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Apple's EU tax ruling has sparked talk of an 'Ir-exit'

Amid the controversy following the EU's ruling on Apple's tax affairs, concerns have been raised about whether Ireland might be heading for an exit from the European Union.

Experts and analysts were left reeling at the enormity of the 13 billion euro ($14.5 billion) penalty which some accused of impeding on the sovereignty of the nation. Some went so far as suggesting that Ireland could soon be following the U.K.'s example and hold a referendum on leaving the EU.

"We've had Brexit already and will this lead to Ireland again, they've done it twice before - don't forget the Lisbon Treaty in 2007/2008 - will they again lead to the threats of job cuts in Ireland ... could this lead to another vote on the EU inclusion?" Neil Campling, a senior vice-president and head of global TMT research at asset management firm Northern Trust Securities, told CNBC Tuesday.

"This could just be a tipping point for many other things to come."


Ireland's relationship with the bureaucracy in Brussels has never been a smooth one.

It took two referendums in the latter part of the last decade for the Irish people to accept the EU's Lisbon Treaty. This was aimed at streamlining decision-making in the euro zone but was initially rejected with concerns that it could threaten national sovereignty.

Ireland also initially rejected the Treaty of Nice in 2001 which aimed to include more countries within the European Union. Campaigners at the time were concerned that Ireland would lose generous subsidies if new, poorer members were admitted.

Ireland - which is a member of the EU and the euro zone which shares the single currency - has enjoyed a fairly swift rebound since the housing crash and the economic downturn that began in 2008. It received a bailout in 2010 from the EU and international creditors but it's surging growth means that it is now a small net contributor to the EU budget this year, the first time it has been since it joined the bloc in 1973.

Martin Shanahan, chief executive of IDA Ireland, which is responsible for foreign investment in the country, told CNBC Wednesday that Ireland has made it very clear that it remains committed to Europe, despite the government being angered by this latest decision.

European Commissioner Margrethe Vestager gestures during a news conference on Ireland's tax dealings with Apple Inc at the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium August 30, 2016.
Eric Vidal | Reuters
European Commissioner Margrethe Vestager gestures during a news conference on Ireland's tax dealings with Apple Inc at the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium August 30, 2016.

"I think that the question raised yesterday is a different one which is: 'Is Europe, and particularly the European Commission committed to jobs, economic growth and innovation within the European market?' Because every signal they sent out yesterday was that they are not," he said.

"We are a member of the European Union, we have access to the European market. We will remain so I don't believe that will change," he added.

For now, it's mere speculation on a possible exit for Ireland that has extended to the hashtag "Irexit" trending on social media. Brian Hayes, a member of the European Parliament for the ruling Fine Gael party has also voiced his concerns. He has previously told the Irish media that EU efforts to dilute the country's generous corporation tax regime could see the Republic following the U.K. out of the door.

Nonetheless, several surveys still point to continued pride among Irish citizens with their EU membership. A survey by the University of Edinburgh earlier this year showed Irish respondents overwhelmingly thought that Britain should have voted to stay in the EU. Meanwhile, a survey of 1,000 Irish citizens by public relations firm PR360 showed that 77 percent believe that EU membership is a positive for Ireland.

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