March 23, 2020 / 12:20 PM / 12 days ago

Ireland cannot tap Apple tax fund for coronavirus fight, PM says

FILE PHOTO: Ireland's Prime Minister, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar addresses a Friends of Ireland luncheon held in his honor on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., March 12, 2020. REUTERS/Tom Brenner

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Ireland cannot use the more than 14 billion euros in disputed taxes it has collected from Apple (AAPL.O) pending a European court appeal to boost the economy in the fight against coronavirus, Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said on Monday.

Apple is one of Ireland’s largest multinational employers with 6,000 workers and both it and the Irish government have gone to court to fight a European Union order that the iPhone maker must pay the back taxes to Dublin.

The leader of the opposition Sinn Fein party, Mary Lou McDonald, suggested on Sunday that the state could reach “right this minute” into the escrow account where the funds are being held to pay for further income supports for workers.

“Mary Lou McDonald should know better, the Apple money is in an escrow account and that is where it is being held until the European Commission decides where that money is going to go,” Varadkar told reporters.

“The European courts will decide whether that money either belongs to Apple or comes to the Irish revenue commissioners and then has to be distributed out among the counties of Europe. It’s not ours to take and it’s now before the courts.

“She should know better before coming out with that kind of rubbish.”

With the legal challenge expected to run for years, Ireland’s debt agency has invested the disputed taxes in low risk, highly rated euro-dominated bonds, mainly short to medium-term sovereign securities.

Ireland will introduce a significant financial package this week for those who have lost their jobs due to coronavirus-related disruption and others at risk of becoming unemployed, Deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney said on Sunday.

The government has said it can push the public finances back into deficit to fund the measures, as well as tapping its 1.5 billion euro “rainy day” reserve fund and the 4 billion euro surplus the country’s “bad bank” will begin turning over to the state this year from a decade-long sale of risky property loans.

Reporting by Padraic Halpin, editing by Ed Osmond

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