UTC manufactures Black Hawks

FIVE of the world's leading weapons manufacturers have based multi-billion-euro companies in Ireland in order to avoid tax.

Despite the size of these Irish-based operations, which in 2008 alone had a total of €6.34bn on their books, they have just two employees registered in Ireland.

A Sunday Tribune investigation has found that in the same year the companies had a combined turnover of €724.7m with profits amounting to €387m, but paid less than €375,000 to the Irish state, an effective tax rate of 0.09%.

Ireland's low tax regime, which charges just 12.5% in corporation tax, has made this country the ideal location for many multinationals to base themselves in order to maximise profits.

The eight Irish subsidiaries identified are shared between Boeing, BAE Systems, Thales, Raytheon and United Technologies Corporation (UTC), all major players in global weapons production.

Between them they produce some of the most feared and deadly armaments available including nuclear submarines, fighter jets, helicopters, missile systems and other modern weaponry.

One of the firms uses an Irish-registered homeless charitable trust to shift debts off its balance sheet – debts accrued in 2001 as part of a €1.3bn refinancing operation.

The companies established here have been described as "mere front operations" by tax expert and Forbes columnist Richard Murphy.

Jim Stewart, a senior lecturer in finance at Trinity College Dublin, and an authority on taxation, said that while Ireland cannot be defined as a tax haven, it has many of the characteristics including "low corporate taxes, light touch regulation and ease of incorporation".

Christian Aid has criticised the situation, saying that such behaviour has its effects on third world countries.

"An effective tax regime, where multinationals pay what they owe, and tax authorities efficiently collect what they are due, would see developing countries ultimately move away from an over-reliance on aid, to a sustainable and predictable source of revenue," said the group's Sorley McCaughey.