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DUBLIN (Reuters) - An Irish parliamentary committee voted on Wednesday not to haul multinational firms before tax hearings, in a move critics said was a sop to companies taking advantage of the country's low corporate tax to pay less.
Dublin was forced to defend how it taxes companies after the U.S. Senate heard in May that computer giant Apple (AAPL.O) paid little or no tax on tens of billions of dollars in profits channeled through Irish subsidiaries.
The Apple controversy has dented Ireland's reputation as it seeks to emerge from an EU-IMF bailout this year.
Independent member of parliament Richard Boyd Barrett said the decision not to grill multinational firms would inflict further damage.
Opposition party Sinn Fein, which has 14 seats in Ireland's 165-seat lower chamber, demanded that firms like Apple be hauled before Ireland's parliament. But its request was voted down by a margin of five-to-one by committee members from the country's three largest parties.
"How can we look anybody in the eye out there and defend the type of austerity measures that this government is introducing when we're unwilling to take companies in (before parliament) who are not paying their fair share in this state?" Sinn Fein finance spokesman Pearse Doherty told the committee.
"It can only be presented as this committee protecting these multinational firms who pay no tax here, who don't employ anybody and who don't pay any tax internationally. I think it makes a mockery out of this committee, an absolute mockery."
Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook was called before the U.S. Senate during its tax hearings, while executives from fellow tech giant Google (GOOG.O) faced angry questions from British lawmakers investigating its tax affairs earlier this year.
Some lawmakers who rejected Sinn Fein's proposal said they were not ruling out asking multinationals in at a later date. Others were concerned about the impact such a move would have on jobs given multinational firms account for almost 10 percent of Ireland's workforce.
"It must be remembered that we as a country are competing with other countries to attract multinational business. One of the companies mentioned (Apple), in my own constituency it employs 4,500 people," said Dara Murphy, a member of Prime Minister Enda Kenny's Fine Gael Party.
Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Hugh Lawson