Government to appoint independent scientific adviser

Dual role with Science Foundation Ireland position ended after 10 years

An independent government science adviser is to be appointed and a national forum to advise on critical issues such as climate change and food sustainability is to be established.

The adviser will chair the forum and provide multidisciplinary advice to the government. It is understood the forum will not be modelled on the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet), which provided advice during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The adviser role will no longer be linked to the position of director general of Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), the main funding body for research in Ireland. The dual role was fulfilled by Prof Mark Ferguson, whose term leading SFI finished in 2021 but was an issue of controversy among academics.

The role of chief scientific adviser should not be combined with any other role, the president of one of Ireland’s leading academic bodies, the Royal Irish Academy, said after the SFI position was advertised in 2021.


Dr Mary Canning, then the academy’s president, highlighted concerns over a conflict of interest being raised ever since the dual role was first announced in 2012.

“We are now in a situation where a person holding the purse strings to science is giving the government advice on how it is funded,” a leading academic remarked about the issue at the time.

The new science advice structures will assist in informing responses to immediate issues like climate change and food sustainability – and respond to needs identified by Ministers and government departments, Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Simon Harris said.

“This new role will offer a service to all of government. It is coming at a time in our history when science, innovation and technology have never been more important,” he said. “Science can drive job creation, grow the economy, help us tackle significant societal challenges, and ensure Ireland is at the cutting-edge of new technologies and industries.”

The forum will assist the government science adviser and its composition will be drawn from those with established scientific expertise in a range of key disciplines. The combination would ensure good working relationships were built between those engaged in policy and those providing scientific advice, Mr Harris said. It will have an annual work programme, with its delivery on this evaluated after an initial three-year period.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times