Prof Philip Nolan to lead new Irish research funding agency

30 May 2023

Prof Philip Nolan. Image: Connor McKenna/Silicon Republic

The upcoming agency will combine the functions of the IRC and SFI and is expected to come into operation next year.

Prof Philip Nolan has been selected as the CEO-designate for the upcoming Research and Innovation funding agency.

This agency is still being established and is expected to come into operation next year, after a Research and Innovation Bill is passed. This bill will also merge the functions and activities of the Irish Research Council (IRC) and Science Foundation Ireland (SFI).

Nolan is currently the director general of SFI and will stay in this role until the establishment of the new agency. He became director general in January 2022, but was already regarded as a “distinguished researcher” and familiar face in Ireland before this role.

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

During his 10-year tenure at Maynooth, research income at the university increased by about 60pc. He was succeeded in this role by Prof Eeva Leinonen.

Before wrapping up his time in Maynooth, Nolan came into the public eye as chair of Ireland’s National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET), playing a critical role in Ireland’s Covid-19 pandemic response.

Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Simon Harris, TD, said Nolan’s appointment will bring “continuity and leadership” to the early stages of the new agency.

“Professor Nolan will engage closely with my department, as well as the IRC, in progressing the body of work required to ensure the agency is prepared to serve the research community well, shortly after the enactment of the legislation,” Harris said.

“Researchers can be reassured that there will be no interruption to ongoing services and funding programmes while the new agency is being set up. It will be business as usual in the IRC and SFI.”

Nolan said he will work with “all stakeholders” to bring the strengths of both the SFI and the IRC together and “to get the very best for all of us from the taxpayers’ investment in research and innovation”.

“This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to drive a step change in public investment in research, and give us the talent, knowledge and expertise to address the major societal challenges and changes that we must confront over the coming decades,” Nolan said.

The upcoming agency is part of Ireland’s national strategy to boost research and innovation. This strategy – Impact 2030 – was launched last year by Minister Harris and aims to build a more inclusive and engaged research and innovation system in Ireland.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic