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Facebook closes Web Summit founder’s page on Irish tax avoidance

Edmund Heaphy
Ireland Correspondent
Paddy Cosgrave, co-founder of the Web Summit technology conference, in November. Photo: Reuters

Facebook has closed down a page set up by Web Summit co-founder Paddy Cosgrave that sought to highlight billions of euros worth of tax avoidance in Ireland.

Cosgrave on Monday revealed that he was the person behind the Irish Tax Agency campaign, which was created to “educate European citizens on new Irish tax structures.”

The social media giant closed down the page, which had been used to create ads targeting European users of its platform, for “violating our policies against impersonation.”

The page and website simply listed a contact number for the Irish foreign affairs ministry, revealing no information about who was behind the campaign.

The ads advised Facebook users that companies could reduce their taxes to 1% “by relocating to Ireland from high tax EU nations.”

Cosgrave said he launched the campaign following a March United Nations report that criticised Ireland’s preferential tax laws for vulture funds, which have bought up swathes of apartment blocks and housing estates in the country.

These vulture fund landlords “have become faceless corporations wreaking havoc with tenants’ right to security and contributing to the global housing crisis,” the UN said.

The Web Summit co-founder said he was particularly interested in the vulture funds’ use of a tax-free legal structure known as a qualifying investor alternative investment fund (QIAIF), which can be set up in around 24 hours with few restrictions.

Cosgrave, who founded the internationally renowned Web Summit conference in 2009, had created a similar campaign in 2016.

“My expectation is, as it was in 2016, that raising awareness of these tax structures across Europe, which I personally consider legalised loopholes, would trigger renewed pressure on the Irish government to close them,” he said in a Facebook post.

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In a tweet, Cosgrave commended Facebook’s “enhanced scrutiny and transparency of advertising,” saying it should be welcomed.

“I was able to advertise for 5 days unimpeeded [sic] to folks at the European Commission, OECD & WSJ about tax in Ireland. In time algorithms should reduce this to zero,” he said.

His campaign on Facebook reached over 1.4 million people, he noted.

Irish tax laws have been under international scrutiny for decades, with the country’s European partners accusing it of giving huge tax breaks to multinational companies.

Digital giants like Google, Facebook, and Apple, which maintain their European headquarters in the country, have often been said to book profits in Ireland in order to avoid paying higher taxes elsewhere.

In February, the Irish finance ministry said it was “supportive” of an OECD examination of global tax rules, noting that changes to international tax frameworks were “necessary to ensure that we reach a stable global consensus for how and where companies should be taxed.”