The Tánaiste Mary Harney has just published a bill that will turn Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) into a State agency.
The bill, entitled Industrial Development (Science Foundation Ireland Bill, 2002), will turn SFI into an agency of Forfás.
SFI was set up by the government on an interim basis in 2000 with the role of bringing Ireland up to speed in the scientific world, particularly in the realms of biotechnology and information and communications technology (ICT). It was established initially as a sub-board of Forfás.
Last year prominent US academic Dr Bill Harris was appointed director general of SFI with a fund of some €675m to bring Irish universities up to world-class scientific research standards as well as attract leading researchers and scientists into this country.
So far SFI has committed €125m to research projects and teams working in a variety of biotech and ICT fields. This will increase to €200m in the coming months to fund centres for science, engineering and technology grants.
To date, awards have been made to 80 scientists and engineers from all over the world. Last week, 14 academics from Ireland and worldwide were selected to receive €1.7m under the inaugral ETS Walton Visitor Awards to aid them in establishing groundbreaking research in the fields of IT and biotechnology in Irish universities.
Commenting on the bill’s publication, Harris said it marks a milestone in the ongoing development and growth of first-rate scientific research in Ireland. “In setting up SFI, the government committed to building an ecosystem of world-class research in the country. By establishing the foundation on a statutory basis, the [present-day] Government is providing SFI with a solid foundation to ensure that this commitment is achieved.”
In a codicil in the new bill, the Tánaiste granted the SFI powers to identify “such other areas that concern economic and social benefit, long-term industrial competitiveness as may be prescribed from time to time by the Minister”.
A new board is to be established following the passing of the bill through the Houses of the Oireachtas, that will be appointed by the Tánaiste with the consent of the Minister for Education and Science and the Minister for Finance.
Included in the bill is also a ruling that SFI may not allocate in excess of €5m to a project or endeavour without first obtaining permission from the Government.
By John Kennedy