EXCLUSIVE: China Bankrolling Irish University’s €70 Million Science Centre

Dublin City University has received over €4.4 million from Chinese donors through Ireland's scrapped golden visa scheme
By Patricia Devlin
Patricia Devlin
Patricia Devlin
Patricia is an award winning journalist based in Ireland. She specializes in investigations and giving victims of crime, abuse, and corruption a voice.
June 22, 2023Updated: June 23, 2023

One of Ireland’s most prestigious universities is bankrolling a state-of-the-art science centre with millions in donations from China.

The Epoch Times can reveal that Dublin City University (DCU) has received over €4 million from secret Chinese sources towards its Polaris project through the country’s now-defunct Immigrant Investor Programme (IIP).

The cash-for-visa scheme—which campaigners say was “hijacked” by China—allowed wealthy foreign investors outside the European Union (EU) to have residency in Ireland in return for huge investments.

The Irish government abruptly ended the decade-old scheme in February following EU concerns the scheme posed a security risk.

Of the thousands of wealthy foreigners who benefited from Irish, and then subsequent EU, residency—90 percent were from China.

Now it can be revealed that €4.4million from Chinese IIP investors went towards DCU’s €70 million innovative science, computing and engineering facility. 

The huge investment, revealed to The Epoch Times under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, has been described as concerning by campaigners who say political leaders need to audit China’s influence on Ireland, including its higher education sector.

30 Donations

The Epoch Times asked DCU how many donations over €10,000 it had received from Chinese entities or individuals between 2017 and 2022.

It responded by stating it has received 27 donations from sources in China towards its Polaris Capital Project.

That included ten donations of €40,000, six donations of €400,000, four donations of €200,000 and a further four of €100,000.

Three separate donations of €123,000, €123,000 and €155,000 were also received.

No dates were given for when the funds were received, and the university refused to reveal the name of the donors, citing a number of exemptions including privacy and commercial reasons.

The university said it could also impact on securing future funding from donors.

It stated: “For the avoidance of doubt, all donations received by DCU under the IIP were towards the Polaris Capital Project, which is a €70 million project established to enable the construction of a 10,000 square metres facility for science, computing and engineering disciplines. 

“While €24 million of funding was granted by the Higher Education Authority, the balance was funded by the university through philanthropy and loan finance.”

Applicants to Ireland’s former golden visa scheme—set up in the aftermath of the 2008 Irish banking crisis—were required to have a personal wealth of at least €2 million, and were expected to donate at least €500,000 to philanthropic projects.

Figures released by the Irish Department of Justice last year revealed that more than 1,500 Chinese millionaires received residency since the start of the scheme, according to the Irish Independent.

Huawei logo
A logo sits illuminated outside the Huawei booth at the SK telecom booth on day 1 of the GSMA Mobile World Congress in Barcelona on Feb. 28, 2022. (David Ramos/Getty Images)

Huawei Investment

The university told The Epoch Times that its 10,000 square metres Polaris facility will have the capacity to accommodate over 3,000 additional science, technology, engineering, and mathematics students on the university’s Glasnevin campus.

The six-storey building will also house DCU’s entire School of Health and Human Performance, according to the FOI response. 

The building will include a “Human Performance Lab” focused on high-performance sports research, a “Life Lab” to help students develop improved health literacy, and a “Movement Lab” that will use state-of-the-art indoor sports facilities to “help the local community access data analytics and visualisation techniques.”

DCU added, “It is designed to break down disciplinary boundaries and to support collaboration across subjects and between groups, inside and outside the university.”

It is not clear if those individuals or companies who have made huge donations towards the project have any influence over, or gain any benefits, from the facility, set for completion in 2024.

The university also disclosed that DCU researchers have been funded by the blacklisted tech company Huawei. 

From 2017 to 2021, DCU received over €1.4 million to undertake a variety of contract research projects in the “data analytics space.” 

The Epoch Times previously revealed how the telecom giant—deemed a national security threat by the U.S. government—is the biggest China-based donor to UK higher educational institutions at a tune of 30 million pounds.

In a statement sent to The Epoch Times, a DCU spokesperson said that all “due diligence and vetting” of those who have invested through the IIP is conducted by the Department of Justice.

“The university has no role in conducting due diligence on proposed investors,” the spokesperson said.
At a time of constrained capital funding and escalating construction costs, the IIP has provided a valuable means to attract philanthropic donations to provide enhanced facilities for future generations of students.”

Hijacked

Mark Sabah, UK and European Union director of The Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong Foundation, said Ireland must take stock of how China is influencing its country, including its universities.

“There should be no problem with anyone wanting to contribute to advancing Ireland’s education, research and facilities, that’s a good thing,” he told The Epoch Times.

“But the question, is who’s putting the money in? 

“Would we be concerned if those donations came from French or Swiss or Spanish donors? And the answer is probably not, because those countries don’t threaten our national security.

“Those countries don’t interfere in our internal politics, those countries don’t run Confucius Institutes that intimidate students or nor do they have United Front activists threatening mainland Chinese students, Hong Kongers, Tibetans or Uyghurs.”

Sabah, who this week met with Irish politicians surrounding Chinese Communist Party influence in the country, said China is known for threatening education systems.

He questioned whether Chinese funders were donating cash to universities such as DCU independently or “part of a greater strategy.”

“If the donations are coming in as part of that investors visa scheme, then that investor visa scheme has overwhelmingly been hijacked in a very clearly coordinated plan,” he said.

“Out of the 1,600 applicants for visas, 1,500 alone came from China, and that does not include those that are still in the pipeline. And since the scheme has been shut down to have that level of application is clearly a coordinated effort. That’s not an accident. 

“And so these massive investments have given people visas, giving people the right to stay in Ireland to bring their children to be educated there, but we don’t know where the money comes from. And we don’t know what the ulterior motive is.”

Sabah said there was also an issue of security surrounding the funding of research grants by Chinese sources.

“If it were a Spanish donor or an English donor or a French donor, would we be fearful of what they would do with all the research and the answer is, probably no. 

“So I think that something should be done to look at where the money comes from. And the other question is, why is the academic institution ashamed or afraid to announce where the donors come from?”

Epoch Times Photo
Ireland’s Justice Minister Simon Harris speaking at the official opening of a new Garda Control Centre for the Dublin Metropolitan Region at the National Train Control Centre at Heuston Station, Dublin, on May 5, 2023. (Brian Lawless/PA Media)

Debate Planned

Following meetings in Dublin with Sabah last week, Fianna Fáil Senator Malcolm Byrne has now tabled a debate on China’s influence in Ireland including ownership of land, companies and businesses.

Speaking in the Seanad Éireann on Wednesday, Byrne said: “As the leader may be aware, there is a big debate in the United States at present over Chinese shell companies buying up farmland. Investigations in the UK have found that Chinese shell companies and offshore entities are buying up UK properties. 

“It is important for us to carry out a national audit of Chinese ownership of land, companies and businesses so that we can fully understand our exposure to the Chinese Communist Party. 

“In light of the recent very thoughtful speech by the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Micheál Martin, on Ireland’s relationship with China, it is appropriate that we would hold another debate in this House on that question.”

Ireland closed its IIP scheme four months ago, with then Irish Justice Minister Simon Harris saying it had been “under review” for some time.

He told the Irish senate that since its inception, the IIP had approved an investment of almost €1.252 billion, “which has benefited many enterprises.”

“However, it is important that we keep all programmes under review, including any implications for wider public policy, such as the continuing appropriateness and suitability of this programme for cultural, social, and economic use.

“We have also taken on board a number of reports and findings from international bodies such as the EU Commission, the Council of Europe and the OECD on similar investment programmes,” he said.