Warren Buffett has named Irish American philanthropist and former billionaire Chuck Feeney as his hero and says he is Bill Gates’ hero too.

Buffett presented the 82-year-old Feeney with a Forbes 400 Lifetime Achievement award in New York this week.

Feeney, a New Jersey native, was deeply instrumental in the American role in the Irish peace process and has given over $ 1.5 billion to Irish educational institutions and charities through his foundation Atlantic Philanthropies.

Feeney was one of a small group of Irish Americans who first engaged then presidential candidate Bill Clinton in the Irish peace process in 1991. He later underwrote Sinn Fein’s office in America as they forged a political path after the IRA ceasefire.

Feeney’s “Giving While Living” philosophy which saw him give away his $6 billion dollar fortune while still alive has inspired Buffett and Microsoft founder Bill Gates to do the same Buffett said.

“Chuck has set an example not only for people of my age but also younger generations. He will be an example 100 years from now or 200 years from now,” Mr Buffett said.

Buffett, who is also very close to another Irish American icon, former Coca Cola President Don Keough, said Feeney was an inspiration to both him, and Bill and Melinda Gates to give away their billions while alive.

“[Chuck] looks at money as something that can do something for other people. When you get down to it, it is that simple. His billions and billions of dollars touched millions of lives. He is my hero. He is Bill Gates’ hero. He should be everybody’s hero,” he said.

Buffett’s fortune has been estimated at $50 billion.

In response, Feeney stated: “It’s simple, really. You get more satisfaction from giving while you’re alive and involved. You learn and make adjustments to achieve the highest and best use of your resources.

“You get to see what you’ve helped accomplish. I am grateful that, by giving me this award, Forbes is encouraging other successful businessmen and women to more fully engage in philanthropy in their lifetimes.”