Harris plans to decouple Government adviser role from SFI leadership

10 Nov 2021

Minister Simon Harris, TD, at Inspirefest 2018. Image: Conor McCabe Photography

The Minister for Science said the 10-year-old structure for advising the Government on science is in need of review.

Minister Simon Harris, TD, has informed the Government of his plans to separate the roles of Ireland’s chief scientific adviser and director general of Science Foundation Ireland (SFI).

Both roles have been held by Prof Mark Ferguson since 2012. Ferguson will depart both positions in mid-January 2022.

Last month, Prof Philip Nolan was appointed his successor in leading SFI, the State agency responsible for funding and promoting science in Ireland. However, the role of chief scientific adviser to the Government was not part of this announcement.

“We are facing significant challenges as a society and like Covid-19, it will be science that will help steer us through those obstacles,” said Harris, who leads the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science.

“The Government now has an opportunity to consider the role of science in our decision-making processes and how it affects our policy responses.”

The chief scientific adviser is responsible for providing high-level advice on scientific issues for the Government and other relevant bodies or groups, as well as fulfilling an ambassadorial role in the science field.

Ferguson served two terms in both positions, with the two being joined together for about a decade. Harris said there are “lessons to be learned from domestic and international experience since that time”.

Based on consultations with stakeholders in a number of Government departments and agencies, Harris said: “My view is that there is merit in investigation of structures.”

Harris intends to issue a public consultation on the matter early next year. This will inform the role of science advice structures and help to identify the best model for Ireland going forward.

Presently, a campaign seeking input from the public on Ireland’s next science and research agenda has received more than 5,000 submissions. The Creating our Future initiative is being promoted throughout Science Week, and closes at the end of this month.

“All submissions will be considered by expert panels and the results of their findings will be brought to Government and subsequently published early next year,” said Harris.

A resulting report will be used to inform policy in Harris’ department.

Ferguson recently sat down with Future Human founder Ann O’Dea to reflect on almost 10 years as Ireland’s science lead as well as future challenges such as the climate crisis.

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Elaine Burke is the editor of Silicon Republic

editorial@siliconrepublic.com