Legislation to put Science Foundation Ireland on a statutory footing completed its course through the Dáil last week. The Bill has now passed to the Seanad for final amendments and is expected to be signed into law by President Mary McAleese before the end of the month.
SFI currently exists as a sub-board of Forfás. If enacted, the legisation would put the agency on a fully independent statutory footing, giving it, in effect, permanent status.
The director general of SFI, Dr Bill Harris, has been lobbying for the move for some time. He has argued that continuity of funding over the medium to long term is a prerequisite for attracting top researchers to Ireland from the world’s top universities and research establishments.
In an interview with siliconrepublic.com recently, Harris said, “Continuity of funding and predictability of funding is essential to a successful scientific endeavour. A country that cannot provide this will not attract the best scientists.”
Statutory footing will also bring the SFI practical benefits such as being able to hire staff on a permanent basis and create a new, tighter board structure.
At the launch of the SFI’s inaugural achievements report last month in Dublin, Harris said he hoped that the necessary legislation would be passed before the end of the current Dáil term. In reply, the Tanaiste, Mary Harney TD, said she would be pushing to get the legislation through before the Dáil’s summer recess, which begins this week.
SFI is investing €646m between 2000 and 2006 in academic researchers and research teams in the biotech and ICT sectors. SFI made its first grants in 2001, and to date has invested €218m in 100 research projects around the country.
By Brian Skelly