In the mythology of the Irish elite, Atlantic Philanthropies has become a sort of Cargo Cult. This is the notion, which took off among South Sea islanders particularly during World War II, that random foreigners would periodically drop off unimagined gifts which had not only saved them from primitivism but would ensure eternal prosperity.
Where some Tanna Islanders continued to venerate “John Frum” and build symbolic landing strips in the hope that the American supply planes might return, the Chuck Feeney Cult has matured into the belief that his having saved us from mediaeval backwardness, we now only need to follow his guidelines to prevent those cursed days returning.
Central to the myth is that the Atlantic money saved Irish education. There is no doubt but that the more than one billion Euro that Atlantic granted to entities here over the course of almost three decades made a difference. Around half of that was through third level institutions, and most of that was spent on research facilities.
Two things have to be said in relation to that, however. The first is that the €600 million of Atlantic education grants compares to an overall state education budget of €9.6 billion for 2023 alone. So the notion that the Irish state had some sort of third world education system prior to Chuck deciding to weigh is utter nonsense.
The second thing is that the education grants, along with all of the rest of the funds distributed, were part of a deliberate plan to significantly change Irish society.
And do not take my word for it. The hagiographical book on Atlantic in Ireland, about how one man changed “the home of his ancestors,” written by Liam Collins, begins with the claim by former Dublin City University President Brian Mac Craith that Ireland BC (Before Chuck) was a “conservative society in which human rights for many were constrained” and that sets the tone really.
Central to that is the boast that Atlantic money was crucial to “fundamental social change, such as children’s rights and marriage equality.” That is certainly true and considering that the €1.1 billion of Atlantic funding over the course of the 30 years amounted to a tiny 0.025% of a total Irish GDP of more than €4,400,000,000,000 their monumental achievement in playing a major part in changing Ireland through gay marriage, abortion and mass immigration might be considered good bang for buck.
That would probably be the equivalent of a box of Hershey Bars or a six pack of Bud for the Tanna islanders. And it has had the same societal impact. The islanders even have a term, “rubbish man,” for anyone who has either not been a beneficiary of the Cargo, or is not in a position to dispense some of the crumbs to those less blessed.
The lasting effectiveness of the Atlantic funding is not so much the sums involved, which are obviously significant, but that Atlantic was able to use those funds to persuade the Irish state to match them. That was true in where investment in third level was targeted, but also in laying the basis of what its sheer scale indicates has now become one of the most important parts of the Irish economy, the NGOs.
Collins makes references to how Atlantic persuaded the state to tailor its own third level Programme for Research in Third Level Institutions (PRTLI) in the direction shaped by the consultants “brought in with Atlantic funding” and how the universities then “colonised parts of the new plan” which was to significantly impact on broader society.
Part of this was the exponential growth in the advocacy NGOs through the sort of injection of Atlantic funding we have looked at previously. Collins refers specifically to the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and to the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN).
GLEN received a total of $4,727,861 from Atlantic.
Kieran Rose of GLEN acknowledged that legalisation of same sex marriage “wouldn’t have happened so quickly” without the Atlantic input. Interestingly, an evaluation of the Atlantic involvement in the gay marriage campaign refers to the importance of more modest and moderate “stepping stones” along the way to achieving the ultimate objective.
That has been a feature of other campaigns including to legalise abortion and the Gender Recognition Act which were largely run by groups which also received significant support from Atlantic, and subsequently and on an ongoing basis by the state. Atlantic itself, as indicated by one graphic, is conscious of how the timing and target of their grants was key in pushing radical change here.
Collins of course dismisses the notion – with several “strawman” references to the accurate descriptions by Senator Rónán Mullan and Breda O’Brien of the impact of the funding – that this had anything to do with “using Atlantic’s largesse to influence political decisions,” but of course that is exactly what it was successfully designed to do.
Just as the Atlantic money had basically directed where the matching state funds went in education research, so too did they succeed in creating what we now know as the advocacy NGO sector which barely existed prior to Atlantic in the way it does now. Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern is mentioned several times as a vital cog in how the Atlantic plan operated.
The key years in the growth of the NGO sector, and in particular of those involved in advocacy and in “the community,” coincided with Ahern’s years in power between 1997 and 2008. Ahern is on the record as having regarded Feeney as an important actor in the aftermath of the IRA ceasefires. Which he was, not least through his funding and influence on Sinn Féin.
Ahern also possibly regarded Feeney’s funding of the NGOs and the consequent match funding by the state during the Celtic tiger era, and subsequently where the state is now the main support for most of the NGO sector, as gelling with his own view that fostering a vast range of such state dependent organisations would rebound to the political advantage of his own party. Subsequent history would suggest that this is not how it turned out to be.
Not only have the NGOs remained dominated by the liberal left, but the demands and even the ideology of the advocacy NGOs have come to greatly influence and largely determine the policies of both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael and indeed the thinking of the upper echelons of public administration. Just as a similar “Long March” of the American liberal left through the institutions – including those funded and even staffed by clients of Foundations similar to Atlantic – exerted a similar influence in the United States.
How the liberal left has extended its influence via the Atlantic funded NGOs is succinctly captured in the Collins book by Fiona Finn of the migrant pressure group NASC, the recipients of almost $2,000,000, who referred to their having “built up relationships with a lot of senior civil servants,” and how “Atlantic has helped us to develop, because it was their funding which enabled us to develop and sustain such relationships.”
So, any time you might ponder why so many people among the elite of the Irish state appear to support policies that lots of other evidence including opinion polls might indicate are not shared by a majority, remember that. That is how much of the “progressive social change” celebrated by them has come about in the past 30 years.