Irish American billionaire Chuck Feeney, (81), is to wind down his charitable operations and shut them down by 2020 – after making donations worth over $1.5 billion north and south of the Irish border.

It is part of his expressed aim of ‘giving while living’ but the departure of his vehicle, Atlantic Philanthropies, will leave a huge gap in the Irish market.

Every major university benefitted greatly from Feeney’s giving and his money kick started both the University of Limerick and Dublin City University.

In addition, he gave millions to sustain the Irish peace process and played a major role as member of a key Irish American group that first got President Clinton involved in the issue.

The Irish Times reports that the reclusive Feeney is to cease all charitable grants by the end of 2016.
He has two major projects in the US where he has given billions to American universities, especially his alma mater Cornell. He donated $350 million so that a new Silicon Valley-type campus can be built on New York’s Roosevelt Island. He has also earmarked hundreds of millions for a new state of the art hospital in San Francisco.

The decision was taken last week by the board of Atlantic Philanthropies, the organisation founded by Feeney in 1982.

The paper says it is to complete grant-making by the end of 2016 and cease operations in 2020. It is believed Feeny also stepped down from the reconstituted board.

Grant recipients will be informed of the decision on Tuesday with some to be told their support is being discontinued before the 2016 deadline.

The paper says that no major Irish projects are affected in this way.

Feeney has released a statement saying how the focus of his charitable giving would now be sharpened to maximise the benefit that could be achieved with his remaining resources.

Over $2.25 billion remains to be disbursed according to the report, of which $900 million is committed to existing projects.

Atlantic has invested more than $6 billion in grants internationally since it was founded by Feeney in 1982.

The higher education sector, with grants worth a billion dollars north and south of the border, has been the largest single recipient of Feeney’s cash.

The Irish Times reports that since 2004, Atlantic has focused on three Irish programmes - ageing; children and youth; and reconciliation and human rights.

Feeney made his fortune from duty free shops in the Far East and owned DFS which he later sold to the Louis Vuitton company.

He believes in ‘giving while living’ and repeated this mantra in his statement.

He said, “I see little reason to delay giving when so much good can be achieved through supporting worthwhile causes today. Besides, it’s a lot more fun to give while you live than to give when you are dead.”

Feeney expressed confidence about Ireland’s prospects in the current economic climate.

He added, “I particularly value the commitment and spirit of generosity among the many people I have come to know through Atlantic’s work across the island of Ireland.

“These are challenging times. I admire the resilience of the people on this island and remain optimistic for the future.”

Renowned for a frugal lifestyle, Feeney transferred his wealth to Atlantic in 1984.

Irish American billionaire Chuck FeeneyGoogle Images