Apple are a company much talked about in Ireland, the ongoing tax scandal and the governments refusal to collect tax money owed has caused justifiable anger as many people question the wisdom of spending millions on court cases to help a private company avoid paying billions, all while crisis’s in healthcare and housing continue to get worse.
For the 4,00people in Athenry however the biggest Apple story is the tech companies plan to build a data centre in the town. This plan has divided locals many were quick to welcome the investment and the natural assumption that the data centre would provide much needed jobs and attract further investment to the town. However serious concerns have been raised about the suitability of the proposed development, alongside doubts as to whether it will in fact benefit the local economy in a meaningful way.
Apple announced the plan to build a data centre in Athenry in 2015, and planning was granted in September 2015 however 8 separate objections were lodged with An Bord Pleanála citing environmental concerns. Since then the court took nearly three years to announce its final decision on the case, allowing the project to go ahead
The data centre
The planned centre is a massive 850 million euro investment and once built would be the size of 23 football pitches. Apple announced that they would like the centre to be ran completely by renewable energy, like its data centres in Denmark. The centre would provide up to 300 jobs during construction but the number of permanent positions would be much lower. Apple announced that the number of permanent positions would be a maximum of 150, however based on staffing levels at similar facilities in other countries it could be as low as 50.
The energy usage associated with the data centre has been somewhat absent from the debate, it is however one of the main planning issues in the objections. The enormous power demands of the centre were outlined in a letter sent to Galway county council. The centre is set to be the single biggest electricity user in Ireland and will account for nearly 10% of Ireland’s electricity use.
At a time when renewable energy accounts for less than a third of Irish electricity generation it is not clear how Apple can guarantee that the data centre would be powered entirely by renewable energy. Clearly these issues had to be addressed by Apple before the centre could be awarded permission to be built.
Understandably the announcement of the 850 million investment in a small rural town was the cause for much excitement as people naturally assumed that this investment would create jobs and attract further investment. Local politicians have been quick to promote this view as an attempt to show that they are delivering investment for the people of Athenry.
Athenry like all of rural Ireland has been hit hard by the recession and like many towns has little in the way of employment opportunities or industry. The people of Athenry as such were quick to welcome the planned investment.
This is probably one of the worst aspect of the ongoing planning row, the people of Athenry have become invested in this dispute in the belief that the outcome will provide a significant economic boost to a town that has been forgotten economically. Now that permission has been granted and the limited jobs will be created the people of Athenry will find out that data centres do not created tech investment hotspots, and that three years of campaigning has only secured a few hundred temporary jobs.
A real solution.
The elephant in the room here is the 13 billion owed by Apple, Now that apple are committed to a long term investment in Ireland the argument that they would leave if they had to pay their tax bill is further undermined.
Today’s court decision should be followed by the government accepting the European Commission’s ruling and collecting the tax owed by Apple. This 13 billion would allow for investment in both the necessary electricity infrastructure for facilities like the data center, and vital investment in housing, health, education, and rural development.
This would provide the necessary funds for creating a vibrant rural economy where rural communities are not depending on a few hundred temporary jobs for economic security.
Apple has already built two data centres in Denmark where the corporate tax rate is 24%, there is absolutely no argument for Apple not to pay Ireland’s already low 12% corporate tax rate. The claim that we need our low corporate tax rate to attract investment has now been revealed for the ideologically motivated lie that it is.