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[DUBLIN] Gay marriage can help attract foreign investment, the Irish government said on Thursday ahead of a referendum on the issue that has been publicly backed by global technology giants including Google, Ebay and Twitter.
When Ireland began to attract US firms with tax breaks in the 1960s, the government was still using the country's traditional, Catholic image to attract Irish American visitors.
Five decades later, it is putting its faith in a more secular, multicultural image it hopes the Irish electorate will bolster by voting in favour of gay marriage in a national referendum on Friday.
Polls have indicated it will be passed by a margin of as much as two-to-one. "I have no doubt that a 'Yes' vote would be helpful for Ireland and helpful for businesses to grow," Jobs Minister Richard Bruton told reporters on Thursday at the Dublin offices of Utah-based technology firm Qualtrics.
Qualtrics is the latest in a long list of US technology firms to set up European headquarters in the capital, creating 100 jobs. US employers account for one in 10 jobs in Ireland, attracted by a low 12.5 per cent corporate tax rate. "It would be good for Ireland, we are now a very vibrant, multicultural society, we are generous, we support equality," he said.
Prime Minister Enda Kenny and the head of the state body charged with attracting investment into Ireland have both said a 'No' vote would send a very negative message abroad.
Technology companies in Dublin's so-called Silicon Docks have attracted thousands of international staff, making it one of the most multicultural areas of the city.
Google and eBay posted videos of some of those employees voicing their support for gay marriage on behalf of gay children and partners.
But 'No' campaigners say government and media campaigns in favour of gay marriage have stifled debate, accusing Twitter of interfering when its local chief executive wrote that Ireland's international business reputation would be enhanced if the referendum is approved.
While Ireland was the last country in Western Europe to decriminalise gay sex, social attitudes have shifted as the Church's domination of politics collapsed after a series of sex abuse scandals.
Foreign investment is crucial for Ireland, helping shelter the economy from the worst of a crisis that landed it in an international bailout in 2010. "Failure to support civil marriage equality may do untold damage to Ireland's international reputation," the Irish Business and Employers Confederation (IBEC) said in support of gay marriage. "The diversity and inclusion policies of companies could be undermined."