We need to talk about Apple… again

Apple Athenry
Apple's proposed Athenry data centre (Image: Apple)

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Billy

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2 November 2017 | 0

Billy MacInnesI hate to do this but I feel we need to talk about Apple and the Irish government again. I know I was only talking about this last week regarding the €13 billion that nobody wants but something else has come up which is worth looking at. You could say it falls under the ‘And another thing’ category.

This week (1 November to be precise), the Irish High Court refused to allow objectors to appeal to the Court of Appeal against its decision to grant permission for Apple to proceed with the near mythical 166,000 square metre data centre in Athenry. I say “near mythical” because the project has been held up by planning objections since it was announced in 2015. Indeed, the process has taken so long that a data centre announced at the same time for Denmark is already nearing completion and expected to open this year. The success of its Denmark venture has already led Apple to announce plans for a second Danish data centre, which is expected to open in 2019.

As an aside, while many people are very upset at the lengthy delay to the project, I can’t help wondering whether, if we were being consistent, we should perhaps commend the two objectors for emulating the government’s strategy in the EC tax ruling by going to court to try to ensure that Ireland doesn’t get any of Apple’s money – currently estimated at around €850 million.

In the wake of the latest judgement, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar stressed the Irish government was 100% behind the Athenry project, but Apple remained tight-lipped over when (or if) it plans to begin construction on the Athenry data centre, issuing a press release only to state it would make no further comment “at this time”.

Curb your enthusiasm
Understandably, this has caused some disquiet. Could Apple’s enthusiasm for the project be on the wane? As someone pointed out, the High Court’s refusal to allow an appeal doesn’t quite signal the end of the process as there is a possibility the objectors could appeal to the Supreme Court. In that context, Apple’s decision not to get carried away with enthusiasm could be merely down to waiting to see what develops next.

Or it could be that the contrast between its experiences in Denmark and Ireland may have led the vendor to have second thoughts about building a data centre in Athenry. It doesn’t help that, even if the Athenry facility does go ahead, it is only likely to finally become operational at the same time as Apple’s second data centre in Denmark.

At the original announcement of the Irish and Danish data centres, there was no indication of plans for further data centres at either location. In that context, the July announcement of an additional data centre in Denmark could be cause for alarm. In any case, having gone through the long drawn out process required to obtain planning for the Athenry project, Apple is likely to think twice about going through it again for any additional data centre it may have planned for Ireland.

The relative smoothness of the planning and construction of its data centre in Viborg must have played a significant part in Apple’s decision to build another facility in Denmark. As it is, Denmark has now gained more than €1.7 billion in investment from Apple while Ireland is still waiting to see if we might get the original €850 million.

If Ireland does end up losing out on one, possibly two, data centres, with a potential investment value of up to €1.7 billion, maybe the government might want to think again about how badly we all don’t need that €13 billion.

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