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Wealth generating an even greater desire to help diaspora

PROSPERITY is proving a boost for a fund originally set up to lift Ireland out of its depressed social and economic circumstances and divisive traditions.

The annual conference of the now international Ireland Funds conference heard this weekend how the fund started in 1976 in Boston by Sir Anthony O'Reilly and his friend the Pittsburgh businessman Dan Rooney is now stronger than ever.

There is a greater than ever desire among the Irish diaspora to contribute to the Ireland Funds, the charitable organisation which supports peace and reconciliation, arts and culture, education and community development, according to its president and chief executive, Kingsley Aikins.

This increased interest in the charity may have much to do with the success of this country's economy, according to Dublin-born Mr Aikins, a former executive with the IDA in Australia.

He has headed up what is now an international fund-raising charity since 1997, and is the largest diaspora fund-raiser in the world.

Speaking in an interview in Killarney before a lavish gala dinner on the lawns of Muckross House, Mr Aikins said that every country, no matter how strong, needed philanthropy and Irish people had always been generous.

"Those who had done well in this country over the past decade are now also contributing to the Ireland Funds but are doing so in a new sense of "engaged philanthropy".

"Cheque book charity is spontaneous. Engaged philanthropy is different," Mr Aikins said.

Modelled on the American Jewish community's work for Israel, the Ireland funds were established in Boston by O'Reilly and Rooney in 1976.

It now has operations in 11 countries including Japan, New Zealand, Monaco, although its biggest contributor is still the USA.

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So far it has raised $300m the bulk of it spent in the Republic.

It now has over 100 events annually in 39 cities around the world.

There is strong focus on Northern Ireland, which receives around 30pc of the funds raised by the organisation.

"We think that now is the time we really have to kick in, in Northern Ireland," Mr Aikins said.

Last week, a campaign was launched in London to raise €5m for the "forgotten Irish" of the 1950s, who emigrated to England.

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