Getting the rich list's money

The latest Sunday Times rich list has estimated that there are 250 people in this country with a financial worth of at least €35 million. There are seven Irish billionaires.


The residency of each of the seven individuals – Hilary Weston, Sean Quinn, Tony O'Reilly, John Dorrance, Dermot Desmond, Tony Ryan and Thomas Flatley – was not disclosed.

Citizenship confers certain rights, including the right to privacy on tax matters as long as tax, when properly due, is paid. Citizenship does not result in an enforced responsibility to pay tax, however, even if somebody can easily afford to part with some cash.

It can be assumed that the seven billionaires use every legal mechanism available to limit their personal tax liabilities in this country. Indeed, some of them might genuinely have little desire to spend more than 280 days over two years – as the rules allow – in this country and may prefer to reside elsewhere for reasons other than avoiding tax.

So what do they do with their cash? And what can be done to get them to contribute more to Irish society?

They are fortunate that Bertie Ahern – who introduced the existing tax residency rules – has leapt to their defence on a number of occasions in the Dáil.

On May 24, 2005, Bertie Ahern said such people "generate a good deal of wealth…It's better to have these people spending as many days as possible in the State. That means they have directorships, investments and property here. They spend money while they are here, probably more than the rest of us would in the entire year."

So if not through tax, and not through their spending, how can we get their money?

Tanaiste Mary Harney is a big fan of philanthropy. Last Friday she spoke in its support at a Dublin conference organised by the Ireland Funds, a charitable organisation connected to Tony O'Reilly.

The Ireland Funds chief executive Kingsley Aikins, according to an Irish Times report, praised recent Government decisions to make gifts of shares to charities tax-deductible and current legislation regulating the non-profit sector. He also called for the creation of Irish financial products that help the transfer of funds into donations.

Who ever would have thought that giving was so difficult and needed such help?