Wednesday, 13 November 2019

Ceisteanna (31)

Pearse Doherty

Ceist:

31. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Finance the legal fees and the companies and firms to which the fees have been paid disaggregated by amount paid to each firm in the appeal case regarding the ruling of the European Commissioner for Competition in 2016 on illegal state aid in respect of a company (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46893/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (13 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Finance)

To refer to the last question, there is no written commitment from the industry as there was in the past. I know that only too well. If there is, I would love to see it published. With regard to Question No. 31, there is €14.3 billion sitting in an escrow account which, according to the European Commission, is owed in tax to this State. The Minister's Government is fighting against the European Commission's ruling that Apple made use of illegal tax arrangements. Not only is the Government now trying to throw away €14 billion to which the State is entitled, but it is hiding how much money it is spending on fighting this case from the people and taxpayers of this State. We are entitled to know how much of our money the Government is spending defending the Apple case and to whom it is paying it. Will the Minister tell us that today? He has given us similar information in the past, but he has now decided to hide it.

Ireland has never accepted the Commission's analysis in the Apple state aid decision and is challenging the Commission's decision before the European courts. An application to annul the Commission decision was lodged with the General Court of the European Union. The case was granted priority status and the confidential written proceedings have taken place in private over the last number of years. The oral hearing took place in the General Court of the European Union on 17 and 18 September. The timing of the judgment is entirely at the discretion of the court.

However, it will most likely be several years before the case is ultimately concluded. We fully respect the judicial process and, as can be expected, have robustly defended our position throughout it.

Over the past seven years, approximately €7.5 million, including VAT, has been paid for external services relating to the case, of which approximately €3.9 million relates to the recovery process. This includes all legal costs, consultancy fees and other associated costs. These fees have been paid by the Department of Finance, Revenue Commissioners, NTMA, Central Bank of Ireland, Attorney General's office, and Chief State Solicitor's office. The cost of legal fees is lower than the total cost as other fees, such as those relating to translation services, are not included.

Five companies are covered by the Deputy's question on legal fees and the companies and firms to which the fees have been paid. The approximate totals paid to each of these to date, inclusive of VAT, are as follows: William Fry, €3.2 million; McCann Fitzgerald, €523,000; PwC, €611,000; Baker McKenzie, €148,000; and Hogan Lovells, €3,900. The total paid to external individual counsel engaged is approximately €2.8 million. As the Deputy will be aware, while I previously provided details of payments to individual counsel, I am no longer in a position to do so, based on legal advice provided to my Department. It is not possible to determine future costs of the case. However, as it is an important issue for the State, the case will continue to be resourced as needed.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Minister for laying out the vast amount of taxpayers' money the Government is using to fight the European Commission to ensure we do not get €14 billion of money it believes we are owed. It would be laughable were it not so serious. Many areas could do with a touch of that €14 billion, on which the Government is spending millions of euro of our money to ensure we never get. The Data Protection Commissioner and the Information Commissioner have laid bare the Minister's deception. There are no rules that would prevent him from releasing the information he is now withholding. The Government is misusing procedure and deliberately misinterpreting rules to hide its true intentions. GDPR is meant to protect consumers. It is not supposed to be used to hide efforts to help millionaires or billionaires rip off the Irish people. The Office of the Information Commissioner stated that data protection legislation does not prohibit the release of personal information relating to third parties. The Data Protection Commission, DPC, has gone even further than that and provided details similar to the ones I am seeking today, for which many Members have been asking for many months. It has provided information on both firms and individual barristers. It did so after GDPR came into effect, and I think the Data Protection Commissioner is more of an expert on data protection than the rest of us. Given what I have said and based on the rulings of the DPC, does the Minister not believe it is now appropriate for him to put all the information on the record of this House?

The Deputy used the word "deception". On what basis is he making that claim? He asked me how much money is being paid, and I answered him. That €14 billion is a huge amount. As he has a deep understanding of these matters, he knows that in the event of us losing this case, many other countries would immediately challenge Ireland for their perceived share of the €14 billion. Our country would face demands from many members of the EU and beyond for what they would perceive as their share of that fund.

The Deputy also claimed that I was in some way unwilling to make this information available. I have made the information on the legal fees available to him. There are differing views on whether GDPR covers this matter, which were brought to my attention. I take those views very seriously. I reviewed the matter yesterday and the legal advice provided to me is clear that I can name the overall total amount paid, the firms, and the total amount paid to individuals, but I am not able to provide the information per individual. I will, or course, make any other information available to the Deputy.

The DPC has provided information on firms as well as individual barristers. That is the key point here. That information was provided after GDPR came into effect under the Data Protection Commissioner, who is an expert on matters of GDPR and data protection. The granular detail I requested is not being provided, and I ask the Minister to re-examine that request.

He claims that other countries would come for a slice of the €14.3 billion that both the Commission and I believe is owed to this State, for which there is no evidence. Which other finance ministers have contacted him directly and said they will come after part of that €14.3 billion if we lose this case? I ask him to put that on the record of the House in order that we can all be informed. Neither I nor my party has been informed of that. If the Minister has been told by these countries that they will be waiting in the wings, ready to take action against this State, then so be it. In that case, at least we would legally have the €14.3 billion and would be spending legal fees trying to protect it rather than to ensure we never see a whiff of it.

The Deputy alleged that I had committed some form of deception. He is only too quick to challenge the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, whenever he raises any issue with him. By making the charge of deception he is alleging that I am concealing something from the House. I was asked a set of questions about cost, which I have answered transparently, as is my duty to the Deputy. He equally has a duty not to make charges of deception against me over which he cannot stand. I have reviewed the advice made available to me on the GDPR consequences of providing information on individual senior counsel. That advice is clear, but I will provide any other information relating to total cost, cost by firm, and the aggregate cost we are paying to individual senior counsel. I accept that €7 million is a significant amount and that I should be held to account by the Oireachtas on how it is spent.

The Apple case has been raised with me by other finance ministers. They have raised it with me and want to know its status.

That is not the question.

I believe that in the event of us losing this case, other jurisdictions will look for access to the money. While I do not believe we will lose the case-----

Have they raised it with the Minister? That is the question.

-----the risk of that happening is the very reason the money cannot be spent. This money is not ours. We are not a global tax collector.

None of the finance ministers said they would take a case against the Government.

We need to defend against this claim.

That is the problem.