Less than a month ago, Irish Finance Minister Michael Noonan announced in an address introducing the 2015 budget to the Irish parliament that the country will be changing its tax code to require all companies registered in Ireland to be tax residents, thereby ending the so-called Double Irish loophole utilized by many US companies and multinationals to reduce their tax liabilities. Noonan was quoted in one recent article as stating, “Aggressive tax planning by the multinational companies has been criticized by governments across the globe, and has damaged the reputation of many countries.”
This article will briefly examine the Double Irish structure used by US companies and others, and the new changes that will affect this structure; this article is not intended to convey tax or legal advice under either US or Irish laws.
The changes to the Double Irish loophole, combined with the recent Department of the Treasury and Internal Revenue Service Notice 2014-52, “Rules Regarding Inversions and Related Transactions” will significantly affect many US companies. Tax planning and compliance will become even more important the days ahead. Please contact Mr. Eugene Sherayzen, an experienced international tax attorney at Sherayzen Law Office, PLLC for questions about your tax and legal needs.
The Double Irish Loophole
Before the new changes, multinationals could utilize a structure commonly referred to as the “Double Irish”. In general, under the Double Irish structure, companies would take advantage of Irish territorial taxation laws, meaning that the income of an Irish subsidiary operating outside of Ireland would not be subject to taxation. Prior to the new change, an entity in Ireland would be considered to be a tax resident not where it was incorporated, but rather where its controlling managers were located; thus, an entity registered in Ireland with its managers located in a tax haven would be considered to be a tax resident of the tax haven, and not Ireland, if properly structured.
US companies would often take advantage of this structure by forming offshore subsidiary entities that would own the rights to intellectual property located outside the United States, typically without paying US tax, through a cost sharing agreement between US parents and offshore companies. The non-US intellectual property rights would then be licensed to a second Irish subsidiary (hence the “Double Irish” phrase), which would be an Irish tax resident, generally in return for royalty payments, or similar fees. The second Irish subsidiary would additionally be able to deduct the royalties or other fees paid to the entity in the tax haven, thereby reducing its taxable profits (and subjecting any remaining profits to Ireland’s competitive 12.5% rate). Until such profits were remitted to the US, they would typically not be subject to US taxation.
Many US companies, such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Google, Twitter and others successfully used the Double Irish loophole to reduce their overall tax liabilities.
Ending the Double Irish Loophole
Under the new changes to the Double Irish loophole, beginning in January of 2015, all newly Irish-registered entities will automatically be deemed to be Irish tax residents. The new rules will not apply to companies currently utilizing the Double Irish structure; however, such companies will need to be compliant with the new rules by the end of 2020. Ireland will still retain its favorable 12.5% corporate tax rate.
The changes to the Double Irish loophole were made as a result of intense international criticism and potentially adverse consequences for Ireland. This year, the European Commission announced that it would conduct a formal investigation into the practices of various companies with Irish subsidiaries, including the Double Irish loophole. According to various news reports, European Union officials have expressed preliminary support for the new changes.
To address the possible loss of jobs resulting from the new changes (one news report puts the number of jobs created by foreign firms registering in Ireland to be 160,000 jobs, or approximately one in ten workers in the country – a lot of these jobs were created as a result of the Double Irish loophole), Noonan announced that he intended to create a new taxable rate for income derived from intellectual property in the form of a “Knowledge Development Box”. However, the EU is currently investigating so-called “patent boxes” (which could likely be similar to Noonan’s future proposal) utilized by various other European countries, such as the U.K. and the Netherlands.
Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help With International Tax Planning
Since 2008, the world has experienced an almost unprecedented surge in the international tax enforcement, reflecting the desire (and the great economic need) of many countries to be able to obtain what these countries consider their fair share of tax revenues from international companies. The recent change to Irish tax laws with respect to the Double Irish loophole is just the latest example of this growing trend.
As tax enforcement rises, many US companies operating overseas and foreign companies operating in the United States are facing increasing risks of over-taxation with a direct threat to their profitability. For a number of reasons, the mid-size and small companies that operate internationally face a disproportionate increase in these risks than large multinational companies.
Sherayzen Law Office has successfully helped companies around the world to successfully operate internationally while reducing the risks of being subject to unfair tax treatment. If you have a small or mid-size business that operates internationally, you should contact our international tax team for professional legal and tax help.