Apple is one of the largest employers in Ireland and certainly the largest employer in Cork.
The US company is at the centre of one of the most significant European State aid cases of all time. This year the European Commission ruled that Ireland’s tax arrangements with Apple were illegal. The result is that Ireland must recover over €13 billion from the American electronics giant in illegally foregone taxes. While the case is now set to be appealed, the finding is considered to be an attack on Ireland’s tax system which is designed to attract foreign direct investment.
Given the importance of the Apple State aid case we were interested in finding out what supports, either financial or otherwise Apple was providing to UCC. Such supports are rarely controversial, large companies often sponsor research and cooperate with universities with a view to attracting graduates. Sometimes a large corporation wants to give something back and will contribute philanthropic money to educational establishments.
Universities and academics are considered to be experts in many areas of technology, economics, and policy, and their views are often reported as independent and objective and reported as such without question.
To maintain that reputation transparency in respect of private funding is important so that the public can know what interests are at play.
While there is absolutely no indication whatsoever that Apple exerts influence on UCC we felt that it was important that any financial or other support that Apple gives to UCC is known given the public controversy over its operations in Ireland.
In September we filed an FOI request with the university looking for full details of the support it received from Apple since 2011. UCC chose not to respond to our request including our request for an internal review. In the end it only responded once an appeal was lodged with the Information Commissioner.
In its response, UCC made contradictory claims. It said its accounting system does not record the identity of persons making payments to it and without offering any assistance it said that the volume of records would be too large for it to handle.
The Information Commissioner has now found that UCC’s justification was inadequate and ordered it to answer the request.