The art of giving

Thu, Jul 12, 2012, 01:00

CHUCK FEENEY’S decision that The Atlantic Philanthropies will cease making grants by the end of 2016 will not have been a surprise, though it will no doubt cause some apprehension in third-level education and research, and for those involved in the areas of ageing, children and youth, as well as reconciliation and human rights. But there should be confidence because the focus of so much of Mr Feeney’s generosity has been on development and sustainability.

Since his foundation started in 1982, recipients of the more than €1.25 billion spent on projects on both sides of the Border have been expected to plan for a future without funding from The Atlantic Philanthropies.

The foundation has brought more than funding to the table. It has charted an ethic for philanthropic giving. Beneficiaries are encouraged to become professional, to have strategies, to focus on their strengths and to co-operate. Charitable intent could not be an excuse for sloppiness and amateurism. The government has been persuaded to provide co-funding for third-level research and campus buildings. There has been a welcome emphasis on human rights. Mr Feeney has not been courting glory – there is no Feeney University Centre – nor is he a tax exile seeking to enhance his image with large handouts. He is an unpretentious, modest and thoughtful figure who understands the responsibilities of wealth and whose generosity goes beyond borders.

It is unlikely, for example, that the EuroScience Open Forum would have been held in Dublin this week but for The Atlantic Philanthropies co-funding of the Programme for Research in Third-Level Institutions. Organisations such as the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network, the Children’s Rights Alliance, and Older and Bolder, would not have been as proficient in asserting the rights of gay people, children and old people respectively, nor would the predicament of the dying and their families have been assuaged so well without the massive support for the Irish Hospice Foundation and some hospices.

In Northern Ireland, significant themes have also been the protection and promotion of human rights, shared and integrated education, and community-based peace building through an initiative on “contested space”.

Chuck Feeney has done this, and other states, some service. He and his dynamic staff deserve the gratitude of young and old, educationalists and their students, as well as various minorities, for making Ireland a better place. The Government should use some imagination to find a way to honour him.

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