Government must stick to science investments

24 Jul 2008

Any deviation from spending commitments under the National Development Plan (NDP), would send the wrong signal to the global science and business community, not to mention future science graduates, Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) director general, Frank Gannon, warned today.

Speaking with, Gannon said: “SFI is part of ‘Team Ireland’ together with IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland and we’re all working to make the country attractive to future industries as well as skills and talent. Any deviation from this would send a bad signal to the science and also to the business community.

“The Government would be correct in maintaining its commitments in terms of science and that has to be done through building up the right levels of research and talent,” Gannon said.

Under the Government’s NPD some €8.2bn has been earmarked for investment in science infrastructure. However, the recent economic downturn coupled with an unexpected low tax intake has led to the Government revealing it will be looking at reducing investments in the year ahead, leading to many questions surrounding the NDP.

Gannon was speaking at the launch of Science Foundation Ireland’s annual report for 2007 and told that for 2008 the total spending commitment on science infrastructure and talent is €170m.

This morning, a new funding package of €23m for 143 separate projects was announced across 13 different areas, encompassing health, engineering, energy, ecology, medicine, maths, genetics and other related fields.

This funding will allow for the provision of training and jobs for 180 scientists.

Under a new SFI Strategic Research Cluster (SRC) programme, partnerships have been established with 43 companies.

In addition, a new SFI Centre for Science, Engineering and Technology (CSET) focusing on the software sector has been established at DCU in partnership with IBM, Microsoft, Symantec, Enterprise Ireland and the IDA.

Gannon said he believes SFI is succeeding in increasing the quality and number of scientists in Ireland and said that 28pc of PhD students who graduated last year have gone to work in industry, while the rest are engaged in research and further education.

“There are many diverse areas where scientists can work, whether it’s patenting, journalism, contract management … scientists are trained to do lots of things. I think the pattern is looking correct.”

On the question of whether enough students are signing up to do science and technology courses at third level, Gannon said there has been consolidation but not growth.

“People need to understand the different opportunities that are coming Ireland’s way. As a country we need to be concerned that we are producing enough people trained in technology and with good science and engineering skills. They are our future.”

By John Kennedy

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years