Michael D Higgins, our esteemed President, is about to convene a meeting of the Council of State to help him decide whether of not he should refer the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act to the Supreme Court for a test of its constitutionality. If the court judges that the Act is constitutional, it becomes bullet-proof and can never again be challenged on those grounds. On the other hand, the court might strike the Act down in its entirety and then we’re all back on the same merry-go-round yet again – the government’s nightmare outcome, and mine too, if I must be honest. Another six months of listening to the Iona Institute people would just about finish me off.
The President isn’t obliged to take whatever advice the Council offers him, but he must consult them before he sends an Act to the Supreme Court, so I thought it might be useful to explain how this Council is made up. According to Article 31 of the constitution, it consists of the current Taoiseach and Tánaiste, or, for those unfamiliar with ludicrously pompous feudal Gaelic terms, the prime minister and deputy prime minister. Likewise, the Chief Justice, the President of the High Court, the Chairmen of the Dáil and the Senate (soon to be abolished if Enda gets his way) and the Attorney General. All former prime ministers are automatically members, though they must be willing and able, which brings up a difficulty I’ll come back to in a minute. In addition, the President can appoint seven nominees at his absolute discretion. The current members are as follows.
|Éamon Gilmore||Deputy taoiseach|
|Sean Barrett||Chairman of the Dail|
|Paddy Burke||Chairman of the Senate|
|Susan Denham||Chief Justice|
|Nicholas Kearns||President of the High Court|
|Maire Whelan||Attorney General|
|Mary Robinson||Former President|
|Mary McAleese||Former President|
|Liam Cosgrave||Former Taoiseach|
|Albert Reynolds||Former Taoiseach|
|John Bruton||Former Taoiseach|
|Bertie Ahern||Former Taoiseach|
|Brian Cowen||Former Taoiseach|
|John Murray||Former Chief Justice|
|Thomas Finlay||Former Chief Justice|
|Ronan Keane||Former Chief Justice|
|Michael Farrell,||Presidential Nominee|
|Deirdre Heenan,||Presidential Nominee|
|Catherine McGuinness,||Presidential Nominee|
|Gearóid Ó Tuathaigh,||Presidential Nominee|
|Ruairí McKiernan,||Presidential Nominee|
|Sally Mulready,||Presidential Nominee|
|Gerard Quinn||Presidential Nominee|
The first hurdle occurs with our beloved deputy Prime Minister, Éamon Gilmore. Éamon, you see, describes himself as an agnostic, but because our constitution is so deeply mired in the confessional swamp that was the Ireland of 1937, every member of the Council must swear an oath, as follows:
In the presence of Almighty God I, Joe Soap, do solemnly and sincerely promise and declare that I will faithfully and conscientiously fulfil my duties as a member of the Council of State.
As a non-believer, Éamon found himself conflicted by this and took legal advice, but it seems he’s happy enough to swear in the presence of a deity he doesn’t believe in, and I suppose he’s right. After all, the wording seems carefully constructed to give atheists a way out, since it doesn’t require him to swear to Almighty God, as happens in the courts, unless a witness chooses the option toaffirm. It simply requires him to promise and declare in the presence of the non-existent deity. Look, he’s a politician, well-used to believing two different things at the same time. Besides, the preamble to the Constitution is far worse. How’s this for inclusivity?
In the Name of the Most Holy Trinity, from Whom is all authority and to Whom, as our final end, all actions both of men and States must be referred We, the people of Éire, Humbly acknowledging all our obligations to our Divine Lord, Jesus Christ, Who sustained our fathers through centuries of trial, Gratefully remembering their heroic and unremitting struggle to regain the rightful independence of our Nation, And seeking to promote the common good, with due observance of Prudence, Justice and Charity, so that the dignity and freedom of the individual may be assured, true social order attained, the unity of our country restored, and concord established with other nations,Do hereby adopt, enact, and give to ourselves this Constitution.
Nice. How does that work with Jews, Muslims, Hindus and people of no religion who also happen to be Irish citizens? The most holy trinity from whom all authority derives. That’s a theocracy, last time I checked. How does our Justice Minister, Alan Shatter, who happens to be a Jew, feel about his constitution acknowledging his obligations to our divine lord, Jesus Christ?
That’s Ireland for you, and Britain too, where the Queen is the head of the established church, lest anyone be too quick to sneer, but let’s get on with the Council of State.
Besides the atheist who’s happy to swear in the presence of a god he doesn’t believe in, we have five former prime ministers, four of whom assiduously dodged the problem of the X Case judgement. One of them, John Bruton, is already on record as opposing the current Act on religious grounds. Two others — Brian Cowen and the man in the cupboard, Bertie Ahern — are responsible for crashing our country into a gigantic brick wall while another, Albert Reynolds, declined to give evidence to a tribunal of inquiry into planning corruption on the grounds of cognitive impairment. In other words, he couldn’t remember an Irish military helicopter ferrying him to a secret meeting with a property developer and he had no memory of the government Learjet diverting to an unscheduled rendezvous in Bermuda. Poor man’s mind is gone, sadly. And yet, here he is, sitting on the Council of State.
Old Liam Cosgrave meanwhile, still hale and hearty at 92 years of age, will go down in history as the Taoiseach who voted against his own government on contraception legislation due to his strong Catholic beliefs.
There isn’t any set procedure laid down for how the meeting will be conducted, however, and Michael D is a wily old guy, so perhaps it will be closely circumscribed. He might decide simply to ask them a legal question: in your opinion, is this Act constitutional or not?
If we exclude Brian Cowen on the arbitrary grounds that he completed the crash started by Ahern, that he’s only a small-town solicitor who never practised much anyway and that I just don’t like him, we still have eight senior lawyers who should be able to advise Michael D dispassionately. What will the others advise him on? Who knows? I suppose Da Bert could give him a tip on ahorse and Cowen could offer his opinions on nude portraiture. Bruton could entertain everyone with his famous party laugh and Cosgrave could re-enact his world-renowned Crossing of the Floor, the original Riverdance but with added hypocrisy.
Let’s not forget the ferment of rage that must be taking place in this assembly of the great and the good. How does the chairman of the Senate feel about the current prime minister who supports this act and yet who wants to abolish the very House he presides over? I’m only speaking personally here, but I think I’d feel tempted to shaft Enda one last time before being abolished. Clearly, Mr Burke is a far more professional individual than I am and would never dream of sinking so low, but still, human nature is what it is. I’d knife him.
I’m fascinated by the process, since it’s not laid down anywhere that I can find. Where will they hold the meeting? What time will it happen? Will Michael D supply the drink or will they all turn up with slabs? Will they drive or come in taxis? Will they have a barbecue? Will someone make a CD mix? The weather is really great at the moment although you can’t be too careful. Lately there’s been a lot of thunderstorms but that’s to be expected with all the heat, so maybe they should set up a gazebo and everyone could huddle inside it together if there’s a sudden downpour. It would make for a cheerful atmosphere, and they’ll get along much better after getting to know each other. I’d say they’ll make burgers and maybe put out some nachos with a cheese dip. What do you think? Spare ribs? Red stuff all over your face? Send Bruton down to the off-licence for more ice. Michael D might even read them some of his poetry before leading them to the overwhelming question: what’ll we do? Ah, I don’t know. That’s why I’m not the president, the chief justice or even a spiv in a yellow suit hiding in a cupboard.
Junior minister John Perry’s position has become increasingly tenuous after it emerged he had tax arrears of €100,000 with the Revenue Commissioners.
The documents also show Mr Perry accusing the bank of “a form of bullying” and alluded to the personal consequences of actions by the bank “with his job”.
Mr Kenny said he has spoken with Mr Perry about his financial difficulties this week.
And the Taoiseach has also discussed the matter with Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore as concern within the Coalition over Mr Perry’s position mounts.
However, it is not clear if the Taoiseach or Tanaiste were aware of Mr Perry’s tax arrears – as neither Government leader is commenting.
But Mr Perry told Danske Bank in January 2012 that Bank of Ireland had agreed to give him a 10-year loan to help him address tax arrears of about €100,000, according to Commercial Court documents.
But it is not clear if the minister has since cleared the arrears with Revenue.
Last night, opposition parties called on Mr Perry (pictured) to make a statement on his finances as the reference to tax arrears piled the pressure on the minister.
Mr Perry has six weeks to repay €2.5m after he and and his wife Marie consented to a judgment for that amount against them at the Commercial Court over unpaid loans on Monday.
Mr Kenny said Mr Perry’s case was “indicative” of a number of business people across the country who have got into financial difficulty. I don’t really want to say anymore about John Perry’s particular problem.
“I spoke to him on Sunday and obviously they are working on that for the future,” he said.
Speaking on Mid-West Radio in Mayo, Mr Kenny said Mr Perry was committed to continuing his work as Small Business Minister.
“Obviously he has worked exceptionally hard in terms of his ministry. He’s got a court judgment to deal with here now in respect of the next five or six weeks,” he said.
Mr Gilmore’s spokesman said the Tanaiste reiterated that Mr Perry and his wife should be given the “time and space” to deal with the issues.
He also confirmed the Taoiseach and the Tanaiste had a “brief conversation” on the matter.
Mr Kenny’s spokesman also would not comment on the tax arrears question.
“The Taoiseach is not going to comment on the details of the case as the court proceedings progress,” the spokesman said.
But Fianna Fail finance spokesman Michael McGrath said it would not be acceptable for Mr Perry, as Minister of State for Small Business, to preside over businesses that were not meeting their taxation obligations to the State.
“In my view, on that issue alone, his position is very much called into question,” he said.
Mr Perry also told Danske Bank that AIB had agreed to give him an 11-year loan to pay €125,000 to other creditors and his other lenders had agreed to continue facilities on an interest only basis, minutes of meetings state.
The minutes relate to some of a number of meetings held between Danske and Mr Perry about delays in making repayments on a loan of €2.4m made to him and his wife in October 2011.
It also emerged that when the bank indicated last january that it would seek judgment or appoint a receiver if satisfactory proposals were not provided, Mr Perry expressed shock at the bank’s “aggressive approach”.
Dr Reilly said he lost his brother, a doctor and smoker, to lung cancer and his father, another smoker, suffered a stroke and was prematurely blind for the last 14 years of his life.
Ireland will become the second country in the world, after Australia, to remove branding from tobacco product packaging.
The cabinet signed off on Dr Reilly’s proposal today and it is expected legislation will be in place by early next year.
All forms of branding, including trademarks, logos, colours and graphics, will be removed from cigarette packets, while brand name will be presented in a uniform typeface for all brands and the packs would all be in one plain neutral colour. Health warnings will be given more prominence.
The Department of Health said there is strong evidence that standardised packaging will increase the effectiveness of health warnings; reduce false health beliefs about cigarettes and reduce brand appeal particularly among youth and young adults.
Dr Reilly was critical of the recent meeting involving the Taoiseach, Minister for Finance and Minister for Justice with the tobacco industry, but he expressed satisfaction with the substance of the meeting.
“The minutes of the meeting will show very clearly that all that was discussed was smuggling and nothing else,” he said.
“The Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance have duties broader than mine in relation to health. I can tell you this much – the fact that the cabinet has passed a motion to pursue a law to bring this bill in is sign enough for me that I have got huge support from the Taoiseach and the Government.
“For me as a professional, this (smoking) is something that is intolerable. We have to protect our children from it. As adults we make our own decisions, but when you are an adult and you are addicted it is very hard to give them up.”
Dr Reilly said the measure has been so successful in Australia that tobacco companies have had to release statements saying that their cigarettes had not changed in taste as many of its customers were complaining about the taste.
A fierce critic of the tobacco industry, Dr Reilly said the industry needed to replace those who have died from tobacco-related illnesses, one-in-two who smoke, with young people who start smoking.
Dr Reilly said he was certain that the tobacco industry would seek to challenge the plain packaging in the courts.
However, he said such a move would be a measure of their desperation and also of the effectiveness of the measure.
The Irish Tobacco Manufacturers Advisory Committee said the initiative was a huge boost to the illegal tobacco industry, claiming the proposed legislation would make all packs look the same allowing counterfeiters to produce all brands of illegal cigarettes with greater ease.
Dr Reilly countered by stating there was “no research, none” to back up assertions by the tobacco industry that plain packaging would lead to increases in smuggling.
“Let’s call a spade a spade. What would you call a product that kills one in two users? Purveyors of death – I really do feel very strongly about this. I don’t know any smoker who wants their child to smoke. How can we support this industry?”
St Patrick’s Day celebrations around the world are facing an uncertain future following today’s announcement by the Irish Government that it has sold the popular saint, and his associated festival day, to Germany in a desperate bid to reduce Ireland’s crippling national debt.
Saint Patrick, who has been Ireland’s national saint for over 1500 years and who is believed to be the only Irish cleric in history not to have been implicated in a child sex abuse scandal, was sold at an EU auction last night for the sum of €7.3 million, according to Taoiseach, Enda Kenny.
‘I understand that people might be upset about this, but Saint Patrick has not exactly done a lot of good for us over the years,’ said the Taoiseach. ‘Okay, so he got rid of the snakes for us, but quite frankly if it was a choice between no snakes or saving the country from being repeatedly invaded and ravaged, having half the population die in a famine and then the nation being left virtually bankrupt from a global financial crisis, then I, for one, would happily be arse-deep in anacondas right now.’
Early reports suggest that Saint Patrick will be relaunched as a new German folk character, ‘Der Leprakaun Fuhrer’, a vagabond who once ruled a faraway land which based its entire economy around transactions of magic beans which subsequently disappeared and left the country in economic ruin.
German minister, Franz Hagen, has told those who have planned St Patrick’s Day events not to worry. ‘St Patrick’s Day, or Heinzellmannchanfest as it will be called from now on, will be going ahead almost as normal this year, except that it will now be used to teach the world about the importance of efficiency and economic responsibility. As such, there will be no alcohol allowed,’ he added.
Following the success of the sale, the Irish Government is considering selling more of its national assets to further reduce its debt woes. The Netherlands have already expressed an interest in purchasing some of the Donegal mountains in an effort to make their country less flat and prone to flooding, while North Korea is said to be interested in buying County Leitrim to prove to its citizens that there are actually worse places on Earth to live. However, the Irish Government is still struggling to find a potential buyer for Bono after the U2 singer failed to reach his reserve price of nearly €5 at last night’s auction.
Enda Kenny‘s Childhood Photograph
Enda Kenny awash with cash from day one and now folks you are adding to his stash
FIANNA FÁIL LEADER Micheál Martin plans to call on Taoiseach Enda Kenny to reopen a module of Moriarty Tribunal for a three month period to allow it to examine new allegations concerning the Tipperary TD Michael Lowry.
Martin has said that information contained in a recording of a conversation between the former Fine Gael minister and property agent Kevin Phelan over details of a €250,000 payment “raises some very serious questions”.
“Primary among them is whether a central module of the Moriarty Tribunal was compromised by an effort to co-ordinate the evidence of key witnesses,” Martin said in a statement first printed in the Sunday Independent and provided to TheJournal.ie today.
The Taoiseach has already ruled out reopening the Tribunal and speaking in New York today he said that Justice Moriarty had reported “fully and finally” according to Newstalk.
The conversation between Lowry and Phelan is said to have taken place on 20 September 2004 and concerns a €250,000 payment to Phelan which Lowry pleaded with Phelan not to reveal as the independent TD had “never declared it”.
In a statement released following first publication of a transcript of the conversation in the Sunday Independent three weeks ago, Lowry insisted that the payment was “properly recorded and accounted for” through one of his companies.
He has since refused to confirm the authenticity of the tape recording and claimed he has been unable to obtain a copy of the tape from the Sunday Independent, which broke the story.
This contradicts claims from the paper which details attempts to get a copy of the conversation to Lowry in today’s edition.
Martin said that TV3 had been “inexplicably alone among Irish broadcasters” in broadcasting the audio recording of the conversation last Thursday night and said that the case for re-examining evidence presented to the Moriarty Tribunal had been emboldened.
In 2011, the Tribunal found that Lowry exerted an “insidious and pervasive influence” on the process of awarding a mobile telephone license to the Denis O’Brien’s company Esat Digifone.
However it made limited findings on matters concerning the sale of Doncaster Rovers Football Club, which involved Phelan, due to “suppression” of evidence. Both Lowry and O’Brien have rejected the findings of the Tribunal.
Martin said of the recording played on TV3: “The nuances which emerge, absent from the written transcript, add to the fear that the Tribunal’s work may have been compromised.”
The Fianna Fáil leader said that the reluctance of the Taoiseach to investigate the new allegations surrounding Lowry was “understandable” given “the proximity” he and other ministers have to the events which led to the Tribunal.
But he said that Labour’s silence is a “a stark reminder of that party’s weakness”.
He continued: “No political party in this country can point to an unblemished past, but those of us who want to build a better quality of politics for the future have a duty to speak out on this issue.
“Fine Gael and the Labour Party were elected with a record majority on a long list of promises. At the top of that list was a promise to change the way we practice politics.
“In that spirit, I will next week call on the Taoiseach to agree to have the specific module of the Moriarty Tribunal reopened for a period of three months to allow Judge Moriarty examine the new material that has emerged since he reported two years ago.
“If Fine Gael meant a word of what it said about the need for change, and if the Labour Party has a shred of integrity left, I expect unanimous support for this call.”
Scandalous situation. Charity shops belonging to altruistic organisations such as St Vincent De Paul and Oxfam, helping the disadvantaged are expected to pay thousands in rates while the cushy offices of the Taoiseach, currently screwing the disadvantaged, are totally exempt.
The independent is running another story highlighting the cruelty and inequity of our system. As an example of our two tier society, this is a pretty good one. Our political class get away with it again while voluntary organisations staving off the very worst consequences of FG austerity measures to pay foreign bank gambling debts, for the most disadvantaged in society are totally screwed by huge commercial rates bills. Meanwhile Europe’s best paid (but worst??) politicians get a free ride on their rates bill.
There truly is no justice in this country!
In a lucrative perk introduced some years ago as part of the national valuation regulations, TDs‘ offices are exempt from the rates.
But in Castlebar, Co Mayo, charities such as the St Vincent de Paul and Oxfam have rates charged on their premises at the same rate as other commercial premises. The same rules apply to charity shops all over Ireland run by organisations like Age Action Ireland, Aware, Barnardos and the Irish Cancer Society.
“It is outrageous that the Taoiseach’s lavish constituency HQ is a freebie for Enda Kenny as far as rates are concerned while Oxfam and other charities are being crucified,” complained local independent councillor Frank Durkan.”
What are they hiding?
Although An Taoiseach committed to reforming the Freedom of Information legislation by the end of 2012, and although that is another timed-commitment missed – like the Seanad referendum – commitment, it seems that in 2013, there will at least be a new Bill, though it’s by no means certain that the new legislation will extend as far as NAMA.
Yesterday, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Brendan Howlin appeared before the Oireachtas Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform committee and discussed the extension of Freedom of Information legislation to several new organizations including An Garda Siochana and the Department of Defence. Of primary interest on here is NAMA, but it remains uncertain if NAMA will be included in the new Bill, and if so, to what extent its activities will open to scrutiny.
Minister Howlin stressed that NAMA’s commercial remit may make some requests unacceptable.
This concern is really a diversion on the Minister’s part, because there are existing exclusions under our FoI legislation to protect the necessary commercial sensitivity of transactions undertaken on our behalf by the State. The assessment on here, over the past three years, is NAMA is intrinsically opposed to transparency. We saw this with the extraordinary resistance to the determination by the Information Commissioner Emily O’Reilly that NAMA be subject to environment requests – that resistance is still being played out in the High Court.
The resistance is understandable. NAMA is a new Agency with colossal power and money, and is under constant pressure from those wishing to take a bite out of that power and money. NAMA is not excessively resourced compared to its competitors and dealing with FoI requests can take considerable time. And NAMA will not want mistakes, which it like any large organization will inevitably commit at some point, brought to light where they can undermine the morale and effectiveness of the Agency.
When are we likely to see the new Freedom of Information legislation? The changes will be published in the forthcoming session, says Minister Howlin, which means by the end of March 2013. Will NAMA definitely be included? Not “definitely”, although Minister Howlin was emphatic on “Tonight with Vincent Browne” on 10th October 2011 when he said “we will introduce FOI to NAMA”. Will Freedom of Information which excludes requests which might be deemed commercially sensitive, be of any use? Oh yes indeed, I for one would like to see the independent valuation report which NAMA claims it had before selling a property in Lucan to Enda Farrell, okay, the figures might be redacted but it would put to bed once and for all the doubt over whether NAMA did get an independent valuation.
[Juno McEnroe in the Irish Examiner today has a detailed report on yesterday’s Oireachtas committee proceedings, the transcript of which won’t be available for a few days]
via NAMA Wine Lake.
via NAMA Wine Lake.
In a move that will be interpreted as yet another distancing of Enda Kenny‘s Government from co-operation with the Holy See, the Taoiseach has failed for the first time to issue a statement this year in response to the Pope’s message for World Day of Peace on January 1.
The practice of a statement from the Taoiseach in response to the Pope’s message has been customary for decades.
However, 2013 now marks the first year a Taoiseach has failed to do so, The Irish Catholic can reveal.
Traditionally the Taoiseach welcomes the Pontiff’s message in accordance with previous years while highlighting important human rights issues. This has been the norm for former Taoisigh up until this year when the practise mysteriously ceased.
The Department of the Taoiseach refused to say why Mr Kenny stopped the long-running practice.
In response to a question from The Irish Catholic, a spokesman for the Taoiseach said: “It is not common practice for leaders to issue their own responses” to the Pope’s message, “nor is there an expectation to do so”.
However, this is contradicted by the fact that this is the first year that no statement was made.
In fact, Mr Kenny made such a statement last year which endorsed Pope Benedict’s New Year message.
In that statement the Taoiseach called for Ireland to become a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council, the same council that in 2007 criticised Ireland’s failure to clarify its abortion laws, reiterating “its concern regarding the highly restrictive circumstances under which women can lawfully have an abortion in the State”, regretting “that the progress in this regard is slow”.
In this year’s peace message, Pope Benedict insisted that “the killing of a defenceless and innocent being will never be able to produce happiness or peace”.
His message comes at a timely moment in Ireland as the Catholic hierarchy is set to bring its concerns about proposed legislation for limited abortion directly to the Government politicians.
ANALYSIS: The pharmaceutical industry’s lobbying of the Government demonstrates how multinationals play governments off each other and limit political choices
The nature of the lobbying of Taoiseach Enda Kenny by the pharmaceutical industry, as disclosed in this newspaper during the week, illustrates the power of the industry, and of the multinational sector generally.
The series of letters from senior figures in the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies appeared co-ordinated and included references to meetings the writers had had with the Taoiseach to discuss their concerns.
They also referred to Ireland’s upcoming presidency of the European Union and topics of interest in that regard, including the pricing of drugs in countries that are the subject of troika programmes.
The conflation in the letters of the sector’s commercial objectives with its importance to the Irish economy illustrated how Ireland’s success in attracting multinational investment can affect the role it plays in the globalised world.
Because globalisation has raced ahead of political control, multinationals play countries off each other, seeking concessions everywhere they go. Governments, unless they can agree regional or global measures that reassert their power, are hugely exposed.
In his letter of February 23rd, 2012, to the Taoiseach, Miles D White, chairman and chief executive of Abbott Laboratories in Illinois, directly linked inward investment and the price his company gets paid by the State for the drugs it supplies.
“In common with other pharmaceutical multinational organisations, we find it difficult to reconcile a policy of pursuing inward manufacturing investment with an attempt to drive medicine prices to among the lowest in the European Union,” he wrote.
The price paid by a government for pharmaceuticals is referenced according to the prices paid by other governments, with the system being organised into “baskets” of countries whose prices are linked.
White’s concern was not so much with his company’s profits from sales here as with the effect any drop in Irish prices would have in other, larger markets.
“International price-referencing results in pricing in Ireland having a knock-on effect on the pricing of medicines in 11 other European countries and up to an additional 37 countries worldwide,” he wrote.
“Driving down the price of medicines across such a large number of export markets for the Irish-based pharmaceutical industry could directly jeopardise jobs in Ireland as it will create substantial pressure to cut manufacturing jobs.”
The Irish pharmaceutical sector employs up to 25,000 people directly, and the same number indirectly, and is a major contributor to Irish exports. The pharmaceutical firms that wrote to Enda Kenny warned that Government decisions aimed at reducing its drugs bill could have “unintended consequences”.
It is a strange thing to have a sector lobbying the Taoiseach to help it combat reductions in the price of its products, not just in this country but in 11 others in Europe, and up to 37 worldwide, and while doing so to suggest that a failure to deliver might affect inward investment into Ireland.
Ireland’s drug prices are among the highest in the world, with a recent survey finding that costs here are up to 45 per cent higher than they are in Sweden.
As this newspaper’s health correspondent, Paul Cullen, has observed, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the high cost of drugs in Ireland is part of the price we pay for having a large pharmaceutical sector.
In fact, given the basket arrangement, citizens in 11 other European countries, and 37 worldwide, may be paying the price. It is important to remember that what is at issue is the price paid by governments for pharmaceutical products.
Yet, despite the importance to them of sales funded by government revenues, pharmaceutical companies, as with almost all multinationals, organise their affairs so they direct profits to low-tax jurisdictions.
White’s company, Abbott, is in the process of creating a sister group, Abbvie, which will focus on research-based pharmaceuticals. This year two Irish Abbvie subsidiaries were established, with registered addresses at the offices of Matheson solicitors in Dublin. Also established was Abbvie Ireland NL BV, a Dutch company with an address in Sligo.
The structure looks like one designed to reduce Abbvie’s future tax bills in much the same way that Google, Microsoft, and other multinationals have used Ireland to save themselves fortunes in global corporation tax. A request for a comment from Abbvie on this point yesterday met with no response.
Just this week Bloomberg reported that Google avoided $2 billion in corporation tax in 2011 by way of its international tax structure. That tax structure is centred in Dublin, where two of Google’s key companies are based at the Matheson offices, and use a Dutch company as part of their tax avoidance policies (the so-called Dutch sandwich scheme).
Earlier this year a report for the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations in Washington disclosed that Microsoft reduced its US corporation tax bill by €1.87 billion in 2011. The saving was achieved mostly through the avoidance of tax on royalty payments between three companies with their registered addresses at the Matheson offices. One of them, Round Island One, is a Bermuda company, despite having its registered office here.
The structure channels non-US profits from around the globe (including Africa) to Bermuda, which does not charge corporation tax.
About 60 per cent of world trade occurs within multinational companies. An enormous amount of the profit from that trade is ending up in low-tax and offshore jurisdictions. The revenues lost to governments as a result has to be replaced by targeting other sources, including individuals and businesses that do not trade internationally.
In an environment where so many western countries are raising extra taxes and cutting services in an effort to narrow government deficits, the aggressive avoidance measures operated by multinationals are becoming a political issue.
This month the head of the UK’s public accounts committee, Margaret Hodge, described the tax policies of Google, Amazon and Starbucks as “outrageous and an insult to British businesses and individuals who pay their fair share”. Starbucks, stung by reputational damage, offered to voluntarily pay £20 million to the British exchequer.
On the other hand, Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt responded by saying he was “proud” of his company’s tax structures.
Calls for reform of how multinationals are taxed are entering mainstream debate. The issue featured at last month’s meeting of G20 finance ministers in Mexico.
But Ireland, because of its dependence on foreign direct investment, finds itself on the side of the status quo. Likewise, in relation to financial services, the Irish Financial Services Centre complicates Irish policy on banking regulation and the implementation of a financial transaction tax.
A number of the letters sent to Enda Kenny by the pharmaceutical companies quoted his stated ambition to “make Ireland the best small country in the world in which to do business in 2016”.
That ambition is all very well, but having a disposition towards siding with multinational companies as they play countries off one another carries with it the probability of ongoing erosion of the scope to make political decisions.
It is not true that everything comes with a price. But a lot does.
Richard Boyd Barrett challenged Enda Kenny in the Dáil on the continuing oil and gas giveaway using figures from Shell to Sea’s “Liquid Assets” which is available here