Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Science James Lawless says the Government needs to rethink its approach to funding the research and development sector.
Deputy Lawless made the comments after attending the ‘March for Science’ in Dublin which saw hundreds of people turnout to defend the integrity of the research and development sector.
Deputy Lawless said, “Tens of thousands of scientists and supporters took part in marches across the globe on Saturday in order to protest against the growing influence of pseudoscience. It was heartening to see such a strong turnout in Dublin and the large gathering clearly demonstrates that Ireland’s science community is united in combating those that peddle dangerous pseudoscience.
“There was a clear sentiment at the march that the cutbacks imposed by the previous Fine Gael – Labour Government have had an adverse impact on the science community here in Ireland. Just €14.4m has been allocated to the Programme for Research in Third Level Institutions (PRTLI) this year, which represents a 52% cutback year on year. It has been well acknowledged that we need to increase our investment in research and development but the Government is doing the opposite.
“The science budget needs to be increased substantially in the years ahead. Currently we allocate 1% of our GDP to research and development, but the standard internationally is 3%. €2bn is needed for the sector in the coming years but just €30m has been allocated in the Innovation 2020 strategy. This is problematic and only serves to hamper research and development efforts.
“The decision by the Government to focus its efforts exclusively on applied research is also damaging to the sector. It has hampered innovating by preventing ‘blue sky’ research from taking place. This refers to research which has no end goal in mind but the discovery of new scientific facts which in turn will go on to benefit other projects.
“The current Government policy of demanding a commercial basis for research and development funding makes it impossible to advance ‘blue sky’ research. Such research often leads to commercial spin-offs, but this is not the primary goal and therefore it’s difficult for scientists to secure the funding they need to support their research in this area. The failure to fund ‘blue sky’ research is seriously undermining the potential of our scientific community.
“The Government needs to re-examine its policies in this area and move away from the damaging stance which it is currently enforcing. Additional funding is needed for research and development and we have to end the obsession with only funding projects which have an explicit commercial basis,” concluded Deputy Lawless.