By Peter F. Stevens
The issue of corporate inversion has erupted again, and again Ireland stands center stage in the controversy. The long-expected news that Pfizer Inc. will swallow Allergan Plc. in a $160-billion “merger” has drawn sharp criticism from both the political right and left – for entirely different reasons.
The one point that presidential candidates can all agree upon is that the deal is blatantly structured to slash the company’s US tax bill by shifting its corporate headquarters to Ireland. The Wall Street Journal reports, “The proposed Pfizer combination, with Dublin-based Allergan PLC, would be the largest ever to move a US company to a lower-tax jurisdiction.”
On paper, Allergan is buying Pfizer, but that is simply corporate sleight of hand. The deal is classic inversion: Pfizer, the larger entity, will actually keep control of the company, but by maintaining Allergan’s legal Irish corporate office, the merger will allow Pfizer to flee the US corporate tax rate of 35 percent and revel in Ireland’s 12.5 percent. As with all inversion deals, it blends smart business and bald-faced corporate greed. Pfizer – excuse me, Pfizer Plc, a “new” Dublin company and the world’s largest drug-maker -- now stands to make obscene profits by turning “Irish” instead of racking up merely massive profits as an American-based company. That’s got to be welcome news to Americans who will lose their jobs as the company prepares to go “green.”
Predictably, presidential candidate Bernie Sanders immediately decried the impending birth of the “Irish” company in a statement to the media: “The Pfizer-Allergan merger would be a disaster for American consumers who already pay the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs.”
Pfizer is bracing for a brass-knuckle brawl with the Obama administration and the US Treasury over the deal. Interestingly,, and perhaps ominously, for the merger, Pfizer’s Irish gambit has already evoked similar criticism from two disparate contenders for the Oval Office. Both Hillary Clinton and The Donald oppose inversion and favor restructuring corporate tax rates in the US. Of course, the ways in which either would attempt to do that are a chasm apart.
In a press release, Trump stated, “These corporate inversions take capital and, more importantly, jobs offshore. We need leadership in Washington to get the tax code changed so companies will be coming to America, not looking for ways to leave.”
Clinton, through spokesman Ian Sams, expressed that she “is committed to cracking down on so-called ‘inversions,’ where a company chooses to leave the US on paper to game the tax system, and believes we should reform our tax code to encourage investment in the US, rather than shipping earnings and jobs overseas.”
In and around Boston and throughout Irish America, the 40 million or so people who have blood ties to the “old sod” likely want both the US and Ireland to prosper. Still, there has to be a better way than one-sided corporate inversions, one that is grand for both American and Irish bottom lines. Stay tuned – the Pfizer-Allergan inversion promises to be a flashpoint on both sides of the Atlantic.
The Puritans, the Irish, and Christmas
Turning from the season of greed to the season of giving, the latter season did not arrive easily for Boston’s first Irish immigrants. From 1800 to 1850, the Irish could scarcely have picked a worse place than Boston to celebrate Christmas. The Puritans had loathed “Popish” Yuletide rituals so much that, in 1659, the Massachusetts General Court had enacted laws against honoring the day. Anyone caught toasting the occasion suffered a five-shilling fine. So entrenched did Bostonians’ antipathy toward Catholicism become that that the city’s public schools were open on Christmas Day until 1870.
In such a climate, Boston’s Irish celebrated the holiday in muted fashion until their political clout swelled in the late 1800s. In Ireland, Christmas had largely revolved around Mass and family. The early Irish of Boston marked December 25th simply, many families keeping children home from schools later in the century.
Christmas Masses were held in the opening decades of the 19th century at St. Augustine’s, in South Boston, and, later, at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, always under suspicion by anti-Irish, anti-Catholic locals. As German Catholic immigrants arrived and began attending the local “Irish churches,” the newcomers introduced Christmas trees and greeting cards, introducing a thaw in the region’s traditional, Puritan-steeped Christmas notions.
Boston’s Irish could celebrate Christmas as openly as they wanted by the end of the 19th century, and they turned the Yuletide season into a genuine holiday. During the period of Advent in late November and early December, persons of all ages prepared for the coming of the Christmas season by attending daily Mass. They then enjoyed the celebration of midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, often followed by festive and early morning breakfasts with friends and relatives. Through religion, reflection, and, finally, revelry, Boston’s Irish could finally celebrate Christmas in “grand fashion.”