Seanad debates

Wednesday, 3 November 2021

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Research and Development

10:30 am

Photo of Malcolm ByrneMalcolm Byrne (Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

I thank the Minister for coming to the House to take this important issue regarding the future of science and research in Ireland. I will start by putting on record our thanks for his support in creating the technological university of the south east that was announced yesterday. The initiative is a game changer for the region.The appointment of Professor Philip Nolan, the former president of Maynooth University, as the director general of Science Foundation Ireland, SFI, is welcome. We should reflect on the wonderful contribution that the outgoing director general, Professor Mark Ferguson, has made. However, the role of director general and that of the Government's chief scientific adviser should never have been combined. With the appointment of Professor Nolan, there is an ideal opportunity to split the two. SFI plays a crucial role as a national research funding agency, but it is essential that the office of the chief scientific adviser be independent and not in any way perceived to be influenced by funding decisions or to favour any particular type of scientific research. Splitting the two roles is something that many academics have called for, including the Royal Irish Academy, RIA.

We should consider establishing a scientific advisory council to support the Government's chief scientific adviser. There are similar operations in other jurisdictions, for example, the Netherlands, France and the US. The remit of the Dutch scientific council is to advise the Dutch Government and Parliament on strategic issues that are likely to have important political and social consequences. We have seen the benefit of independent advisory councils in terms of climate change and economic policy. We cannot expect the Government's chief scientific adviser to have a knowledge of every issue ranging from nanotechnology to artificial intelligence. Given the importance of science and research to our future economic development as well as the convergence of new technologies, it is important that the Government be informed and up to date on the possible societal implications of those changes.

I welcome the Minister's announcement that Ireland will move towards having a national research policy. I hope it covers laryngitis and research into how we can cure it quickly. It is essential that we have a public policy to underpin a research direction and research infrastructure.

The Minister is committed to this area and I look forward to his answer. In particular, there is an immediate opportunity to split two key roles.


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