SFI director-general takes on extra role as Government’s chief scientific adviser

30 Oct 2012

Prof Mark Ferguson, director-general of Science Foundation Ireland, who will now take on the extra role of chief scientific adviser to the Irish Government

The Irish Government is abolishing the Office of the Chief Scientific Adviser in a move that will instead see the director-general of Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) Prof Mark Ferguson take on the additional role of chief scientific adviser.

The former chief scientific adviser Prof Patrick Cunningham retired in August. He had held the post since 2007 and was instrumental in helping make Dublin the European City of Science this year and to ensure that the city hosted the Euroscience Open Forum in July.

The Government’s decision to abolish the Office of the Chief Scientific Adviser is part of a “wider drive for reform and greater efficiency” within the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation.

The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Richard Bruton, TD, said that SFI’s Ferguson would be “well placed” to fulfil the role of chief scientific adviser.

“This additional role will complement his existing work in Science Foundation Ireland, particularly given SFI’s ready access to networks of national and international scientists – access which is crucially important for a chief scientific adviser to be able to draw upon,” said Bruton.

He added that Ferguson would be able to draw upon an independent advisory panel of “eminent” scientists when the need arises.

“This move marks a consolidation of our resources in this area and complements the range of scientific advice that is also available within Government organisations, including in areas such as veterinary science, agriculture, environment and health,” said Bruton.

Organisations such as the Irish Stem Cell Foundation have reacted strongly to the news that the Office of the Chief Scientific Adviser is being dismantled.

Dr Stephen Sullivan, chief scientific officer at the Irish Stem Cell Foundation, described the move as “short-term political interference”.

He said the foundation sees the Government’s decision to dissolve the office as a three-pronged mistake.

“There’s a disconnect between the idea of how science is important to generating money for the taxpayer,” he said.

In sequestering the powers of the Office of the Chief Scientific Adviser to the director-general of SFI who already has a lot of responsibility, Sullivan said this signals a “conflict of interest”.

“The civil servant who was charged in developing science policy is now charged with assessing the success or failure of that policy in terms of the benefit to the taxpayer,” he said.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic