Lawless raises plight of 14,500 fixed term researchers

Published on: 28 April 2020

Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Science, Technology, Research and Development, James Lawless TD, has written to the Minister for Education and the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation in relation to imminent crisis in the research sector.

Deputy Lawless warned that there were 14,500 fixed term researchers working on major research projects who are fast running out of funds.

“As a result of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis Universities and laboratories across the country are having to use their grant funding to pay researchers while their labs are closed, and their projects paused.

“There are 14,500 fixed term researchers in Ireland, they are the workhorses of the research sector but at the moment they are on shaky ground. They cannot perform their experiments, work in their laboratories or attend their universities and they also are not eligible for the wage subsidy scheme.

“Universities and laboratories are doing the right thing in keeping these people employed but funds are depleting. The worry is that when the time comes to get moving on projects again the resources simply won’t be there. Projects which have been ongoing for years, some of which are reaching their crescendo are now at risk of being stopped indefinitely.

“If these experiments are not finished we are potentially losing, not just three months of work, but in many cases three years,” he said.

Deputy Lawless, who has repeatedly raised the shortfall in research and development in Dáil Éireann said that Government short-sightedness and a failure to invest in key discovery research has meant that Universities and laboratories with fixed term researchers are living hand to mouth.

He continued, “It is fair to state that science is recognised as core in the fight back against the virus here and globally and that experts, despite the ebb and flow in how they were regarded politically in recent years, are again respected. Science is back in the spotlight, and rightly so.

“It is also fair to say that those countries which invest heavily in research and development and science, such as South Korea and New Zealand, who punch above their weight and which spend at least 2.5% and more of GNP on research and development, have done well in the fight against Covid-19 – this is not a coincidence.

“The Government committed to spend 2.5% of GNP on research and development (R&D) activities by 2020 – this target was never close to being met.

“In the first instance this requires a cross Departmental approach as the grants are paid out of both Departments. Minister Humphreys should consider making the wage subsidy scheme available for fixed term researchers. In the longer term an ambitious plan must be put in place to fund the sector,” concluded Deputy Lawless.