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Dublin: 5 °C Saturday 24 March, 2018

Leo, Zuckerberg and Tim Cook: Varadkar's mission to woo US tech companies

Microsoft, Facebook and Apple – the Taoiseach made pitstop visits to them all this week.

LEO VARADKAR TO DONALD Trump: “You know that claim you made about our corporation tax rate? Well, it was ‘fake news’”.

That was essentially what the Taoiseach said in the Dáil two weeks ago, using Trump’s own catchphrase (and new addition to the Collins Dictionary) to mock a speech the US president made in the White House’s Rose Garden where he name-checked Ireland.

“You look at other countries and what they’ve done, and we’re competing with other countries,” Trump said. “When China is at 15% and I hear that Ireland is going to be reducing their corporate rates down to 8% from 12%,” said Trump.

The Department of Finance strongly denied Trump’s claim and when the Taoiseach was asked about it, he simply replied with a grin on his face:

It is indeed fake news.

Fast forward a couple of weeks and Varadkar is stateside, wooing US tech companies with talk about their connections to Ireland, with an added dash of Irish malarkey, just to keep the US business punters on side.

The former Taoiseach Enda Kenny was often criticised for playing up to the Irish stereotype with US business and political leaders.

While Varadkar may not be as obvious about it, there are of course the Irish references thrown into the odd speech which he knows the Americans will lap up.

DNrRx4xWsAEucqt Taoiseach poses with a statue of Harvey Milk, the San Francisco supervisor who was shot dead in City Hall. Source: @campaignforleo

Speaking in San Francisco City Hall, Varadkar said:

In the nineteenth century, Frank McCoppin from Longford became your 12th Mayor was, and in the early twentieth century Patrick McCarthy from Limerick became your 26th. And since then there have been several Mayors of Irish descent.
In so many ways the Irish have helped to build and support this city, and that continues right to the present day.

While in a speech to a business dinner in Seattle, he said:

In one of the earliest histories of this region, this place was described as ‘a beautiful park set amidst a grove of trees’.  And of course it owes its name – and its origins – to two Irishmen in the 1850s who were inspired the small village in Co. Galway which they had left. Today the friendship between the two Menlos is as strong as ever, and the warm feeling of connection and kinship extends to the rest of Ireland.

Just enough Irish ancestry talk to keep American eyes smiling.

But the Taoiseach has been received well by the Irish in America.

One business person attending one of Varadkar’s events said that to have a gay Taoiseach who is son of minority parents representing Ireland “in this political climate is amazing, for either Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil – it’s an awesome message”.

Trade mission 

How are such trade trips regarded by Donald Trump?

The truth is, Trump does not like for one minute that US companies are choosing to locate in Ireland to take advantage of our generous corporation tax rate.

Leaving aside the argument about whether it’s morally right for large conglomerates to avail of low taxes in Ireland, the fact is the US president has Ireland in his sights, and has referenced the country quite a few times in relation to our 12.5% tax rate.

The US president has said America has lost its competitive edge, and that he is willing to lower the corporation tax in a bid to get businesses to stay in the US. He’s also threatened to slap fines on businesses that choose to take business outside American borders.

Leo’s photo-ops with America’s leading tech leaders are sure to rub Trump the wrong way.

First it was a meeting in Microsoft in Seattle, where the Taoiseach pointed out that he was just six years old when the company set up in Ireland. That was 32 years ago and the company now employs 3,000 people in Ireland.

It was then on to Facebook, where the Taoiseach posed for another photo with the company’s founder Mark Zuckerberg, while also announcing the company is going to hire hundreds of additional staff in Ireland.

It was then on to Google where the Taoiseach said he met with some “Irish Googlers” as well as senior executives. And finally, it was on to a meeting with Apple’s Tim Cook.

The Taoiseach was quick to point out that the company employs over 5,000 people in Ireland, though it wasn’t all good news – there was speculation that the Apple data centre in Athenry, which was held up due to planning permission objections, might be at risk.

It is serious business though. Ireland has been named the best country in the world for attracting high-value foreign direct investments for the sixth year in a row.

Such companies bring in a massive amount of revenue to the country, and often create hundreds of jobs. That’s often used as a reason to keep Ireland’s tax rate low – although many would argue we are letting these conglomerates off too easy, while the ordinary taxpayer is left with a greater burden.

But the truth is, with Trump threatening to clamp down on American companies investing abroad and promising to make the US corporation tax rate more attractive to businesses, Varadkar knows he must keep the big players sweet.

Read: Donald Trump’s Twitter account was deactivated by a Twitter employee on their last day>

Minister’s warning: ‘Tenure of individual bank directors’ in firing line unless there’s progress on trackers>

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