Prof Philip Nolan leaves SFI role amid misconduct allegations

29 May 2024

Prof Philip Nolan. Image: Maynooth University

Nolan was due to become the CEO of the upcoming Research and Innovation funding agency, but has left the SFI amid claims of inappropriate behaviour towards staff.

The director general of Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), Prof Philip Nolan, has made a sudden departure from his role.

Nolan left the SFI following a board meeting earlier this week, according to multiple media reports. Dr Ciarán Seoighe was appointed as the acting director general of the organisation as a result of this change, RTÉ reports. The SFI website also lists Seoighe as acting director general.

Meanwhile, a report by the Irish Independent claims the SFI terminated Nolan’s position within the organisation. Nolan told RTÉ that he is unable to speak publicly about his departure at this time.

Nolan took up the leading role in SFI in 2022, succeeding Prof Mark Ferguson who led the state agency for 10 years. Nolan was also selected to lead the upcoming Research and Innovation funding agency, which will merge the functions and activities of the Irish Research Council with SFI.

However, Nolan has been under investigation over five allegations of misconduct made by staff members against him – allegations that he has denied. It is understood that SFI’s board was due to consider the findings of a recent investigation into these allegations.

This independent investigation did not make any findings of misconduct against Nolan or find that his conduct constituted bullying, The Irish Times reports. But it did reportedly find that Nolan displayed “inappropriate behaviour” towards the staff concerned.

Nolan has served as director of the UCD Conway Institute for Biomolecular and Biomedical Research, deputy president of University College Dublin and was the president of Maynooth University for 10 years.

He rose to prominence in recent years as chair of Ireland’s National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET), which played a critical role in Ireland’s Covid-19 pandemic response.

Taoiseach Simon Harris, TD, spoke highly of Nolan back when he was Ireland’s Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science. In 2021, he said Nolan was a “constant and valued source of expertise” in his role with NPHET.

The SFI has not responded to a request for comment from at time of publication.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic