30.09.2014 | Dublin: inconspicuous wealth

Next to the Shelbourne, one of Dublin’s most expensive hotels, is a Euroland shop. Everything in Euroland is a euro or two, but you would be hard pressed to find anything on the Shelbourne’s bar menu at a similar price. These two unlikely neighbours are located on St. Stephen’s Green and are not just a curious dichotomy; they are indicative of Ireland’s economic swells and austerity. Euroland’s other neighbour is of course the former headquarters of the notorious Anglo Irish Bank, now a Starbucks. And it is here that I am meeting a former colleague who is one of the sharpest barristers in Dublin’s Four Courts.

My former colleague is a poacher-turned-gamekeeper of sorts.  After starting a small but lucrative property development company at the turn of the millennium, with immaculate timing he sold his stake in the company in 2007 after deciding litigation was his vocation.  He attributes the escape to luck, but in this instance his humility is the camouflage of the cerebrally well-endowed.  His practice in commercial property disputes is flourishing.

The collapse of the Celtic Tiger economy in 2008 prompted a number of recovery incentives.  At the forefront of these was the statute which created the toxic bank NAMA, designed effectively to warehouse bad loans issued by Irish banks during the boom years.  NAMA portfolios have attracted the attention of some international heavyweight investors recently and it still has a lot of assets to sell before its mandate expires in 2020.

A considerable number of loans which NAMA holds were issued from a location where you can now purchase a cappuccino with your name scrawled on the side.  Property developers were the most obvious beneficiaries of generous bank lending before 2008 and the job title of “property developer” is no longer in vogue.  The sounds of these developers’ helicopters and Ferraris were last heard when many of them fled to London to avail themselves of the more agreeable bankruptcy laws (12 months in the UK versus 14 years in Ireland).

While animosity towards many Tiger developers remains ubiquitous in Ireland, much of the garish wealth synonymous with the breed has all but disappeared.  At the very least it has been carefully tucked away and its management has replicated the financial habits of the Irish elite.  The phenomenon of quiet wealth in Ireland remains esoteric and elusive, but nonetheless consistent.  Much like the Shelbourne.