Northern Ireland is set to miss the cut as golfer Rory McIlroy prepares to swing most of his global business operations to Dublin.
he decision will mean a significant boost to the Irish Exchequer as the golfer will pay normal company tax at 12.5% on his royalty fees — which are expected to amount to hundreds of millions of euro over his career.
It is understood that the Co Down native, currently the world’s top golfer, will file documents to create a new company known as Rory McIlroy Inc with the Companies Registration Office in Carlow today.
The new company, headed by Donal Casey, will manage all the royalty payments from the golf star’s various endorsements for Nike sportswear, Omega watches and most recently computer games.
The 25-year-old lives and works in many countries, and could have followed the usual route of creating a complex structure that would have located his management company in the United States while protecting his wealth with tax havens such as the Virgin Islands or Bermuda.
Instead, he has decided to locate everything to do with his brand and intellectual property in the Republic.
Prize money and other earnings won’t flow to the Irish company because they tend to be treated as income, and taxed accordingly by the country where the championship was won. However, he will only pay 12.5% in business taxes in the Republic, compared to 21% in Northern Ireland.
Yesterday, the power to set the rate of corporation tax in Northern Ireland received Royal Assent from the Queen — although it will be at least two years before it changes. It also relies heavily on Stormont’s ability to overcome the welfare reform impasse and get its finances in order.
Eamonn Donaghy, head of tax at KPMG Belfast, said Northern Ireland now needs “a date and a rate” for corporation tax to attract potential investors such as McIlroy. “Until there is the certainty over the tax rate and whether it will take effect on April 1, 2017, then people are going to make a decision,” he said
Mr Donaghy, who is also spokesman for Grow NI, the campaign to devolve corporation tax-varying powers, said a big push for transparency around the world meant tax havens were no longer in as much demand as companies tried to improve their image. Many companies are now looking for EU countries with stable tax regimes with low business tax rates.
“Rory may have come to Northern Ireland, but we really need a date and a rate to attract big businesses like Rory McIlroy Inc,” he added. McIlroy ended his relationship with his previous management company Horizon Sports Management following a sometimes bitter legal action.
While McIllroy’s new company draws income from endorsements all over the world, it is relatively small. It employs just six people in management and a further four people in administration.
It also uses many experts in the Republic such as accountancy firm BDO and top advertising agency Rothco.
Sports management has been around for decades, but McIllroy is undoubtedly the first Northern Irish sportsman with the potential to become a billionaire. With 2.5 million followers on Twitter, he has an enormous fan base which means he can attract lucrative sponsorship from companies that would not look at other sportsmen.
The Holywood native is the third-highest paid golfer at present and made $49m (£33m) last year, according to Golf Digest. About $35m (£24m) of that came from earnings off the course, including a sponsorship deal with Nike.