Michael Green

About Michael Green

Michael Green is Manager of The Information about Ireland Site

Opinion Polls driving Fianna Fail and Fine Gael together – Doom for Labour Party

The prospect of Fianna Fail entering a coalition with Fine Gael after the next General Election is looking ever more possible. A recent Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI opinion poll certainly points toward such a possibility and also makes very, very bad reading for the Labour Party.

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams

Labour are currently in Government with Fine Gael whom they joined in coalition after the 2011 General Election. Fine Gael took the bulk of the Fianna Fail vote with Labour also soaring to new highs in the hope that the party would see off the money-men of the EU/IMF/ECB troika who were/are hated by large sections of the Irish population.

‘Burn the bondholders’
‘Let the banks fail’,
‘Gilmore for Taoiseach’ were the rallying cries.

The reality has been very different for the Labour Party. Nurses, Labourers, Teachers, Public and Civil Servants, lower-paid workers and even the unemployed all voted for Labour in their droves at the last election. Now they are looking elsewhere.

Irish Nurses proitest against Government policies

By continuing the policies of the previous Fianna Fail government both Labour and Fine Gael chose to play a long game. Fine Gael could make the case that they have no choice but to implement the policies they inherited while alternately blaming Fianna Fail and then claiming the credit for the economy stabilizing. Labour however, have no such luxury.

It was the Labour Party that was supposed to represent the working classes. Instead they implemented cuts to services and installed the hated Property Tax, threatening and bullying the Irish citizenry into submission.

Eamon Gilmore is the Labour Party leader

Just 6% of voters now say they would now vote for Labour (down from 19%) while 23% say they would vote for Sinn Fein and 22% for Fianna Fail. Sinn Fein and the Labour Party occupy much of the same left-wing space on the political spectrum yet it is Gerry Adam’s party that now seems to represent the working classes. Historically though Sinn Fein have always done better in opinion polls than at the ballot box. This is probably because their support comes largely from a younger population who are in fact less likely to actually vote.

With 26% support Fine Gael cannot afford to be too smug either. Both they and Fianna Fail have repeatedly said that they would not go into a coalition Government with Sinn Fein. Logically then, if an election were held tomorrow the obvious new Government would be a coalition of Fine Gael and Fianna Fail!

In the US this would be the equivalent of John Boehner cozying up with Barack Obama in a Democrat-Republican national government to run the country.

Could it happen in Ireland? This possibility has recently been floated by former members of both of these political parties. Fianna Fail and Fine Gael have their genesis in the 1922 Irish Civil War. Over the last two decades any lingering differences have rapidly dissipated. Socially Fine Gael is viewed as being more conservative than Fianna Fail but there seems to be little to choose between their economic approach.

Is a grand union possible?

In Ireland after the economic crash, anything is possible.

Irish Rejection of Seanad Abolition is a National Disgrace

The defeat of the proposal to abolish the powerless Seanad House in the recent Referendum in Ireland is a damning indictment of the Irish people.

Seanad Referendum Result in Ireland

The Seanad House is the upper house of the Irish parliament. It cannot prevent legislation from Dail Eireann (the main parliament) being enacted and has for decades been used as a way to bail out failed politicians and to reward public figures who supported the Government of the time.

It is not accountable to the Irish electorate with many members of the Seanad either being appointed by University Graduates or directly by the Government of the time. Members of the Seanad enjoy huge financial benefits at the expense of the public and have no real power or function.

It should have been an easy decision therefore, to abolish the Seanad. All of the signs pointed to an easy victory for the abolitionists. An opinion poll just a few days before the vote indicated 62% of those in favour of the proposal and in the few intervening days nothing of any real substance happened. There were no major developments, no game-changing revelations.

How then was the proposal defeated by just under 52% to 48%? What is the reason for a 14 percentage points swing in only a few days when nothing significant occurred?

The answer is both simple and depressing: The Irish people did not vote.

The Constitution of a country is mostly regarded as a sacred thing.
In some countries.
But clearly not in Ireland.

With a turnout of only 39% of the approximately 3.15 Million eligible voters only 1.23 Million voted. Those who won the referendum amounted to 0.63 Million. Just over 623,000 voters decided the fate of the Irish Constitution. The population of Ireland is approximately 4.6 Million.

So where is the disgrace? A lot of people are just not interested in politics. Many are too worried about paying their bills.

By comparison European countries such as Austria, Belgium, Denmark and Germany regularly have huge voter engagement compared to Ireland. Foreign Reporters who visit Ireland look on in amazement at the utter lack of interest shown by the citizens here. The country is on its knees financially and here was a perfect opportunity to save countless millions of euro over the coming years by greatly reducing the number of politicians in that rarest of events – an example of real political reform.

What did the Irish people do?

1. They did not vote.
2. Some of those that did vote used their ballot as a protest against Government policies.
3. Those that stood to gain from the retention of the Seanad enthusiastically campaigned in their own self-interest.
4. Some political parties (Fianna Fail in particular) cynically used the Referendum as an opportunity to give the Government a thumping. More self interest.

The biggest reason though is the first listed above. The Irish people have long since lost any right to complain or protest. You get the Government you vote for and the life you settle for. If you are not wiling to vote then you have lost any right to complain. You need to shut up.

Those pictures of lottery winners that regularly adorn the tabloid newspapers could today easily be replicated with pictures of the Seanad members after the Referendum votes were counted. They Have won the lottery and at our expense.

What do the Irish people do?
They sit in their bars drinking their pints, watching the football.
They moan and grumble about the latest round of austerity taxation.
They drink their bottles of wine while watching their soap operas on television.

While the well-heeled elite from the Universities and professional classes laugh at them for their ignorance and stupidity (and then count up the allowances and pensions they can parasitically squeeze from our system of Government) the Irish…… down another pint. And complain.

The upcoming 1916 anniversary of the Easter Rising should be cancelled immediately. The Republic for which those men and women fought is dead.

There are countries in this world that are today fighting and suffering to get the freedom and democracy we Irish so take for granted.

We are a disgrace.

by Michael Green
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Dublin Property Market Increase Sparks Fear Of A New Bubble

The Irish people do not need any reminding of the devastating effect that a property bubble can have. Back in 2008 when the property market in Ireland imploded the Irish banks had to go cap-in-hand to the Government for support. ‘Back us or the ATMs will stop working’ was the blunt message offered to the Irish politicians of the time. They duly obliged by underwriting the deposits held by the banks, preventing any mass withdrawal of funds by the public and financial institutions.

Irish Property market has stabilized after massive crash

The problem with the bank guarantee was that, while it kept the ATMs operating it also underwrote the funds held by the massive institutional investors, including those in France and Germany. When the banks were eventually nationalized the bonds held by the European investors became payable by the Irish State. ‘Burn the Bondholders’ was one of the famous slogans used in the run up to the 2011 election. To date there has been little or no evidence of that happening with the EU/IMF/ECB troika protecting their own interests while drip-feeding enough finance into the Irish economy to keep the lights on.

The situation has stabilized since then but at some cost. Unemployment remains stubbornly above 14%. Job opportunities are limited with massive emigration the escape valve. Taxation has been greatly increased to the point where even those most enthusiastic in engaging austerity are suggesting that a financial stimulus and not more taxation is now what is required.

Against this backdrop the Irish property market has suffered one of the greatest collapses in modern history. Only Dubai has suffered a bigger recent loss as the value of houses and apartments plummeted by anywhere between 40% and 60% depending on the report that is cited. Banks of course, are now much more stringent in their lending policies, anxious to avoid the mistakes of the past. But it may be a case of ‘a short memory’ for some people.

It has long been suspected that the value of houses in Dublin has dropped too much, with no such reservations about the price falls in rural locations. Tiny little towns with half-built housing estates and a dwindling population are a recipe for further house price falls. But in Dublin there are enclaves and districts that have seen pretty hefty gains. A recent Myhome.ie report indicates that prices for property in the capital city are 26% above the national average price of 191,000 Euro (US$258,000).

Unfinished housing estate blight the Irish landscape

The same report indicates that nationally house prices fell by 7.8% over the last year, which is a lot better than the 14.3% recorded the previous year. But Dublin prices have soared by 10.6% over the last year according to the Central Statistics Office (CSO), the price increase fuelled mainly by a lack of housing stock.

Could it be that massive house and apartment building will again get under way in the city? This seems fanciful at the moment but there Are signs of new construction work being undertaken in Dublin. With the population of Ireland expected to grow by at least 10% over the next 15 years it is estimated that 20,000 new housing units are needed annually to keep pace with the demand. During the boom years upwards of 40,000 housing units were being constructed. This year the likely total will be about 6000.

Until the supply of houses increase in Dublin city it seems likely that prices will continue to rise. But any sudden shift in sentiment or a dramatic increase in supply (such a as a major spate of bank repossessions and then fire-sales) could yet see a repeat of the recent pain for Dublin house-owners.

A short memory indeed.

OPINION: Irish Media Bias in Seanad Abolition Referendum

The upcoming referendum to decide if the upper house of the Irish Parliament (known as the Seanad) should be abolished is having a number of interesting side-effects. The poll will be held on October 4th.

Irish Seanad House may be abolished

On the one hand it is both a tragicomedy and a farce to observe those who are members of the Seanad desperately try to convince a near bankrupt electorate that they should be kept in their privileged positions. Rarely in the history of Ireland have the ‘working classes’ been afforded an opportunity such as this to remind the elite of exactly who rules.

The real irony of this situation is that if there is a low turnout at the polling stations (which is typically the case with referenda in Ireland) then it is this very apathy of ‘the working classes’ that may play into the hands of the elite, the professional classes, the legal professions, academics, business interests and politicians.

Simply put, those most motivated to lose something are those most likely to act. The combined sudden and surprising action of the Senators over the past few months has quite possibly exceeded the previous activity of all previous Seanads since the foundation of the State! It is just appalling to witness these privileged cosseted people debase themselves as they attempt to save their utterly useless and parasitic jobs.

The attitude of some sections of the Irish media has also been very interesting to observe. A series of Opinion Polls run by the Sunday Independent newspaper have been reported and re-reported by RTE (Irish National Television) and several other media outlets. The question ‘Should the Seanad be abolished’ or ‘Should the Seanad be reformed’ was asked in a survey with media outlets gleefully reporting that voters in favour of keeping the Seanad (either in its current format or in a reformed format) are rapidly closing the gap on those in favour of abolition of the Seanad. Trouble ahead for the Government! Jobs may be saved for those in the clique!

Very interesting.

Until you realise that the question being put to the Irish people in the referendum is NOT ‘Should the Seanad be reformed?’ but is in fact ‘Should the Seanad be abolished? – yes or no’.

When asked about this apparent manipulation Richard Bruton, the director of elections for the Fine Gael campaign to abolish the Seanad agreed that the question in the Sunday Independent poll was not the same as that which will appear on the actual Referendum ballot paper:

‘The Sunday Independent is not your usual Newspaper!’ he remarked.



With the regular newspapers apparently having their own agenda it was left to Irish bookmaker Paddy Power to commission a survey that found support for abolition of the Seanad running at 58% compared to support for keeping it at 42% (ignoring those who replied ‘dont know’). This is quite some difference from the poll by the Sunday Independent, breathlessly revealing that only 39% of those questioned said that they wanted the Seanad scrapped while those supporting its reform or retention actually amount to 40%!

Of course opinion polls are all in the phrasing. It was Dan Rather the former News Anchor of the US CBS Evening News who famously said:
‘Journalists should denounce government by public opinion polls.’
Some of his Irish counter-parts clearly agree.

Perhaps the last word should go to the bookies. Paddy Power bookmakers are currently offering odds of 1/2 for the Seanad to be abolished, 6/4 for it to be retained.

Maybe the ‘working classes’ will have a punt on the 5/4 odds with the intention of staying at home on polling day!

Labour Party Exile May Form New Political Party

Speculation is mounting that a new left-wing political Party may be formed in Ireland.

The Labour Party are currently in a Coalition Government with Fine Gael that has effectively continued the policies of the Fianna Fail Party that it ousted at the last election. It is this position that has seen support for the Labour Party plummet in recent opinion polls.

Labour is supposed to be the Party representative of the working classes and yet has supported the imposition of a property tax as well as the never-ending austerity measures. Against this backdrop the possibility of a new Party with a socialist backbone is very much alive.

Roisin Shortall was a Junior Minister in the Government but resigned her position after further cuts to the Irish Health Service were implemented. She is very much a thorn in the side of the Labour Party leadership at the moment and could align with similar left-of-centre independent T.D.’s to form a new Party that would directly challenge her former colleagues.

by Michael Green
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Calls For End To Austerity As Ireland Plunges Back Into Recession

Those commentators who have been critical of the overuse of austerity policies in Ireland are claiming that Ireland’s plunge back into recession is proof of their views.

A 'People Before Profit' March Protesting Irish Government Policies

Since 2008 the Irish economy has been battered by international forces beyond its control in addition to massive self-inflicted damage caused by a property market bubble and the near collapse of the Irish banking system.

The effects were far-reaching. Unemployment stands at 13.7%, public services have been slashed, bitter wrangling continues between the Government and its own employees in the Civil and Public services. Emigration has soared to Famine-era levels while those left behind have been burdened with extra taxes and levels of debt that will take decades to pay off.

Ireland re-entered recession in the final quarter of last year and with ‘negative growth’ prevailing it seems that the austerity and tax increases have dampened any possibility of a domestic recovery. The Property Tax did not help either. Demanded as a condition of loans granted to Ireland by the EU/IMF/ECB the Property Tax was almost gleefully imposed by the Fine Gael Government who clearly see it as an easy way to bring in finance. Political cover was provided by the European ‘troika’ who could be blamed for demanding its imposition – ‘it wasn’t us – its them!’ Job done.

Chart showing the financial effect on Ireland of the economic crash

The uncertainty caused by the Property Tax, the fear of its impact and the never-ending burden of yet more taxation certainly played a huge part in dragging the country down again.

Ireland is also more exposed to events outside its borders than most other countries. As an island nation the most basic raw materials must be imported, raising costs. Exports to Britain, Europe and beyond have to be expensively transported, raising costs. Any change in the value of the Sterling and US Dollar currencies can lay waste to the best laid of export plans in the space of a few hours, again raising costs.

Even bad weather can effect the Irish economy, especially domestic spending, further depressing a beaten-down population who retreat to their ‘mortgaged to the hilt’ apartments in semi-derelict half-built housing estates to ponder the future – ‘I wonder if Australia is still looking for electricians?’.

Maybe this is the bottom of the trough?

Domestic spending looks to be improving now that the Property Tax shock is pretty much out of the way. Anecdotal evidence of a recovery in both the construction market and the property market have been borne out by recent numbers. Major road projects are being undertaken for the first time since the economic crash in 2008, a sure sign that things are about to improve. The South County Dublin section of the Dublin property market has actually seen a 12% increase in prices in the first 6 months of 2013 according to Irish property website Daft.ie, with an overall rise of 5.3% in Dublin prices over the last year.

Hot stuff. And even the weather has improved!

So despite the economic woes there does appear to be grounds for optimism. This is year five of the greatest economic crash in the history of the country. Being well positioned to catch a ride on the global economic upturn that will inevitably come must surely be the current Government’s major priority, as well as its best bet for being re-elected.

by Michael Green
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Irish Tourists Arrested for Watching a Game of Bingo in Portugal

The desire to stamp out illegal gambling in Portugal seems to have taken a bizarre turn. A group of 28 British and Irish tourists were arrested by Portuguese police for being in a bar where a game of bingo was taking place.

Irish Tourists were among those arrested for playing Bingo in Portugal

Under Portuguese law any gambling, even bingo, needs to have an appropriate licence. The first game of bingo had concluded when the police swooped on the bar, arresting those present, regardless of whether or not they were actually participating in the game.

The owner of the Yorkshire Tavern is Marianne Pittaway:
“It is crazy, an absolute joke. We were playing bingo for biscuits, chocolate and some alcoholic drinks. There was no money exchanged apart from paying for the ticket. The money we make pays for prizes.

Everyone in the bar who was playing bingo was handed a 300 Euro fine plus a three-month suspended sentence. Those who were in the bar but not playing were given a 150 Euro fine plus a three-month suspended sentence. I was given a €700 fine and a four-month suspended sentence and [partner] António was given a 500 Euro fine and a four-month suspended sentence.”

The incident has the potential to be a public relations disaster for the Portuguese tourist industry. While it is reasonable of course for the Portuguese to enforce their laws it is perhaps counter-productive of them to target holiday-makers for such a minor infraction, especially as these are the same tourists who are bringing much needed finance into the local economy.

Portugal is in receipt of 78 Billion Euro EU/IMF/ECB loans following the collapse of its property market. Unemployment in Portugal in the first quarter of 2013 was 17.7%, as reported by the Instituto Nacional de Estatistica.

Scaring tourists away is hardly going to help that number.

by Michael Green
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Vested Interests Attempt To Scupper Alcohol Advertising Ban

The ongoing attempts to reduce the amount of alcohol consumption in Ireland have been met with predictable opposition from those with most to lose.

Irish sporting associations receive alcohol sponsorhip

The head of Diageo in Ireland, who own the Guinness brand, has warned that a ban on sports sponsorship in Ireland could lead to a reduction in its future investment in the country. The thinly veiled threat is aimed squarely at the Government who are attempting to ban sponsorship by alcohol companies at all Irish sporting events. The plan is to phase out all sponsorship links between high-profile sporting events and alcohol brands by the year 2020.

The Gaelic Athletic Association and Irish Rugby benefit greatly from sponsorship by Guinness and Heineken respectively. It is inevitable that the ban of this sponsorship will mean less money for these huge sports. Nevertheless the Government seem determined to press ahead with the ban, realizing the devastating effect that alcohol consumption can have on young lives. The cost to the Irish taxpayer in dealing with health-care and crime issues from those abusing alcohol costs the State at least 3.7 Billion Euro annually. (* note 1)

A recent report by the Health Research Board has found that 58% of Irish people believe the Government is not doing enough to reduce alcohol consumption while 85% of Irish people believe that the current level of alcohol consumption in Ireland is far too high. Average alcohol consumption in the year 2010 was 145% higher than the average amount consumed in the year 1960, a startling increase.

Recent initiatives (and the recession) have helped to curb some of these excesses. A CSO report indicates that alcohol consumption in Ireland is actually down 19% since 2001.

Speaking at the Oireachtas (Irish Parliament) Committee on Transport and Communications Pat Hickey, the President of the Olympic Council of Ireland, lambasted the drinks industry:

I thought it was an absolute disgrace to read a report of an international company, Diageo, making an attack on the Irish Government and the Irish State about how they should conduct their business and investment. This is a multinational that has no interest whatsoever in Ireland except they happen to have a product beginning with ‘G’ and they promote that in Irish pubs just to get bigger profits around the world.

John Treacy is Chief Executive of the Irish Sports Council and won a Silver medal in the Marathon at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984. He offered a different angle, suggesting that any ban would force the very best of Irish rugby players to ply their trade abroad, in much the same way that the best Irish soccer players work in England.

The Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland also had their say to the Committee arguing that any ban would not address alcohol misuse. A spokesperson remarking:

Evidence shows that the principal influencers on youth drinking are parents and peers.
Alcohol consumption in Ireland has a huge cost
It should not be a real surprise then that those sporting bodies who receive sponsorship from alcohol companies would oppose any ban. It would mean that they would have to find new sponsors.

But perhaps the real question that is not being asked is just why the alcohol companies engage in such advertising? The answer is obvious if unspoken. It is clear that they hugely benefit from their sponsorship and especially benefit in attracting younger people to their brands, since it is to a large degree the younger generation who are most passionate about sport.

Younger people. The next generation of drinkers.

It is ironic that sporting agencies that are supposed to help further the health and well-being of young people are arguing for their efforts to be associated with Ireland’s biggest killer, alcohol. Of course they are most concerned about the next five years and about promoting sport in Ireland, which is admirable. But it is the next twenty-five years and the next fifty years that really should be the focus.

The links between pub-owners and politicians, especially in rural locations is hard to break. The financial contribution of the multi-national drinks companies is impossible to ignore. The Irish sports bodies are even arguing against a sponsorship ban.

Is it any wonder that there is such a huge alcohol problem in Ireland?

Meanwhile the Irish drinking binge goes on.

* note 1: See http://alcoholireland.ie/facts/alcohol-related-harm-facts-and-statistics/

by Michael Green
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Greedy Irish Politicians Revert to Type in Seanad Showdown

OPINION PIECE

The division between what is broadly termed ‘the establishment’ and the ordinary citizens of Ireland has rarely been more evident than in recent weeks.

Irish Seanad may be abolished

The current Government is committed to holding a referendum to provide for the abolition of the Seanad (one of the Irish houses of Parliament – pronounced ‘shan-idd’). The Seanad has very little real power and although it can delay the passage of legislation by up to three months it cannot ultimately stop laws being made by the main Irish Parliament.

It is an unelected body and thus has become a breeding ground for ‘wannabe’ politicians and as a means of rewarding cronyism and political favours. Several of the countries Universities get to nominate members of the Seanad also, a privelege they guard jealously.

It was in the run-up to the most recent General Election that Taoiseach Enda Kenny declared that he thought the Seanad should be abolished and that his Party were committed to holding a referendum and giving the Irish people the chance to have their say.

It is with a sense of despair then that the everyday Irish person has to witness the campaign being currently waged by members of the political, legal and academic elite in this country, and aided by a compliant media.

The promise to abolish the Seanad house was put forward at the precise moment when just about every institution in the country was a potential target. The country was bankrupt. It made no sense whatsoever to have a second Parliament house at a ridiculous cost.

With a population of just over 4.5 million the country is served by 166 directly elected T.D.’s and 60 Senators in the Seanad. Utter madness. Taoiseach Enda Kenny estimates the abolition of the Seanad could save 20 Million Euro annually:

Enda Kenny

‘There is something fundamentally wrong, in my view, in politicians asking others to change and make real sacrifices and not doing the same ourselves’

Against this backdrop it looked certain that the guillotine would fall. But perhaps unsurprisingly many politicians and members of the elite, and particularly those Senators who are most likely to lose out on huge pay and expenses, have reversed their position and are now seeking to have the Seanad reformed instead of abolished.

The ‘Save our Seanad’ campaign is in full flow:
‘It acts as a safeguard against the excesses of the main Parliament’ they say.
‘It has propelled some very fine people into public life’ they say.

Oversight of the behaviour of the Irish Parliament is provided by its own Committees, the News Media and ultimately by the Irish people who get to vote people out of office every 5 years if they so wish (often sooner). And as for training people for political life in the future? That is the job of the political parties, of debating societies and pubs everywhere.

The Seanad is an expensive talking shop populated by the unelectable, by cronies of political big-shots, by academics and poseurs. It is appalling to witness those who most benefit from its existence scratch around for every conceivable tactic and strategy to try to keep it going. The worst kind of money-grabbing. Legalized theft. Looting of what is left of the public finances.

Our money – the Irish peoples money – being used to line the pockets of a bunch of dilettantes.

The existence of the Seanad is contrary to the spirit of an Irish Republic and it should be abolished at the first opportunity.

by Michael Green
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Ireland Criticized by US Senator

The Irish tax system is under the microscope after US Senator Carl Levin called the country a ‘tax haven’ and this despite the fact that the US government does not officially class Ireland as one.

The Senator is clearly unhappy with the fact that Apple Inc, the computer technology company, is reported to only pay as little as 2% tax on its profits by registering its business in Ireland. By doing this the profits can be funnelled through Ireland and then on to an actual tax haven country, thus avoiding a big tax bill in the US.

It is clearly not unreasonable for the US Senate to be unhappy with this situation. Huge companies such as Google and Apple have for many years now avoided paying large amounts of tax in their homeland by the use of these schemes.

The Irish government are furious and have repeatedly denied that any special deal was provided for Apple. The standard rate of corporation tax in Ireland remains at 12.5%. Most of the foreign multinational companies based in Ireland are American and employ about 150,000 people in the country. The IDA (Industrial Development Authority) of Ireland intends to write to Senator Levin about his comments.

Barry O’Leary of the IDA:
Irish officials will definitely be clarifying and making sure he (Senator Levin) is up-to-date on exactly what happens in Ireland ……the description he used (tax haven), I dont think anybody else would.

His annoyance with the US Senator was echoed by Government Minister Pat Rabbitte:
If there were monies channelled through Ireland (by US multi-nationals) then that is a function of what is allowed by the American tax system.

It has been suggested that the US authorities could easily close off this tax arrangement by changing their own tax law. Putting the ball back in the US Senator’s court is unlikely to reduce the pressure that the Irish Government is under and not just from the US. Fellow EU countries, especially France and Germany, are also unhappy with Ireland’s 12.5% tax rate for corporations and have mad several attempts over the last few years to have the rate upped.