Dáil Éireann - Volume 387 - 15 February, 1989

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Research and Scholarship.

9. Mr. M. Higgins asked the Minister for Education if she has considered the proposals of the Royal Irish Academy concerning the state of research and scholarship in Ireland contained in their statement Research in Ireland; and if she will make a statement on the matter.

Mrs. O'Rourke: The statement from the Royal Irish Academy which the Deputy refers to, expresses in the main, concern about the methods of funding research in Ireland. The interdepartmental committee on third-level education which was set up by the Government was asked, as part of its terms of reference, to make recommendations about how third-level education and research should be funded. The Deputy may be assured that the academy's comments will be fully considered by the committee. In that regard the Royal Irish Academy have sent a copy of their book, Research in Ireland, to the Assistant Secretary in the Department who is the chairman of the interdepartmental committee on third level education and therefore it is being taken into account in their deliberations.

Mr. M. Higgins: Is the Minister aware that in the document to which the question refers the statement is contained that a number of recent measures of an economic kind are such as to endanger basic research in Ireland? Is she not worried about the fact that Ireland is at the bottom of the international tables in regard to basic research by comparison with countries like Belgium and Denmark? I want to hear her attitude to the positive proposals put forward by the academy. Is she considering, for example, the expansion of the Eolas postgraduate support scheme to cover the [338] humanities and is she considering the restoration of post-doctorate fellowships?

Mrs. O'Rourke: The proposals which the Royal Irish Academy have put forward in their very well researched document called Research in Ireland have cost implications. I had thought about the point raised by the Deputy in regard to the extension of the Eolas scheme to include the humanities but the very title of Eolas precludes such an extension. As the Deputy knows that sector has received considerable funding for research. I would certainly undertake to speak to the Minister, Deputy Seán McCarthy, with whom I have already had extensive discussions with regard to research in technology, about the possible extension of that scheme to involve the humanities. In the overall situation the interdepartmental committee, as part of their brief, have to consider that matter in particular and I look forward to hearing what they have to say about it.

Mr. M. Higgins: Does the Minister accept the basic argument in the document, that the technologies on which her college, to whom she has referred, places so much emphasis depend, in the end on basic research? Is she not concerned that, irrespective of what the committee come up with, the institutes involved have now stated that the cuts in funding for basic research are such as to imperil the later development of technologies and that it is a matter of great urgency and concern?

Mrs. O'Rourke: I accept it is a matter of concern but I have to have regard to the financial implications and therefore any discussions I would have following the results of the interdepartmental committee, and with my colleague, Deputy McCarthy, would have to take that into account in the overall provision for the Education Votes.

Mr. M. Higgins: The Minister in her reply referred to the title Eolas which she felt might preclude the extension of the Eolas scheme to the humanities. Is the [339] Minister aware that the body that Eolas replaced the NBST, had received several submissions, some of which were accepted, doing precisely that? What is the difficulty about Eolas extending their remit if the NBST had conceded the argument?

Mrs. O'Rourke: Eolas issued their first annual report only the other day and they concentrated on what they saw as their remit. I will be quite pleased to discuss the matter fully with my colleague whom I have found very compatible.