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The Irish government’s announced plans to phase out the infamous “Double Irish” loophole represents a significant victory for tax justice advocates worldwide who have sought to end this practice, but also leaves an opening for corporations to find new tax avoidance schemes.
The loophole — used by companies like Apple and Google to dodge billions in taxes — allows multinational corporations to route international profits to Irish subsidiaries and then tell Irish authorities that these subsidiaries actually have tax residence in a tax haven such as Bermuda or, in the case of Apple, have no tax residence at all. Irish lawmakers have proposed requiring corporations registered in Ireland to also be tax residents of the country.
The move comes just two weeks after the European Commission ratcheted up pressure on the country by announcing that the special tax deal that Apple cut with Ireland could violate the European Union’s trade rules. This crackdown came on top of last year’s blockbuster U.S. Senate hearing, where Sen. Carl Levin laid out the breathtaking audacity of Apple’s tax avoidance scheme, including its use of Irish subsidiaries to pay nothing in taxes on tens of billions in profits.
The use of Irish subsidiaries to dodge taxes is widespread. A joint 2014 report by CTJ and U.S. PIRG found that more than 30 percent of Fortune 500 companies had at least one Irish subsidiary. While not every company with an Irish subsidiary is necessarily using it to dodge taxes, IRS data indicates that the amount of income being reported as earned in Ireland by U.S. companies is laughably implausible considering that it would constitute as much as 42 percent of the country’s overall GDP.
While Ireland’s current move appears to be more substantive than the empty gesture it proposed last year in an effort to assuage critics, there is still much to be desired about the proposal. To start, it keeps the loophole in place for all companies currently using it until 2020, which leaves plenty of time for companies to find new tax avoidance schemes or for the country to reinstate the loophole. In addition, Ireland’s announced plans to close the loophole coincided with Irish lawmakers announcing they would enact a new “patent box” tax break, which, depending on the details, could mean creating a substantial new loophole for companies to use.
Though Ireland’s decision to close its most egregious tax loophole shows that international pressure can push tax haven countries to change course, such reforms do not fundamentally change the incentive for U.S. multinational corporations to find other offshore tax loopholes to exploit. The way to end this incentive once and for all would be to end the rule allowing corporations to indefinitely defer U.S. taxes on their offshore profits. Short of ending deferral entirely, Congress should pass the Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act, which takes aim at the worst abuses of deferral. At the very least, Congress should not expand deferral by renewing the active financing exception and CFC look-through rule as part of the tax extenders package.