Government appoints first chief science adviser

24 Jun 2004

In a move intended to boost Ireland’s science and technology potential, the Government has announced the appointment of Ireland’s first chief science adviser as well as a range of other supporting measures.

Taking up the new role is Barry McSweeney, currently the director general of the Joint Research Centre (JRC), the European Commission’s R&D policy-making arm, and former head of Ireland’s first National Biotechnology R&D Programme.

The new position will involve providing independent expert advice on any aspect of science, technology and innovation as required by the Government. Key functions will include overseeing a system of independent evaluation of science policy and programmes across a range of issues and advising on the matching of resources to expected performance. Dr McSweeney will also have a special role to play in advising on international science issues.

Making the announcement, Tánaiste Mary Harney also said that the Government has decided to establish a Cabinet Committee to specifically address and co-ordinate science and technology issues. The Cabinet will be supported by an interdepartmental committee of senior officials with responsibility for science and technology in their respective Government Departments. The initiative will ensure a “whole of Government” approach to the critical area of promoting science and technology, she said.

The Tánaiste also confirmed the retention of the Irish Council for Science, Technology and Innovation (ICSTI), under the chairmanship of Dr Ed Walsh, as the point of contact between the scientific community and the new structures now being put in place by Government. The Tánaiste added that she would be discussing with Dr Walsh how best to structure ICSTI so that it can most effectively perform the tasks required of it under the new arrangements.

The Tánaiste commented: “It is critical that we provide coordinated thinking and cohesive policy making in the whole area of science, technology and innovation given the fact that Government is investing €2.48bn in this area under the National Development Plan.”

Dr Mc Sweeney’s office will be attached to Forfás, the state agency responsible for providing government with advice on a range of issues including economic policy and science, technology and innovation. The Tánaiste acknowledged that there had been considerable debate on this point.

“The vital issue is that we get the best person for the job and locate that person in an environment where they can deliver. We are very fortunate that Dr McSweeney’s services became available to us at a critical time. He has a global perspective on science and, through his work at the EU’s Joint Research Centre in particular, has experience of the gamut of issues facing both Europe and Ireland in Science and Technology.

“Forfás has an established track record in supporting government across fields such as industrial policy, skills and on science and technology. Forfás has the resources and the statutory base to provide the necessary backup to Dr Mc Sweeney in his new role,” the Tánaiste said.

“The Government’s investment in Science and Technology is driven by the need to cement our position as an innovation driven economy – to promote growth and improve the welfare of our society. The recently announced investment by Guidant Technologies in Clonmel shows that Ireland can remain competitive for high tech industry. Through the establishment of Science Foundation Ireland and investment in the higher education system in the PRTLI programme, to give just two examples, we are providing the fuel to take Ireland even further up the competitiveness ladder. We need the best intelligence and the best advice to achieve this. Through the appointment of our chief science adviser and the related structures agreed by Government, we are ensuring that we will reach this goal,” she concluded.

By Brian Skelly