The Tax Man Cometh, but Not to Ireland

By Sam Obenhaus

While the United States has one of the highest corporate tax rates in the developed world, it is often pointed out that the effective tax rate – what corporations actually pay – is significantly lower than the official rate.  For a number of tech companies, this is largely due to one man: Feargal O’Rourke, the head of PricewaterhouseCoopers’ tax practice in Ireland.

Ireland, of course, is at the center of many tech companies tax strategies.  O’Rorke is a chief architect of many of these plans, including those used by Google, LinkedIn, and Facebook.  Each of those companies funnels its profits through Ireland on their way to other tax havens, such as Grand Cayman and the Isle of Man.  These strategies are estimated to cost the U.S. federal government and its European counterparts an estimated $100 billion per year in lost revenue.

With austerity gripping much of Europe and sequestration in the United States, Ireland has found itself in the middle of a controversy.  Governments need more revenue, and some U.S. lawmakers have started calling Ireland a tax haven.  But O’Rourke – perhaps Ireland’s biggest defender – is undeterred. 

He points out that Ireland’s tax strategies have led many multinational corporations to set up offices in Ireland.  These operations are estimated to employee approximately 100,000 people.  Further, he notes that the United States and other countries could tip the balance overnight by simply changing their own tax laws.  What O’Rourke may be less willing to discuss is his role in shaping Ireland’s tax policies. 

Bloomberg has more on O’Rourke, while Reuters reports on Ireland’s recent moves to shed its image as a tax haven.