As part of his push for tax cuts and tax reform, United States President Donald Trump held a press conference at the Rose Garden on 16 October 2017, during which he made an interesting comparison between the United States and other countries, in particular, Ireland:
You look at other countries, what they’ve done, and we’re competing with other countries. When China’s at 15 percent [corporate tax], when — I hear that Ireland is going to be reducing their corporate rates down to 8 percent from 12. But you have other countries also reducing — we can’t be at 35 percent and think we’re going to remain competitive in terms of companies and in terms of jobs.
The relevant section begins at 1:34 below:
His claim regarding Ireland’s corporate tax rate is entirely false. Not only does the Irish government have no plans to reduce the country’s rate of corporation tax to eight percent, but no such proposal has ever even been brought up.
As it happens, Ireland reset all its taxation rates just days before Trump’s comments as part of the country’s annual budget, which took place on 10 October 2017. The government kept the rate of corporation tax at 12.5 percent (not 12 percent, as Trump stated), and Paschal Donohoe, Ireland’s Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform (roughly equivalent to Treasury Secretary) said at the time:
We have a stable and competitive corporation tax system, which is internationally recognised as one of the most transparent in the world. Our position is clear. The 12.5 per cent tax rate is, and will remain, a core part of our offering.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Donohoe directly refuted President Trump’s claim:
There are no proposals to change the corporation tax rate… Ireland’s corporation tax regime and 12.5 percent corporation tax rate will continue to be competitive, while also offering long-term certainty to international business. As always, we will remain alert and responsive to any changes in the U.S. or global tax environment.
On 18 October 2017, Ireland’s Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar called Trump’s claim “fake news.” In answer to a question from an opposition politician, Varadkar told the Irish parliament:
In relation to our corporate tax, I can confirm that President Trump’s claim that we’re proposing to reduce our corporation profit tax to eight percent is indeed fake news. There is no such plan do so.
(You can watch a video of the Taoiseach’s remarks here. The relevant section starts at 25.29.)
It’s not clear what the basis of Donald Trump’s claim was, or where he had “heard” that Ireland would be lowering its corporation tax rate to eight percent. A reduction from 12.5 to 8 percent was not ever brought up by the Irish government in the runup to the October 2017 budget, nor was it proposed by any opposition political party. At the last general election in 2016, no political party proposed reducing the corporate tax rate in their manifesto.
One economic analysis has estimated that the effective rate of corporation tax in Ireland — tax paid on a company’s net operating surplus — is 8.4 percent, and it is just about conceivable that this is what President Trump had in mind. However, his claim that Ireland is about to reduce the corporate tax rate down from “12 percent” is a reference to the country’s headline corporate tax rate (which is actually 12.5 percent), so it’s still not clear what the source or logic of Trump’s claim was.
Ireland has one of the lowest headline rates of corporate tax in the European Union, but has been under pressure from some European Union leaders seeking to establish harmonized tax policies across the continent, which would likely entail an increase from Ireland’s current rate of 12.5 percent.