The outdoor terrace at the top of Facebook’s international headquarters in Dublin gives the social media giant a bird’s eye view of Google’s office blocks on nearby Barrow Street, including its new ones at the former Boland’s Mill site.

“Yes, I normally have a telescope here but I took that down,” Facebook Ireland chief Gareth Lambe jokes as we take a whistle-stop tour of its funky office, which houses about 2,200 employees and 94 nationalities.

Facebook is set for pastures new following its announcement on Thursday that it has secured agreement to lease the entire 14-acre Bankcentre campus in Ballsbridge, which AIB is vacating.

It’s a statement of Facebook’s long-term commitment to Ireland, according to Lambe, giving it headroom to add another 5,000 roles to its Irish workforce. It already has 4,000 employees at two buildings in Dublin, a data centre in Clonee, Co Meath, and a lab in Cork.

“When completed, [Ballsbridge] will have 870,000sq ft of office space and there will be capacity for 7,000 desks,” he says. “It’s a very long-term investment and it gives us a lot of room for growth, and an ability to plan strategically.”

The campus will be developed over the next three years, with staff at Facebook and its subsidiaries moving there over three phases, beginning in March or April next year.

Facebook started in Ireland with a “landing team” of 30 in late 2008. Lambe says it is a “great country to invest in”, although there are “risks in the future”. He cites housing as the number-one lobbying item for the American Ireland Chamber of Commerce, where he is on the board of directors.

“The affordability and scarcity of residential accommodation is something that we’re worried about. I’m confident the Government has realised it’s a burning platform and is doing everything it can, and this should loosen up in a few years. But it’s definitely something that is a potential risk to hiring in the future.

“We will have our own direct access to Lansdowne Road Dart station and I’m hoping that the net will widen considerably for our employees in terms of places to live and there won’t be as much pressure on living in the city centre.”

Tax is another issue high on the agenda of US multinationals in Ireland. Earlier this week, European Union finance ministers failed to reach agreement on a European Commission proposal to implement a 3 per cent digital sales tax, a levy being pushed by France.

Corporation tax

It’s a measure that could have negative implications for Ireland, given that a large number of internet companies, including Facebook and Google, have their regional headquarters here. The impact on our corporation tax receipts is estimated at about €160 million.

Ireland opposes the proposed levy, preferring to wait for the outcome of an OECD process to agree a framework for taxing such activity on a global basis. Perhaps not surprisingly, Lambe supports this approach. “Our preference is for the EU and all countries to follow this OECD Beps [Base Erosion and Profit Sharing] project, which is a global initiative co-ordinated as opposed to unilateral smaller arrangements,” he says.

“Whether it results in more tax, which it probably will, it’s the planned and co-ordinated predictable certainty of it. In terms of Paschal Donohoe and Ireland, I think he is right to resist this to help Ireland Inc in terms of its attractiveness.

“For us, we are [tax] compliant in all the countries that we operate in and we will be whether it’s a digital sales tax, OECD or whatever.”

Lambe also notes that Facebook has moved to a “local selling model”.

“In the European countries where we have a sales office with employees, we are recognising the revenue sold by those offices in those markets so that tax income goes into the local market.

“It’s difficult when there’s intellectual property as to where it should be [taxed]. That’s why the OECD [process] is important.

“My own view is that we will end up paying more tax in whatever mechanism is used and that’s fine. We just want to make sure it’s done in a planned and co-ordinated way.”

On our tour of the office, we pass its newly updated “insights wall”, an interactive map that shows Facebook activity around the world. Lambe clicks on Ireland and it tells us there are 2.8 million active monthly users here – 2.3 million daily.

Facebook’s biggest market is no longer the United States (217 million monthly users, 166 million daily) but India, where it has about 300 million users. During the summer, the Indian government asked Facebook subsidiary WhatsApp to act to prevent the spread of “irresponsible and explosive” messages amid a spate of mob lynchings of strangers based around rumours of child kidnappings.

‘Tough year’

It was just one of a number of controversies that Facebook has had to deal with in what Lambe describes as a “tough year”. Earlier this year, it emerged that a data company called Cambridge Analytica had used personal information harvested from more than 50 million Facebook accounts to build a system that could target American voters with political advertising based on their individual profiles.



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