A number of weeks ago there was an outcry about the cost of tea and scones at Ireland’s newest five-star hotel. The Cashel Palace Hotel in Tipperary came under fire when an afternoon treat of scones and tea for three came in at €45 with a €4.50 gratuity on top.
People were outraged with cries of ‘sure who’d pay that?’. Who indeed? With international tourists missing from the country for two years, Irish or Irish-based customers stepped in to fill the breach at the country’s top destinations.
As the old saying goes - if you need to ask the price, you probably can't afford it. And there are plenty of people in Ireland who don't need to ask. According to JP Kavanagh, general manager of The Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin, the hotel welcomed many Irish guests during the pandemic. However, the hotel is now reverting to serving US and other international visitors, he says.
"At present, I feel that Irish people are starting to travel abroad for their holidays again, the easing of restrictions throughout Europe has allowed those guests who may have previously booked a staycation to travel further afield.
"They will stay with us for shorter stays for a special occasion, one or two nights. We are currently experiencing a high volume of reservations from the US and we are delighted to welcome international visitors back to Dublin and the Shelbourne Hotel.”
Where Americans and other tourists were thought to be the only ones to fill our castles and luxury hotels it seems there are enough wealthy individuals here at home to fill the suites and penthouses around the country.
The Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report 2021 shows that this is certainly the case. While roughly 1% of the adults in the world are dollar millionaires (the '1%' we hear so much about) in Ireland, 5% of adults have personal wealth of over $1,000,000. (The United States dollar (USD) is the most widely used currency standard to compare wealth per adult. A person must have a net worth of at least $1m to be recognised as a millionaire anywhere in the world.)
To put that figure into context, millionaires are uncommon in India, Indonesia and even Russia: they account in those places for about one in 1,000 adults. In China, despite the large number of millionaires, the population size means that the chances of stumbling across one would be pretty rare. They account for around one in every 200 adults there.
As you move towards Europe millionaire density begins to rise. About 3% of adults in Spain and Italy are millionaires and in countries where you would expect that number to be higher such as Germany and the UK, they account for 4% and 4.7% respectively, making Ireland's 5% ahead of many countries we would perceive as wealthier.
Credit Suisse further breaks down wealth per adult. In terms of mean wealth, Ireland ranked 17th globally at $266,150 per adult in 2020, a change of +$12,450. Broken down into median wealth we’re in 15th position with $99,030 per adult, a change of +$4,960.
Millionaires are often referred to as high-net-worth individuals, to the uninitiated. The annual Knight Frank Wealth Report shows some interesting trends in Ireland.
Globally the amount of money you need to have to be classed as wealthy varies from country to country. In Ireland, it takes more money to join the wealthiest 1% than it does anywhere else in the EU. In France, you need €2.1m and in Germany €2m will grant you access to the rarefied club. In Ireland, you need €2.6m to reach the top echelons.
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According to the Knight Frank report, Ireland had 146,505 high-net-worth individuals in 2016, and by 2021 that figure was 326,050. They predict that there will be 545,474 high-net-worth individuals here by 2026.
However, they don’t stop at those with $1m in the bank. They also look at ultra-high-net-worth individuals, those with a wealth of more than $30m and in 2021 they found that there were 2,479 of them in the country, an 11% rise on the previous year.
The ultra-wealthy don’t live like most of us. Frequent travel and multiple homes need teams of staff to keep everything running smoothly. Nannies that go on holidays, housekeepers and house managers in each property and personal assistants are the norm.
Working for these families can reap rewards too. Advertisements for domestic couples (a couple who run a property, live on-site and act as housekeeper, grounds staff, driver, and assistant) show that salary and perks make it a job worth considering. One current advertisement for a couple to live in and run a family’s estate in Co. Mayo shows that they can earn €1,000 a week after tax as well as living in rent-free accommodation.
In another, a family in Co. Wicklow is looking for a couple to run their house and the benefits for that job include a salary of €60,000, a cottage on the property and a car at their disposal. Wealthy families have people to do almost everything for them.
Aisling* has been a personal shopper for the super-wealthy for 20 years. “Some of the really wealthy ones just operate on another plane. They expect a different level of service and rules just for them," says Aisling.
"There has been everything from ‘forgetting’ to pay to asking for free things. Some like to have clothes delivered to their house for at-home try-ons and trying to get them back can be tricky. I’ve had staff just call with a credit card a number of weeks later instead of having the hassle of returning them.
"I have some clients who are obsessed with newness and getting things first. I’ve often been asked to hide certain sizes in deliveries so that their friends or colleagues can’t buy a piece. It’s like a competition between some of the women.”
Sarah* is an event organiser and works with high-net-worth individuals on family celebrations. “They expect the best and I understand that. I have clients that I love working with but when you see parents spending the same on a celebration for a baby that some couples spend on a wedding it can be shocking," says Sarah
"A few years ago, we organised a christening that had 100 guests, videographers, a photographer, live music and the most outrageous goodie bags. The cost is never questioned as long as they feel everything is the best.
"We’ve done debs parties where the 18-year-olds head off and the parents stay and probably have a much better night than their kids! Entertaining and networking is a huge part of their lives. I’m booked up quite far in advance. There definitely isn’t a shortage of business here.”
Not all of the super-wealthy here are Irish citizens. Some have become residents through the Immigrant Investor Programme which was introduced by the Irish government in 2012 to encourage inward investment for the creation of business and employment in the state.
The programme is designed to encourage investors and business professionals from outside the European Economic Area to avail of opportunities of investing and locating their business interests in Ireland and acquire a secure residency status here.
Brexit, world economic events and political situations have made the investor visa programme very popular internationally. It accommodates different types of investors with different levels of funds and allows for a spouse and dependent children up to the age of 24 to accompany the primary investor.
There are four different investment options available to international investors who have a net worth of at least €2m.
- Enterprise investment: €1m invested in an approved investment enterprise. The enterprise can be an existing business, or it can be a new business started by the investor.
- Approved investment: €1m invested in an approved investment fund. Such funds must be approved and regulated by the Central Bank
- Real estate investment trusts: €2m in any Irish REIT that is listed on the Irish stock exchange.
- Endowment (donation): A €500,000 (or €400,000 where five or more investors combine their investment) philanthropic donation to a project which is of public benefit to the arts, sports, health, culture or education in Ireland.
All investments must be held for a minimum of three years.
This type of visa programme is called a golden visa programme and is one that offers residence permits with limited physical presence requirements in exchange for passive investments.
The Irish programme is particularly popular because of the benefits it affords. Post-Brexit, Ireland is the only English-speaking country in the EU and to maintain temporary residence in Ireland your physical presence is required for just one day per year, more for permanent residency.
The programme is a valuable source of income for the State. In 2019, Charlie Flanagan said that the immigrant investor programme had raised over half a billion euro since its inception in 2012. That figure has risen exponentially and in 2020 reached €1bn.
So where are the applicants coming from? Between 2012 and 2020 91% of all applicants came from China. 1.8% came from the US, 0.6% from Vietnam, 0.3% from Saudi Arabia and 3.9% came from a combination of other countries. By the end of 2019, a total of 1,088 Chinese citizens had invested in Ireland under the scheme.
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Visa programmes aren’t the only reason for the rise in high-net-worth individuals in Ireland. Since Brexit, there has been a steady influx of businesses and people from the financial sector in the UK.
The EY Financial Services Brexit Tracker found that Dublin remains the most popular destination for staff relocations and new European hubs or offices, with 36 financial services firms announcing intentions to relocate UK operations and/or staff to the city. Almost 1,200 people have already moved or are in the process of relocating to the city.
There is, of course, a lot of home-grown wealth here too and according to the Forbes World’s Billionaire list we currently have nine Irish billionaires worth a collective $54.8bn.
At the top of that list is Pallonji Mistry who is an engineering and construction mogul and has a fortune of $15bn. Next in line are Patrick and John Collison, the Irish brothers who founded the payment firm Stripe. They have $9.5bn each. They share 214th place on the overall list, up from 956th place a year ago as their estimated wealth grew by more than $6bn each.
Next on the Irish list is Boston-born John Grayken who gave up his US citizenship in the late 90s in favour of Irish citizenship. He is the founder and owner of private equity firm, Lone Star Funds, based in Dallas and has an estimated wealth of €6.5bn.
Denis O’Brien at $3.8bn comes next, followed by Egerton Capital co-founder, John Armitage, at $2.9bn. Kingspan founder Eugene Murtagh, is worth $2.8bn and Campbell's Soup heir John Dorrance is in eighth place on the Irish list with an estimated fortune of $2.7bn. Last but by no means least is financier and businessman, Dermot Desmond, who has a net worth estimated to be $2.1bn.
*names have been changed
Should you find yourself with money and time to spare we checked how much a night in one of Ireland’s five-star hotels would cost.
On the week of Monday, June 20, a room for two people will set you back:
Ashford Castle: €1,950
Ballyfin Demesne: €1,030
Adare Manor: €990
The Shelbourne: €541
The Merrion Hotel: €495
Cashel Palace €359: