brian Lenihan’s retrospective claim in 2010 that it was impelled by Jean Claude Trichet’s voicemail directive in 2008 to ‘save our banks at all cost’[iii]. On the contrary there is plenty of evidence that there was widespread surprise and anger in Europe at the ‘unilateral’ move and the problems it created, as well as pressure to change it.

It is important to understand that the original guarantee was an Irish decision alone, without any outside involvement, because it helps us dissect the nature of power and class in Ireland. The facts need to be separated from the myths in order to appreciate how decisions like it continue to determine the shape of the economy and the nature of Irish society.

The action in September 2008 is an illustration too of how a type of ‘rentier’ class in Ireland are able to exploit Ireland’s resources without consideration of the consequences for wider society. These rentier capitalists benefit from the managing of assets, whether through financial services, the movement of corporate profits tax-free or investment property. Their interests are boosted by the state leading to the side-lining of productive capital and the continually undermining of labour’s position[iv].

The guarantee was not put in place simply to maintain liquidity to Irish banks. Officials and politicians knew enough to be aware that the problems at Anglo Irish Bank and Irish Nationwide were far greater than one of a temporary lack of liquidity due to a crisis elsewhere. Funds from the Central Bank of Ireland had been provided to Irish banks through unprecedented quantities of Emergency Liquidity Assistance. Banks in other countries were experiencing similar problems and received extraordinary quantities of emergency funding from their central bank during the crisis in September. Yet, significantly, no other EU country provided an unlimited guarantee.

In Ireland’s case the problem was twofold. One, to keep cheap interbank lending available to Irish banks, they needed a guarantee that would remove the sense that Irish banks were increasingly high risk because of their over-exposure to collapsing property markets.

Two, in order to keep the level of emergency liquidity available to ensure that Anglo Irish Bank and Irish Nationwide remained open they needed a guarantee that would make an insolvent bank ‘solvent’. The dangers of this approach were clearly outlined before the decision was taken, yet we are still asking ‘why did they do it?’

To try and answer that question we have to go back to the last time the Irish government provided an unlimited guarantee to the banks to enable them extract themselves from a speculative fiasco even though there was incredible risks to the wider economy by doing so.

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A Brief History of Those Who Made Their Point Politely And Then Went Home

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this poem is rededicated to the protesters in Jobstown, Sligo and elsewhere

On this day of tear-gas in Seoul
and windows broken at Dickins & Jones,
I can’t help wondering why a history
of those, who made their point politely
and then went home, has never been written.

Those who, in the heat of the moment,
never dislodged a policeman’s helmet,
never blocked the traffic or held the country to ransom.
Someone should ask them: “Was it all worth it?”

All those proud men and women, who never
had the National Guard sent in against them;
who left everything exactly as they found it,
without adding as much as a scratch to the paintwork;
who no-one bothered asking: “Are you or have you ever been?”,
because we all knew damn well they never ever were.


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The Great Numbers Game

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Sometimes the diffusion of figures required to explain what is going on with NAMA, the bank bailout and the economic crisis, produce nothing more than a thick cloud of confusion. For most readers, even for those who are not normally numerically illiterate, they seem to fall about incomprehensibly as we read any of the many articles spewed out by the Great Financial Crisis Machine. There are times, however, when one number can stand out, helping to make sense of all the rest.

In this case, keep the number 63 fixed in your mind.

The amount paid by NAMA for the loans in 2009 when first established (excluding the amount paid by ‘private investors’ and interest charged on the bonds raised when the loans were taken over) is €30.2bn, says this article by Tom Lyons in the Irish Times today.

In the article NAMA’s Chief executive Brendan McDonagh said that “Nama’s clients now number 700, of which 500 were relatively small with total combined borrowings of €2.5 billion.” The original number of borrowers transferred in 2009 was 800.

Based on this, it suggests that in 2009 300 people were responsible for the vast majority of the €74bn of loans taken from the banks. While we have to wait until later in the year to get a proper figure, it’s reported that €22bn of the original €30.2bn loan book remains.

The article now informs us that just 200 people originated the remaining combined borrowings of €19.5bn.

However, if we look at the figures for 2009 when NAMA was set up we can see that now only did the vast majority of the stock of the loans emanate from a very small number of people and its actually far less than 200 people.

In 2009 just 63 people were associated with €45.47bn of the €74bn of loans transferred from the banks, while 709 people were associated with the remaining €28.54bn.

Given that McDonagh has said that 500 people are now associated with total combined borrowings of just €2.5 billion, it’s worth looking at the bottom 500 debtor connections on NAMA’s books in 2009. These bottom 500 held a nominal debt of between €49m and less than €20m with combined total borrowings of €9bn. This means that 300 borrowers were associated with €65bn (€9bn less €74bn).

If 63 people were associated with €45.47bn it follows that 237 people were associated with €19.53bn (45.47 plus 19.53 equals 65).

Now NAMA has 100 fewer borrowers on its books. How many of the 63 largest borrowers in 2009 are responsible for the remaining €19.5bn on NAMAs books (€22bn remaining on NAMA books in 2014 less €2.5bn of the 500 smaller borrowers)?  I don’t know exactly, but the point remains, the vast bulk of NAMA loans were taken out by a very small number of people.

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IMF’d & EU too?

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This Reuters report suggests that Angela Merkel is trying to get the IMF’s Christine Lagarde installed as President of the EU Commission. Time to dust off this photo which is proving to be a little prescient.

“German Chancellor Angela Merkel has asked France whether it would be willing to put forward International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde as president of the European Commission, two French sources briefed on the exchanges said.

German and IMF officials said Merkel had a private meeting with Lagarde during a visit to Washington in early May. They saw each other again in Berlin two weeks later when Lagarde attended a meeting of the heads of major international economic organizations hosted by the German government.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has led opposition to Juncker’s bid to succeed former Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Manuel Barroso, arguing that the EU needed new leadership committed to reform in response to voters’ dissatisfaction. London sees Juncker as an old-style European federalist.

British officials have made clear that Lagarde would be an acceptable alternative, as would center-left Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt. Some British newspapers have campaigned for Lagarde to be given the role.”

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Tales From Tax Haven Ireland: Running the Numbers Game

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“The extremely low effective rate figures that have been quoted over the past week and attributed to Ireland are based on a flawed premise. The figures are estimated by dividing the amount of Irish tax paid by a total profit figure that includes substantial profits made by companies that are not tax resident in Ireland. They are running together the profits earned by group companies in Ireland and in other jurisdictions and incorrectly suggesting that Irish tax does or should apply to both.”

So, Michael Noonan rejects the recent findings of Jim Stewart of Trinity College, Dublin that US companies in Ireland have an effective corporate tax rate of 2.2%. In this he is following the insistence of Feargal O’Rourke of PriceWaterHouse Coopers who claims that Stewart erroneously includes companies that are incorporated in Ireland but do not operate here.

These are companies, like, for example, Google Ireland Holdings, Bermuda, which is ‘tax resident’ in zero tax jurisdiction Bermuda but is in effect a letter box company with a registered address in Sir John Rogerson’s Quay, that is, the office of solicitors Matheson Ormsby Prentice.

The basis of O’Rourke and Noonan’s (and the government’s) objection to Stewart’s finding is that the TCD economist uses US Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) data.

As Seamus Coffee puts it in a response to the 2.2% rate claim, BEA methodology highlights

“…that for companies, US residency rules are based on paperwork rather than activity.  Under US law, the tax-residence of a company is the country where it is incorporated.  All companies registered in Ireland are thus considered “Irish-based” under US law.”

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Tales from Tax Haven Ireland: Irish Property Stuck on Repeat

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“The economy returned to growth in 2011, continued to grow in 2012 and my Department are forecasting continued growth in 2013. In my two Budgets I introduced a number of sector specific initiatives to support this recovery and I am pleased to say that we are starting to see a number of these bearing fruit. Take the commercial property sector for example, recent reports show activity in the first half of this year surpassing transaction in 12 months of 2012. Interestingly, over 50% of the investment is international money coming into the country. We have also just seen the launch of Ireland’s first REIT and I would expect more activity in this area in the years ahead. This is welcome and is supported by Capital Gains Tax incentives in Budget 2012 and the legislation underpinning REITs introduced in Finance Bill 2013.”

–          Minister Michael Noonan’s speech to FSI Annual Lunch July 4th, 2013

I’m sure people think we’re cracked saying Ireland is a tax haven, again and again.

One of the fundamental characteristics of a tax haven is that much of the economy is structured around the managing of hot money from international clients with other elements ignored or neglected. It is essential, if such an environment is to be valuable to their foreign customers, that the vast majority of the money ‘invested’ remains untouched. That is, the quantity of investment going in has to be the same as that going out. However, there is an additional qualification over this movement: the money going out has to be free of any tax obligation – it cannot incur any additional expense once it leaves. This is done in two ways: the first is by nominally taking in money through an opaque structure of sovereign laws backed by OECD credentials and a ‘regulated’ stock market and thereby washing its profits to avoid almost all of its global tax bill. This is complex and requires certain restructuring of the investors’ financials. It also involves buying substantial and expensive advice from suitably qualified tax lawyers. The second, less complex route is to avail of various tax credits and other profit washing mechanisms that are available through property acquisition.

Up to 2008 this washing of profit money via property acquisition occurred largely through Anglo Irish Bank, although the other banks became heavily, and aggressively involved too. Anglo Irish Bank and AIB, and to a lesser extent Bank of Ireland and Irish Nationwide (who were more focused on local rentiers) provided the means of washing profits through the commercial property market in Ireland, the UK and the US. The means of doing this was provided in part by the shadow banking system, mainly based in the UK. Irish regulation had a reputation of not wanting to know too much about the business that international clients were involved in. After all, the business model is based on ensuring that the money that is brought in is able to get back out again in the same condition it entered. They guarantee it will never be taxed while in Ireland. This form of regulation was designed primarily to transform the IFSC into a powerhouse for the management of international financial capital. International investors were also incentivised to invest, either directly or through an SPV, in large Irish properties during the property frenzy where upward only rent reviews and multinational companies as tenants (whether they are highly profitable global software companies or the Irish outlets of large retail chains) provided a state guaranteed return. After all, upward only rent reviews are protected by the constitution! Their usefulness as a financial asset then was assured, as they provided collateral on future rounds of debt creation and profit. And, of course, all of it was tax free and unmonitored.

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Solidarity Books Launch: Sins of the Father 2nd Ed. by Dr Conor McCabe

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Solidarity Books is proud to host the Cork launch of the 2nd Edition of

Sins of the Father: The Decisions that Shaped the Irish Economy

On Thursday 5th December


The event will include a talk from Dr. Conor McCabe, the author of ‘Sins of the Father: The decisions that shaped the Irish economy‘, which analyses the development of the Irish economy throughout the 20th Century right up to the current crisis, without resorting to just pointing fingers at ‘a few morally bankrupt individuals’ in an otherwise sound system.

Sins of the Father: The decisions that shaped the Irish economy This is a new edition of Conor McCabe’s highly regarded economic history, fully updated to include the change of government, the austerity programme, and the liquidation of IBRC/Anglo and the impending exit from the bailout programme.

This new, 2nd edition, of Conor McCabes highly regarded economic history, is fully updated to include the change of government, the austerity programme, and the liquidation of IBRC/Anglo and the impending exit from the bailout programme.

Conor McCabe, who currently teaches at the UCD School of Social Justice, and is a regular contributor to Irish Left Review.

McCabe last visited Cork, and Solidarity Books, in February of this year, to launch “Irish Left Review” journal and to pose the question of ‘Who Benefits from Austerity?’ While popular disgust with TD’s, bankers and other elites’ privileges is rampant, austerity programmes are still justified on the basis that we all must pay for a crisis that we apparently all helped to create. What do we make of this state of affairs?

This will be Conor McCabe’s fourth visit to Solidarity Books in the last two years since the release of his book, and like the previous events, this promises to be an evening of animated discussion.

Entry is free and all are welcome, copies of the book will be for sale at the launch and donations towards the running of the non-profit bookshop are always appreciated.

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Tales of Ireland the Tax Haven: To Hell or to Arthur Cox


Joanne Richardson is stepping down as head of the American Chamber of Commerce Ireland. To mark the occasion the Irish Independent are providing the usual frothy interview. First all, she says that the level of US investment here is all about the tax regime:

“…but it’s no secret that the favourable tax regime makes it particularly appealing.”

The recent controversies, US Senate Subcommittees and international debates on Ireland as a tax haven are mentioned but brushed aside. Their impact is apparent, however, in the reference to ‘regime’ rather than the 12.5% ‘rate’.

No one believes that one any more. A well-publicised report, published on the 25th of November 2013 by the World Bank and the large accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, claims Ireland has an effective corporate tax rate very close to the official rate of 12.5%. From the headline of the press release:

“Ireland has an effective corporate tax rate of 12.3% compared to an EU average of 12.9% and 16.1% globally.”

Feargal O’Rourke, Head of Tax, PwC Ireland said:

“The survey further demonstrates that Ireland’s statutory headline rate on profits is broadly similar to the effective rate. For many EU countries, the statutory headline rate is significantly higher than the effective rate.”

Feargal was described by Jesse Drucker in a recent Bloomberg profile erroneously as a ‘local hero’ who made Ireland a ‘tax avoidance hub’, but people might recognise him as the son of Fianna Fail politician Mary O’Rourke and nephew of the late former Minister for Finance, Brian Lenihan.

But, PwC, as a leading accountancy firm in making this claim is running at odds with the advertising made available on the websites of the Irish offices of other prominent accountancy firms.

The most well known in an Irish context is Arthur Cox, who the Irish Independent suggested were the legal brains behind the 2008 Irish bank guarantee. They have been saying that Ireland has a 2.5% effective corporate tax rate in their advertising since at least 2011:

“Intellectual Property: There are numerous advantages for multi-national companies with large Intellectual Property (“IP”) portfolios who locate and manage these portfolios in Ireland. The effective corporation tax rate can be reduced to as low as 2.5% for Irish companies whose trade involves the exploitation of intellectual property. The Irish IP regime is broad and applies to all types of IP. A generous scheme of capital allowances as well as a tax credit for money invested in research and development in Ireland offer significant incentives to companies who locate their activities in Ireland.

A well-known global company recently moved the ownership and exploitation of an IP portfolio worth approximately $7 billion to Ireland.”

(Michael Hennigan suggests that the company in question is Accenture.)

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Fiscal Council Functionaries


Statements made by economic think tanks and fiscal councils have two distinct styles: incomprehensible gobbledygook, when they are trying to hide inconvenient truths using highly technical language written for the exclusive enjoyment of university professors on the verge of retirement, and press savvy sound bites with a technocratic veneer so that they don’t look out of place when dropped wholesale into an article published somewhere on the business pages in our daily newspapers. The latter ensures that a specific agenda can enter the media at a fictional arm’s length from government. These pronouncements can then be commented upon by Ministers and politicians as if the expert’s opinion is expressed independently of them. Most often, the discrepancy between the opinion of the fiscal council and the government is such that the former will be more extreme in what it recommends. This provides the minister with room to offer a more ‘political’ solution; one which suggests that they are not monsters, after all.

Irish banks are on the verge of a Euro wide stress test. The banks, as we know, despite years of unprecedented support are still fucked (I can’t think of a nicer way of putting it). They were given everything and they are still hollowed out.

In 2008, at the height of the crisis the state promised to pay all investors, even the short term money markets via the shadow banking system, who had provided the banks with most of their wholesale capital.

Just to note the shadow banking system is unregulated because if an alternative fund makes a loss on an investment it is expected that the investor will eat that loss (it’s also expected that they would have hedged against it and probably made a profit from selling on the insurance taken out to cover any potential loss etc ). Because of this they are outside the money system and, unlike normal banks, they do not get support from a central bank to balance their books at the end of the day.

The bad loans (debt) that Irish retail banks had accumulated through failed commercial property speculation was taken off them. The book losses from the haircuts on the bad debt was repaid in full through recapitalisation and the purchase of the loans was paid for through direct government funding and the selling of state-backed bonds.

All these things were justified one the basis that it we had to rebuild ‘a well-functioning credit system’.

Irish bank were left, however, with what at the time were performing loans – house mortgages.

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Dublin Launch of the 2nd Edition of Conor McCabe’s Sins of the Father, Weds 13th Nov, @6pm Liberty Hall

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The Dublin Launch of the 
2nd edition of 
Conor McCabe’s Sins of the Father: Tracing the Decisions That Shaped the Irish Economy
is on:
Wednesday the 13th of November
at 6pm,
in Liberty Hall.
With guest Vincent Browne
The event is hosted by the Young Worker Network
The book is currently available as an e-book. Copies should be in shops shortly.

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Budget 2014 Changes in Irish Corporation Tax Regime is No Change At All

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I have been looking for detail on the proposed changed in the corporate tax regime announced by Michael Noonan in the budget. So far I can’t find anything, but this is the clearest so far:

“Under current Irish tax law, Irish registered companies that are managed and controlled from other jurisdictions, are not tax resident here. Such companies, resident here but controlled and managed from offshore locations such as Bermuda and the Cayman Islands, form part of the international tax structures of major multinationals such as Google and Microsoft. Although they may pay no corporation tax, they are not “stateless” in terms of tax residency and are outside the scope of the measures proposed by Mr Noonan. A spokesman for Mr Noonan’s department confirmed this was the case.”

Both Google and Microsoft, and of course Apple use secretarial services provided in the offices of firms of Irish solicitors to create subsidiaries that are ‘resident’ or incorporated in Ireland, but are not ‘tax resident’ here. This is because these subsidiaries, the Irish legal flim-flam goes, are ‘managed and controlled’ in the offices of firms of solicitors in Bermuda or the British Virgin Islands. These subsidiaries, such as Google Ireland Holdings Ltd (Bermuda) are nothing more than a post box address in a Bermuda high street, and the only managing and controlling that goes on is through the secretarial services (opening letters) provided by a busy but small staffed solicitor’s office.

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