DUBLIN, Sept 2 Ireland's fragile coalition
government will try on Friday to overcome cabinet divisions on
whether to join Apple in appealing against a multi-billion-euro
back tax demand that the European Commission has slapped on the
Finance Minister Michael Noonan has insisted Dublin would
fight any adverse ruling ever since the European Union began
investigating the U.S. tech giant's Irish tax affairs in 2014.
But at an earlier cabinet meeting on Wednesday he failed to
persuade a group of independent lawmakers, whose support is
vital for the minority government, to agree to fight the ruling
that Apple must pay up to 13 billion euros ($14.5
billion) in tax to Dublin.
The government has said a decision whether to challenge
European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager's ruling -
in which she said Apple's low tax arrangements in Ireland
constitute illegal state aid - would be made at Friday's cabinet
meeting, which is scheduled to start at 1000 GMT.
However, the Independent Alliance, a group of five
lawmakers, has said it wants its senior coalition partners to
commit to reviewing how tax is collected from Ireland's large
cluster of multinational companies before it considers a
challenge. Dublin has just over two months to lodge an appeal.
Any failure of the Alliance to come on board would cast
doubt on the government's survival prospects. Another
independent minister, unaligned to Alliance, also asked to delay
a decision when Noonan sought approval on Wednesday.
Some Irish voters are astounded that the government might
turn down a tax windfall equivalent to what it spent last year
funding the struggling health service, and the left-wing Sinn
Fein party has led attacks from the opposition.
But others worry a failure to appeal could put in jeopardy
the one in 10 jobs provided by multinationals, who are attracted
to Ireland by the country's low corporate tax regime.
Apple has already said it will appeal the ruling, and its
chief executive Tim Cook warned on Thursday that if the Dublin
government did not join it, this would send the wrong message to
business in a country whose economic model depends in part on
companies like his.
"The Apple ruling has brought some reputational damage to
Ireland. There is no doubt about that. To restore this
reputation, the Irish government has little choice but to
appeal," said Dermot O'Leary, chief economist at Goodbody
($1 = 0.8937 euros)
(Reporting by Padraic Halpin; editing by David Stamp)