Google will continue to invest in Ireland, saying changes to the international corporation tax regime make “no difference at all” to their investment plans.
In an exclusive interview with RTÉ News, the chief executive of Alphabet, the parent company of Google, said: “We are going to continue to invest – We have invested over €1.5 billion over the past five years in Ireland and so that gives an indication of how we are committed to the country”.
Sundar Pichai also said the company would “engage constructively” with new European Union laws requiring greater moderation of content on digital platforms, and will be “working constructively to implement the changes”.
Mr Pichai was presented with an IDA Special Recognition Award award to mark Google’s contribution to the Irish economy over the two decades it has operated in Ireland.
Describing the expansion of Google in Ireland, he said: “It’s been an extraordinary journey for us. We started in 2003, about four years after Google was founded, with five employees. We are at over 9,000 employees now. We are committed to continuing to grow.”
He said Google will be moving 1,000 software engineers into the new Boland’s Mills building, which will become “a premier Safety and Security Engineering Center for all of Europe, and with some of the best talent in the industry.
“It’s been an exciting 20 years and I think it’ll be an exciting 20 years ahead, and we are going to be continuing to invest in Ireland,” he added.
Following the US corporation tax overhaul in 2017, and the more recent Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development reform of the international corporation tax rules, there has been growing unease in Ireland about the possible impact of the changes on Ireland’s industrial model, employment and the Government’s tax take.
Sundar Pichai was presented with an IDA Outstanding Achievement award
But Mr Pichai appears relaxed about the corporation tax changes: “We have definitely supported OECD reform conversations and we want to be a responsible player and support a global tax framework”.
He said there are other reasons why Google is committed to investing and growing employment in Ireland.
“You know, Ireland is a unique place. It gives us a chance to attract the best talent in the industry,” he said.
“It’s an optimistic place where we can think about technology and innovation. I think it will serve a crucial role not just in Europe, but helping drive transatlantic partnership. And so as a company we’re very committed”.
Ireland to play big role in digital regulation
Last weekend, the European Union agreed on new legislation, the Digital Services Act, which will require big tech companies to police online content more rigorously.
It follows agreement in March on the Digital Markets Act, an internet rulebook that tells big companies like Google or Facebook how they must not abuse their market power over smaller rivals.
As the European headquarters of many of the big internet companies, Ireland will be in the forefront of implementing these rules.
The boss of Alphabet says the company will implement the required changes, and said removing disinformation was “nothing new” for the company.
“As a company, we have always wanted to be good citizens in every place we operate in. We realise these are important legislations for Europe and we’re looking forward to engage in regulatory dialogue and working constructively to implement the changes,” he said.
“The details matter. But just like with GDPR over the past few years, we spent over 18 months getting ready anticipating it and making sure we are proactive about the changes and we will approach it (the DSA) the same way.
“We realise these are important legislations and look forward to working and I think Ireland will end up playing an important role there and so look forward to engaging there as well,” he said.
Asked about the new challenge of monitoring and policing online content, especially disinformation and misinformation, as well as criminal and terrorist content, Mr Pitchai said it was not something new for Google.
“This is at the heart of our mission to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.
“So in products like Search and YouTube, raising high quality information, making sure we don’t promote misinformation have all been a big part of the work we’ve been doing for many years, and we’ve invested people and resources, including the work that’s done out of our GSX centre in Dublin.
“This will be a continuation of our work, but at the same time, there are new requirements in the legislation, we will need to adapt to it and we’re committed to doing so”.
On the wider topic of whether the EU will be effective in its aim of leading the way in establishing rules for the internet, the Alphabet boss said: “We’ve always had the view we will approach this constructively.
“We do worry about some of the unintended consequences and we’ve been clear and public about our concerns. But it’s also important that we adapt, anticipate and constantly move ahead, and these regulations play an important role as well.
“In terms of how it plays out in the rest of the world, I think when it comes to what speech is allowed online, different countries have different norms and different expectations.
“It’s a societal thing and so we want to do what’s right for each society. I think there’ll be variations in some of this thing, but GDPR ended up playing a bit more of a pivotal role in setting templates around the world”.
“As a company, we are deeply committed to privacy, we’ve called for comprehensive Federal privacy legislation in the US.
“I think it’s important to have strong privacy legislation because it gives certainty to citizens, to people who use the internet, to companies – it gives a clear framework by which we can approach our products and services.
“We welcome thoughtful legislation. I think that’s important given the scale at which technology works and impact society”.
War in Ukraine presenting special challenges
The war in Ukraine has presented some special challenges for all online companies because of the level of information and misinformation that is being uploaded by governments as well as individuals.
“First of all, anytime you work through a situation like that it raises challenges. You know, it’s a heartbreaking situation”, said Mr Pitchai.
“We have relied on many years of expertise in this area and we have done this in partnership with important institutions, listening to feedback, and I think we’ve been able to take strong measures across our products.
“We’ve removed thousands of channels, videos. We’ve elevated high quality information, including journalistic content around an important moment like this, and I think we’ve been able to strike the right balance, but we have to be vigilant,” he said, adding that “the work continues every day”.
The Tánaiste said corporation tax was not the big talking point it once had been
The IDA Outstanding Achievement award was presented to Mr Pichai at a ceremony in Google’s Sunnyvale complex in Silicone Valley in California, by Tánaiste Leo Varadkar.
He said it was “really encouraging” that Google is expanding its presence in Ireland.
“They have over 9,000 people already employed by the company and that’s going to increase and I think we’ll see other companies increasing their presence over the next number of years – Apple, Microsoft and others, for example”.
Mr Varadkar is on a week long tour of IDA client companies headquartered on the west coast of the US, which has included meetings with Microsoft and Amazon in Seattle, as well as Meta and Google in Silicone Valley.
He is also involved in a trade promotion mission with Enterprise Ireland client firms seeking export and business opportunities in the US.
“We’re going to regulate the digital space and the digital platforms much more tightly in the future than we did in the past”
The Tánaiste also said corporation tax was not the big talking point it once had been.
“Tax is always an issue that comes up in meetings but actually less so than was the case in the past when I was here for I’m going to be meeting these companies.
“That, I think, is down to the global agreement that we have corporation tax, which gives certainty. And really that’s what companies that want to invest long-term in Ireland want to know is that we’ll continue to have a low corporation profit tax rate, and that will be certain than steady on the global agreement has turned out to be rather beneficial in that regard”.
He confirmed that the EU-led regulator move has been a more significant issue for the technology companies he has met.
“The era of self-regulation is over. That’s a good thing. So we’re going to regulate the digital space and the digital platforms much more tightly in the future than we did in the past.
“Because so many of those big tech companies have their European headquarters in Ireland, Ireland is going to become the regulator. So we need to make sure we got that right, that we have the right legislation and that we have a well resourced digital regulator and we’re doing that work at the moment”.
Promising an approach that put consumers and customers first, but also balances the interests of business, the Tánaiste said that “good regulation makes sense”.
“In the same way as the financial sector and the banking sector is now tightly regulated, the digital sector is going to be regulated, and there’s a cost that comes with that,” he said.
“But the cost is infinitesimal compared to the value of having those companies based in Ireland, the people they employ, or the small companies that could contract with them, the know-how that they bring into the country, and of course, the massive tax receipts, over €10 billion a year coming in from large tech companies in Ireland”.
The Tánaiste also said that the number of data centres being built in Ireland will have to slow down over the next few years to allow investments in energy generation – particularly renewables – to catch up and provide the capacity needed.
He defended the growth of data centres, saying they were an integral part of business in the 21st century.
IDA Ireland CEO Martin Shanahan said the most important topic for discussion was the availability of a skilled workforce
IDA Ireland chief executive Martin Shanahan also said the corporation tax issue has become a less important issue for top executives in the firms the agency talks to.
“For companies, it’s very clear that Ireland has set out its stall – it has entered the OECD framework. There is a new, stable level of corporate tax once the OECD framework comes into being.
“This is not something that has featured heavily in our discussions with companies here on the west coast this week. Companies fully understand that, and really, it is now a political process. It is particularly a political process here in the US as to the passing of the relevant legislation through both houses”.
Mr Shanahan said the most important topic for discussion was the availability of skilled talent for companies, and their ability to ramp up operations in Ireland.
“Ireland has a very good story to tell there because of our high levels of education.
“The fact that our education system is very aligned with the demands of these companies. But also the fact that we’re an open and welcoming company country.
“We’re an open and welcoming country for investment, but are also an open and welcoming country for talent. And that’s really important to these companies,” the IDA CEO said.