Trinity in line for parting gift from Chuck Feeney

Philanthropist discussing investment in Trinity’s Institute of Neuroscience

Chuck Feeney: the Irish-American philanthropist   is planning a major investment in Trinity  before his charitable operations wind down. Photograph: Alan Betson

Chuck Feeney: the Irish-American philanthropist is planning a major investment in Trinity before his charitable operations wind down. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Irish-American philanthropist Chuck Feeney is planning a major investment in Trinity College Dublin in one of a series of parting gifts before his charitable operations wind down, The Irish Times has learnt.

It is understood the university is in advanced talks with Mr Feeney’s Atlantic Philanthropies about a significant investment in Trinity’s Institute of Neuroscience.

Atlantic provided €13.1 million in capital funding between 2001 and 2006 to help establish the institute, which carries out cross-disciplinary research in physiology, psychiatry and genetics.

Atlantic is in discussion with other Irish higher education institutions about similar donations as it completes the “spend down” of Mr Feeney’s philanthropic fund.

By the end of next year, Atlantic will have given €1.5 billion to education projects in Ireland, and the legacy of that investment was explored at a panel discussion yesterday at the Royal Irish Academy.

Early partnership

He warned, however, that since the financial crisis struck “the interest of the Government in spending money on basic research has not been maintained”. There was now an “excessive concentration on applied research”.

Echoing this concern, Don Thornhill, former secretary general of the Department of Education, said “there is an element, I’m afraid, of back to the past” with a shift in responsibility for research funding to the Department of Jobs.

He noted the presence on Atlantic Philanthropies “acted as a very good stimulus for clear thinking on the Government side”. A key figure in the early days of partnership was Micheál Martin, minister for education from 1997-2000, said Mr Thornhill. “He was the first politician I can recall encountering who got the idea of the fourth level.”

Launching a book on Atlantic’s work globally Laying the Foundations for Change, Taoiseach Enda Kenny paid tribute to Mr Feeney, and urged philanthropists to follow his example: “There is no pocket in the shroud. Leave your legacy while you have a pulse.”

Fresh concern over the sustainability of third-level funding has been expressed by the Higher Education Authority in its 2014 annual report yesterday. Its chairman, John Hennessy, said the inadequacy of capital funding had “implications for health and safety”.

Damage to education

“The danger is that it may be several years before any policy can be agreed, implemented and have an impact.”

The report shows web entrepreneur Paddy Cosgrave had the poorest attendance record at the HEA board, turning up for just three of seven meetings. Mr Cosgrave attracted much public attention last year when he announced his company was placing a premium on degrees from TCD above other Irish universities in its internship recruitment.