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Ireland is No One-Trick Pony – Ireland and Tax

Link Blog | September 7, 2016

What is the big news story of the last month? I’ll give you a clue, one a day will keep the doctor away and can apparently lead to a thorough examination of Ireland’s tax code! While our corporate tax regime has come under intense scrutiny over the last number of years, there have been many changes made to personal tax rates in that time which have slipped under the radar. For instance, most people on the street will know the finer details of the Apple case, but how many people have heard of SARP? The Special Assignee Relief Programme was instituted in 2012, by the then government, in order to attract foreign executives to Ireland. Under the scheme executives can write off 30% of their income over €75,000 for income tax purposes. These incentives are a result of a growing belief that in order to attract jobs to Ireland we must attract decision makers. The theory goes that the only way to attract those people is to offer them generous tax incentives.

Remaining competitive in terms of tax is essential to Ireland, however, this laserlike focus on tax could actually be damaging to us. Firstly it has allowed the international media to paint Ireland as a one trick pony and has even led to claims that we are a tax haven! Secondly it reduces the tax take to the exchequer, and thirdly a slavish adherence to the theory that low taxes are the only game in town neglects all of the other factors which really attract both companies and talent.

If you look at surveys which track what draws investment to Ireland, they clearly show that companies value stability, access to EU markets and access to an educated pool of talent as more important than corporate tax rates. A strong argument exists that executives also prioritise other factors over tax considerations. I worked in financial markets in London in 2009 when the 50% tax on earnings over £150k was introduced. The news spread like wildfire and prompted many high earners to consider leaving. They didn’t. Why?, because London held much more for them than pounds and pence. London had good schools for their children, good transport, nightlife and culture. In other words family and quality of life were just as important as net pay. Indeed there was very low initial take up on the SARP scheme. An earnings cap of €500k was lifted in order to make the scheme more attractive, but are we barking up the wrong tree?

Dublin is a vibrant city and Ireland a fantastic place to live. We are now (or will be shortly!) the only English speaking country in the EU, we have a highly educated workforce, an attractive culture and social scene and a stable environment in which to locate jobs and raise a family. Why aren’t we pushing that angle when companies have already told us they find it so important? Our focus on low taxes reveals a lack of confidence in what Ireland has to offer to the world, and might ironically reduce the funds necessary to provide the top class educational, legal, and infrastructural systems which make a country an attractive place to live and work.

Lets be clear, Ireland should always retain control of its tax affairs and should be competitive in terms of the rates it levies. It’s not a case of pushing tax rates higher or some campaign to bash the rich. It’s simply that our competitive tax regime should only be one part of our proposal to investors, one part of what we are known for internationally. We should be proud and have the confidence that Ireland has so much more to offer.

Cormac Spencer

Link Personnel Services

01 845 6312

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