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€13 billion — the money we will never see

Unless you’ve been living under the proverbial rock, which would also need to be in a dark cave that is sound-proofed, you will have been following the twists and turns in the EU’s shock €13 billion-plus back-tax bill to Apple.

The delightfully naïve among us have been envisaging this windfall as disposable income. That is, if it ever ends up in the Irish Government’s coffers. The cynic/realist in me actually shudders at the thought of such a vast sum of money being dumped into the laps of a bunch of politicians who seem to have great confusion in the arse/elbow anatomical aspects of running an efficient health service.

Committee upon committee would be formed, that’s for sure, and knowing our politicians’ penchant for parish-pump politics, airports and casinos would be springing up from Muckacross to Toomevara.

But, once again, it’s not that simple. At time of writing, the Independents are revolting, as the fella says. They say they don’t disagree in principle with an appeal but want to return to the Dáil for a vote first (here comes the first committee…). Michael and Enda are wringing their hands at the thought of offending their US overlords and want to go all-out for the appeal process.

It’s Yes, Minister meets Father Ted as our fearless leaders struggle to reject a windfall that is comparable to our entire gross health budget, while John and Jane Doe are picturing themselves in the new giant jacuzzi in Borris-in-Ossory.

Only in Ireland could the prospect of a huge windfall threaten to bring down the Government and trigger a General Election.

In the final analysis, this mess will take years to sort out anyway, as appeal after appeal is rolled out and the ultimate beneficiaries will be — you guessed it, the barristers. So in the end, rather than gaining huge sacks of cash, this will probably end up costing the taxpayer millions in legal fees. How do you like them apples?

And in the unlikely event that we somehow end up getting that €13 billion into the coffers, the Troika will be standing close by, whispering ‘remember us?’ and the funds will go towards our national debt. A very Irish situation indeed.

Whatever happens, it’s hard to feel too much sympathy for Apple, the world’s largest corporation, which has a cash reserve of approximately €207.4 billion.

But it was nice, just for a few moments, to fantasise about some more nurses and better facilities and a few extra quid for mental health, for example. A man can dream.

As an aside, Ireland’s tax ‘arrangement’ with Apple began in 1991.

Didn’t you just know the bauld Charlie would be in the mix in some capacity!

Caught in the web

An interesting new study suggests that as well as turning everybody into self-diagnosing, armchair healthcare professionals, the Internet is affecting people’s ability to problem-solve and affecting the memory of those who use it heavily.

In short, after each time we use the Internet to pluck facts and figures out of the air, our brains become more and more ‘lazy’ and reliant on it as a source of information. This is termed ‘cognitive offloading’, according to the folks at the University of California and the University of Illinois, US.

Two groups of study participants were enrolled, one of which used the Internet to answer questions, while the other used the good old-fashioned brain. Those who used Google regularly were found to be more reliant on it for subsequent questions — 30 per cent of those who had previously consulted the Internet didn’t even bother trying to answer a single question using their memory.

Lead author Dr Benjamin Storm told Nature: “Memory is changing. Our research shows that as we use the Internet to support and extend our memory, we become more reliant on it. Whereas before we might have tried to recall something on our own, now we don’t bother. As more information becomes available via smartphones and other devices, we become progressively more reliant on it in our daily lives.”

So the Internet seems to be making our brains ‘fat and lazy’. That’s one ‘tablet’ that patients should perhaps be encouraged to put to one side.

Bottom lines

 

Consultants of Ireland, you know we love you. Please remember that as you read a couple of one-liners kindly emailed to me by a reader.

One consultant, when told he was a pain in the neck, said he was glad to have been moved up.

What is the difference between a consultant and the DART? The DART stops when it loses track.

And a quick one on our friends in the legal profession:

Why are lawyers like nuclear weapons? If one side has one, the other side has to get one. Once launched, they cannot be recalled. And when they land, they screw up everything forever.

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