Miriam Lord: Martin Kenny butt of joke in fruitless Apple debate

No sense of urgency or excitement as Leinster House inched towards novelty vote

It was deep in the afternoon doldrums and Dáil Éireann inched slowly towards the novelty vote.

Sinn Féin's Martin Kenny rose to talk about Apple.

He leaned back against the leather seat and began his speech, reading from an iPad propped up on the ledge in front.

He had a script, but not in paper form. It was on his tablet.


Off he went, launching confidently into the party line. “For Ireland to appeal the European Commission’s finding on Apple would be even more damaging to its reputation because it would involve defending tax evasion,” he said, before moving onto his second paragraph about how the company conducts its business in Ireland.

Then he hesitated, leaned forward and moved his finger up and down the screen.


“Sorry. The thing is gone!”


We’ve all been there.

Had the handful of TDs in the chamber been listening (which they weren’t), somebody might have suggested: “Have you tried turning it off and on again?” But nobody did.

Martin, to his credit, kept going. He didn’t say much more, but he left no dead air. It was a very short contribution.

Strange, the way the Sligo-Leitrim TD’s device let him down just when he was making less than laudatory remarks about the Apple Corporation and its tax arrangements in Ireland. You wouldn’t want to be the suspicious type, not with the way all these global tech giants seem to know everything about anyone who ever pressed “enter” on a keyboard.

They are watching us.

And then all of a sudden Martin’s iPad goes blank in the national parliament just when he is about to attack the company which “did not pay its taxes in Ireland.”

Did an alarm go off in Cupertino?

Never mind. Whether Martin Kenny got to read his script in full or not wasn’t going to make one jot of difference to the outcome of a wordy but empty exercise in futility.

Recalling Dáil Éireann when the House is in recess is regarded as a major event. It isn't done lightly. But there was no sense of urgency or excitement about proceedings in Leinster House yesterday.

After eight hours of talking about the European Commission’s ruling that Apple must cough up €13 billion in back taxes to Ireland because this country cooked up a sweetheart deal with that corporation, the Government wanted the Dáil to endorse its decision to appeal the judgment.

This was the novelty vote.

The Cabinet has already decided to appeal to the "European U-nun", as Michael Noonan puts it. So the vote was neither here nor there.

Boxer Michael Conlan was done down by a dodgy vote at the Olympics. But at least Conlan, who was clearly the winner in his bronze medal bout, went into his fight with the firm belief he could win it. Yesterday, deputies approached their vote in the firm knowledge that the result was already a foregone conclusion.

But they fought the fight and talked the talk anyway.

At least we got to see how the installation of the new sound and voting systems is proceeding. There are new microphones which appear to work very well, although they will need some tweaking. When Sinn Féin's Pearse Doherty spoke – he's not a quiet speaker – he nearly blew us off the gallery. And when People Before Profit's Richard Boyd Barrett got into his stride, we could hear him outside the chamber and down the stairs into the entrance corridor.

Vincent Browne’s tie

Some things never change. As if the resident fashion police in Leinster House haven’t enough to be doing trying to ignore the sartorial misdemeanours of some of the less compliant TDs (it must be terribly upsetting for them), a blue serged and gold striped custodian of the dress code felt it necessary to upbraid Vincent Browne for having the damned impertinence to attempt to knot his tie while sitting on the press gallery.

We understand “decorum” was mentioned, which is hilarious, given what passes for decorum on the floor below every time the Dáil sits.

A giant big screen has been installed on the back wall for showing the votes. It would also be brilliant for showing football matches and the like on slow days.

Shane Ross and Finian McGrath continued their practice of not sitting with their Government colleagues. Instead, they sat in the adjoining section, a few rows above the front bench. Katherine Zappone did the same.

The arguments from both sides were well rehearsed all last week. Nothing new emerged from yesterday’s official gabfest.

Sinn Féin tried to liven things up by holding a “lunchtime protest” on Kildare Street, urging the Government not to appeal the decision. It was sparsely attended, rather like the proceedings inside.

The Labour Party, or what's left of it, declared it would be supporting the appeal. Brendan Howlin, Joan Burton and Alan Kelly accompanying themselves loudly on the trumpet. We wouldn't be where we are today – very right and proper on the global and corporate tax front – were it not for all the great work they did when in power.

“The Labour Party took the double Irish and the Dutch Sandwich off the menu,” boasted Joan, who appears to have branched off into catering.

Hurling abuse

Mattie McGrath, in a wide-ranging speech, appeared to be against the appeal. But, due to the small matter of Tipperary winning the senior and minor hurling finals at the weekend, he was a little flustered when insisting that the Apple money be given to Ireland straight away.

“Shake your head all you like, Minister. I believe I’m telling the truth. I shall be proven wrong (sic) on this when it comes to it and I have no intention of supporting this appeal,” he declared.

The authorities, not content with going after Vincent Browne’s tie, wouldn’t let Mattie fly his little Tipp flag from his car when arrived at the gates.

"I hope the EU won't decide to do any appeal about the style and manner of the hurling," he added, before getting a few swipes in at commissioner and Kilkenny man Phil Hogan, "who had a bad day on Sunday."

The Taoiseach, meanwhile, got down to brass tacks.

“Ireland, as a country, is naturally blessed in so many ways – from the beauty of our land to our wonderful people – but it has to be acknowledged that we also have disadvantages when compared to some rival economies. Geographically, we are a peripheral island at the edge of a continent with a large ocean beyond.”

Richard Boyd-Barrett couldn’t stop laughing.

Those supporting the appeal pointed out that the money is never likely to materialise. And in the meantime, Ireland is working to be the best in class on the tax front.

And in years to come, when these non-tax haven, tax haven days are remembered, it will probably be in the usual manner.

As in The Emergency and The Troubles, people will talk about when global corporations paid less tax on profits than a corner shop and recall what happened during “The Arrangements.”