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Ireland's CSA sets out country's science ambitions

Irish science is on the up - in recent years, the country has succeeded in doubling its science capacity, and it plans to double it again in the next six to seven years. In an interview with CORDIS News, Ireland's Chief Scientific Adviser (CSA), Professor Patrick Cunningham...

Irish science is on the up - in recent years, the country has succeeded in doubling its science capacity, and it plans to double it again in the next six to seven years. In an interview with CORDIS News, Ireland's Chief Scientific Adviser (CSA), Professor Patrick Cunningham, discussed his job and how it ties in with Ireland's scientific ambitions, which include plans to host ESOF (the Euroscience Open Forum) in 2012. Professor Cunningham has a long and illustrious research career in the field of animal sciences. Among other things, he has pioneered the development of new techniques for measuring the genetic diversity of livestock, and a system of DNA traceability for the meat industry, which has been widely used in Europe in the wake of the BSE crisis. He has also worked at the World Bank and the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). He took up the post of CSA at the beginning of 2007, the second person to hold the post. There, his job is to provide the government with high level advice on scientific issues from all disciplines. He quips that his job is 'to know everything'; in practice, he and his assistant are currently seeking out Ireland's top experts in a range of fields to help him with topics that lie outside his own area of expertise. He also cites this process of learning, enquiring and clarifying as one of the most enjoyable aspects of his job. In the end, it has to relate back to 'independent, well grounded advice on matters where science is at the heart of the issue', he comments. Another part of his job involves advising the government on the implementation of its science strategy. According to the professor, the government has been aware of the importance of science and technology as drivers of improvements in people's wellbeing and the economy for some time. In 1994, the government set itself the goal of doubling the country's science capacity, something it has now achieved. The country now plans to double the number of researchers again, via a seven year development programme which runs from 2006 to 2013. If successful, this will take Ireland into the top quartile of the OECD's rankings, where it will sit with high-flyers such as Finland, Switzerland and Sweden. Professor Cunningham is optimistic that Ireland will achieve this ambitious goal. 'In simple terms, our economy has been growing at 7% per annum over ten years. The public investment in science and technology has been growing at 14%, twice the rate of growth in the economy, and the commitment is to do the same for the next six or seven years,' he explains, noting that business spending on R&D has consistently moved in parallel with public spending, and many major pharmaceutical and IT companies have big installations in Ireland. Meanwhile, grants handed out by Science Foundation Ireland are succeeding in attracting top researchers to the country from overseas. In recent months, the CSA has seen a new task added to his job description; he is heading up Dublin's bid to host ESOF in 2012. By 2012, Ireland will be approaching the end of its current science strategy, and 'we think we'll have something to celebrate', says Professor Cunningham. He also believes that hosting ESOF will reinforce the international nature of Ireland's science scene. On the physical side, Dublin's new, state-of-the-art convention centre will be ready by 2010, providing the ideal venue for the event. If successful, Ireland would like to give ESOF a truly international flavour, with events linking European scientists with their counterparts in other parts of the world, including China, India and the US.

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