Yesterday, Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Simon Harris welcomed the government’s approval to appoint a Government Science Advisor and to establish a National Science Advice Forum.
According to the Department, the Government Science Advisor will chair the National Science Advice Forum to provide “cross-sectoral” and multi-disciplinary science advice to the government.
The role of the advisor will no longer be linked to the position of Director General of Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), the main funding body for research in Ireland.
Concerns over a conflict of interest have been raised since the dual role was announced in 2012. When Professor Mark Ferguson finished his term as Director General of SFI in 2021, the President of the Royal Irish Academy (RIA) said that the role of Chief Scientific Advisor should not be combined with any other role.
The decision was welcomed by the Irish Universities Association (IUA), which said on Twitter that universities have sought this “for some time” and that the structure will enable government to get “the best quality, independent advice on complex issues facing society”.
The government claims that this will help to tackle complex policy issues such as climate change, food sustainability, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, emerging technologies, and other needs identified by ministers.
The National Science Advice Forum will be drawn from those with scientific expertise from a range of disciplines, as well as experts in the policy-making process. It will have an annual work programme which will be reported to the government, and will be evaluated after a three-year period.
This comes after a public consultation was held in September 2022, and the outcomes from this, along with international models, informed the decision. The Department claims that this will bring Ireland in line with other countries “in the EU and beyond” and “maximise Ireland’s participation” in international science advice organisations.
Minister Harris said that “Ireland has a rich science base to draw on, including the higher education and research sector, and a range of expert bodies already under the aegis of government departments”.