The Friday interview: Frank Gannon, Science Foundation Ireland

14 Sep 2007

€135m was invested in Ireland’s science infrastructure last year by Science Foundation Ireland out of a €1.48bn war chest. Dr Frank Gannon is the state agency’s new director general

How important is creating a scientific infrastructure to Ireland’s economic future?

Before 2001, Irish funding for R&D was seriously under-supported. In the Nineties it was not seen as important but today it is seen as the cornerstone of our future economy.

In the past six years €825m has been pumped into developing Ireland’s science infrastructure. Is it fair to say that prior to 2001 there was no innovation in this country?

While it has been said that this investment took off from a standing start in 2001, it’s not true to suggest that nothing existed before then and the advent of SFI.

The universities and colleges had a heroic task but managed with virtually no funding.

We punched above our weight and kept the show alive thanks to EU grants.

Now thanks to government funding and the establishment of SFI, those who are capable of doing more are in fact doing much, much more.

You’ve said that Ireland needs to break into the Premier League of the science world. How are we doing?

Roy Keane had an impossible task to get Sunderland into the Premier division. Now his challenge is to stay there and move up the league.

Ireland has been successful in attracting new industries and was best worldwide for manufacturing. Now we need to move to the industries of the future.

That’s the league to strive for. We’re midway there.

Is Ireland attractive for international scientists?

Scientists can go and work anywhere they wish. We have to match what’s available elsewhere with the right amount of space, equipment, support and a community of interesting, stimulating colleagues.
But the high cost of living in Ireland is aversely affecting decisions of top scientists to come and live in Ireland.

The EU is targeting 3pc of GDP in every country to be invested in R&D by 2010. Can Ireland meet this target?

It is important that the Irish Government remains committed to getting Ireland to 2.4pc spending as a percentage of outlay by 2013.

Ireland is gaining a reputation for not being pampered but attacking harder things, being at the edge and doing things better.

By John Kennedy