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Billionaire funded UL chief's €1.1m house

THE money for the €1.1m residence for the president of the University of Limerick (UL) was provided by the group backed by Irish-American billionaire Chuck Feeney.

Atlantic Philanthropies has poured €1bn into education, health and other social projects in Ireland -- two-thirds of it to third-level institutions.

UL director of corporate affairs Eamonn Cregan confirmed the source of the funding last night and said it fitted into a vision that Atlantic shared of developing UL as a university of world standing.

A spokesperson said the awarding of such grants was transparent and that Atlantic had "no issue" with its funding being used for the house.

The construction of the three-storey, five-bedroom house, into which UL president Professor Don Barry will move next month, has come in for criticism at a time when the university is €3m in debt and student registration fees have soared.

Mr Cregan said that as well as being a perpetual residence for the president, in line with similar facilities in other Irish and international universities, it would facilitate a wide range of campus functions and events.

All Irish universities, North and South, and some other third-level colleges have benefited from Atlantic funding over the past 20 years and, as a private donor to education in Ireland, the group has no equal.

A major donation from Atlantic is credited with helping to establish the Programme for Third-Level Research in Ireland (PRTLI), for which it matched state funding.

UL has received a total of about €100m from Atlantic, supporting scholarships, professorships, student residences, the library and a wide range of other initiatives.

Mr Cregan said one example was the university arena that hosted some 600,000 visits per year by recreational and competitive sports people, from UL and the wider community.

"Other projects that have received the support of the Atlantic Philanthropies include the students' centre, the university concert hall, with the aim of enhancing the educational, sporting and cultural infrastructure for students, faculty and staff and the broader community," he said.

Education Minister Batt O'Keeffe said that it seemed the benefactor had given UL a specific donation of €2m towards a home for the president.

With that benevolence, the donor had the right to ask and to dictate where that money should be spent, he said

No taxpayers' money was involved in any way, he said.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny questioned the priorities of the board of the university.

"I would have thought it might have been preferable if the board had been more concentrated on seeking funding for the education resources of the students who attend UL.

"Obviously this money is tied money and that decision cannot be changed. But I think it sends out a particular kind of signal about the board of UL looking for that kind of contribution."

Irish Independent