Over the last 25 years, Ireland has earned a reputation as a leading domicile for internationally focused regulated investment funds. However in more recent years it has also grown to become the leading European jurisdiction for the establishment and servicing of alternative investment schemes and hedge funds in particular. Recent market statistics show that over 63% of European domiciled hedge funds currently use Irish legal structures while over 40% of global alternative investment funds (both Irish and non-Irish domiciled) are administered in Ireland.
The term ‘hedge fund’ is not defined under Irish law and nor does it constitute a specific regulatory classification. Hedge funds are generally viewed as funds which pursue an alternative investment strategy, use leverage and avail of prime brokerage services. Accordingly they may be established in Ireland using any of a range of the legal and regulatory structures available, subject to the applicable requirements relevant in each case.
Investment funds in Ireland, including hedge funds, are authorised as regulated entities by the Central Bank of Ireland (Central Bank), being the statutory regulator under Irish law. In terms of regulatory classifications, each regulated collective investment scheme (fund) in Ireland is authorised as either a non-UCITS or a UCITS and is subject to the Central Bank’s requirements, as set out in its non-UCITS Notices or UCITS Notices as appropriate and Guidance Notes (collectively the ‘Notices’).
The essential difference between the two regulatory frameworks is that UCITS are authorised pursuant to European legislation, which applies standard investment and leverage restrictions. Non-UCITS funds, on the other hand, are authorised under indigenous Irish legislation. As such, they are not subject to the same level of restrictions but neither can they currently benefit from the pan-European ‘passport’ available under the UCITS regime.
It can be noted, however, that the Alternative Investment Fund Managers Directive (Directive 2011/61/EU) (AIFMD) will provide for the potential for Irish non-UCITS funds to avail of a new non-UCITS European passport for alternative investment funds from 2013 and anticipation of these opportunities and the desire to ‘future proof’ new funds has been a key factor in the growth in popularity of QIFs over the past two years in particular.