Wednesday, 13 October 2021
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
Research and Development
I thank the Deputy for his question and for raising an important issue. Strengthening the engagement and dialogue between researchers and wider society is critical. We saw that during the pandemic when we had expert advice. We did well, largely, when we followed expert advice during the pandemic and when we did not, it did not go as well, to put it mildly. I see a core mission of my Department as trying to embed expert advice within policymaking.
For that reason, my Department is trying to create a dialogue across the country with all stakeholders, including with our public representatives and also wider civic society, through the Creating our Future initiative. This is an opportunity to have a genuine national conversation. That phrase can be a bit hackneyed but I believe in it concerning this endeavour, where we get out there and engage. Researchers will not just talk to researchers, but our experts will get out and talk to communities about the role of research, what role it can play and what role it should play. This involves asking the people what they want our researchers and scientists to work on and which opportunities and challenges to address using public funds. We have a roadshow travelling around the country and a website where people can submit their ideas for topics that they think researchers should engage with.
We have had a great response, including among elected representatives. I take this opportunity to thank the Deputy for the work he is doing for that initiative as the chair of the informal cross-party group on science and technology. I wonder whether that informal group could have a broader role in future, beyond the Creating Our Future initiative. The group gives Members, as well as staff, the opportunity to learn more about the campaign and to begin to engage with some of these matters.
Other valuable work is also undertaken by my Department's agencies to support engagement with the Oireachtas. The Irish Research Council, IRC, runs a shadowing scheme in which researchers may shadow a Deputy or Senator with responsibilities in an area related to their research. Science Foundation Ireland, SFI, also works with the Oireachtas Library and Research Service to create opportunities for engagement with researchers. The recent public service fellowship pilot programme placed researchers within Oireachtas teams, working side by side with colleagues on critical areas such as climate change and the economic, social and ethical implications of technological innovation. I welcome the views of the Deputy and other colleagues regarding what can be done to strengthen further these sorts of engagements because I see great value in them.