Tuesday, 11 February 2003
Seanad Eireann Debate
Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. M. Ahern): Section 2(1) defines “institution” as any institute, college, laboratory, office or service wholly or partly engaged in research and development or any activity related to science and technology. This amendment adds “university” to the definition.
Mr. M. Ahern: The deletion of “in the State” will allow the foundation to co-operate and collaborate with other similar bodies outside the State and within the State. This amendment encourages the foundation to establish links with other research bodies internationally, particularly in Northern Ireland.
Mr. O'Toole: This is a crucial amendment and I support it. The Minister of State should bring this to the attention of the parliamentary counsel. The words removed go completely against the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement. No one in the Minister of State's Department is responsible for this. The parliamentary counsel have a particular approach, but they should be told that they must look out for this in future in all legislation. The Good Friday Agreement specifically states that there should be parallel legislation and co-operation as far as possible between bodies across the island. It should be implied in all legislation that where it is possible to co-operate with Northern Ireland, it should be done.
Mr. M. Ahern: This is a drafting amendment in the definition of strategic areas of scientific endeavours. The word “or” was omitted from the text. Strategic areas of scientific endeavour are defined as information and communication technologies, biotechnology and such other areas that concern economic and social benefit or long-term industrial competitiveness as may be prescribed from time to time by the Minister.
Mr. McCarthy: I welcome the Minister of State. Amendment No. 4 is self-explanatory. We have to remain cognisant of the fact that any type of development in this area, while it will promote the advancement of our resources in a scientific fashion, should not be at a cost to our environment.
Mr. O'Toole: I find this section utterly confusing. Perhaps the problem is in relation to my command of the English language. I support the amendment, which makes perfect sense and I hope the Minister of State will accept it. Section 7 gives Science Foundation Ireland certain authority such as, for example, in paragraph (f), under which it will “carry out such other functions that concern oriented basic research or strategic areas of scientific endeavour as may from time to time be assigned to it, with the consent of the Minister, by Forfás.” I am assuming “oriented” means focused, directed or something similar. If, therefore, Forfás decides that an endeavour is oriented towards something called “basic research”, it will inform the Minister who will give then give the go-ahead. However, the section also refers to “such other areas as may be prescribed from time to time by the Minister.”
I do not know how this is going to work. Who commences the process? Will the Minister prescribe a certain number of issues or areas that concern economic and social benefit or long-term industrial competitiveness? Who will then decide that the functions concern what is “oriented basic research” into those areas? What is the connection between “the Minister and Forfás”? Who will approach whom first and what is the final stage of consultation? Will the Minister talk to himself or herself?
The wording used in the section extremely confusing. I do not understand what it means or how it will work and I doubt if any fair-minded person can understand it. What does it mean? How will it come into operation? What is the process whereby it starts? Does it commence with somebody deciding what are the functions, then checking that it concerns “oriented basic research into a strategic area” and then having to ensure that the strategic area has been prescribed by the Minister? The wording is all over the place and does not make any sense. Surely it should be possible to simplify it. While it may be a good idea, I do not know what it means, how it will work or how to interpret it. I would appreciate some guidance on the matter.
Dr. Henry: Like Senator O'Toole, I am concerned about the phraseology in this area. I also presume that “oriented” means “focused”. I referred to the need to support basic research on Second Stage. I was anxious that we recognise the value of basic research because it appears that the foundation is very much geared, as in section 7 (1)(a), to looking at scientific endeavour which concerns the future development and competitiveness of industry and enterprise in this State. While I am glad that basic research is mentioned in this regard, I am grateful to Senator O'Toole for pointing out the difficulties we have with the word “oriented” preceding it. When one is performing basic research, it is frequently difficult to know on what it will be focused. The whole basis of such research is that it is something which can fan out in many directions. We need to consider this matter carefully. We need a clear explanation of what it means. This is one of the most important sections of the Bill and, if necessary, it perhaps can be changed before Report Stage.
Mr. M. Ahern: I do not propose to accept amendment No. 4, as drafted. While I accept the intent behind the amendment, I wish to make it clear that the requirements are not cumulative. That is the reason for the insertion of the word “or” in my amendment. However, a technical amendment would be required so that, when aligned with my amendment, the text would read “such other areas that concern economic and social benefit, long-term industrial competitiveness or environmentally sustainable development as may be prescribed from time to time by the Minister.” If that would be acceptable to the Senator, we could change the amendment to that wording. Is that agreed?
Mr. M. Ahern: With regard to a query by Senator O'Toole, there was a technology foresight exercise carried out which involved people from the universities, the institutes of technology and other areas. They looked at what they considered necessary to drive the development of science and technology ahead in this country and came up with the Science and Technology Institute and highlighted bio-technology and information and communications technology as the primary areas in which we should invest. It may be necessary in time to set up another technology foresight exercise in order to review what needs to be done in the future. It is in that regard that we have the third element in subsection (3), that is, “such other areas that concern economic and social benefit, long-term industrial competitiveness . as may be prescribed from time to time by the Minister”. Forfás is responsible for bringing forward different ideas to the Minister and, therefore, it is the overall umbrella agency in this area.
Mr. O'Toole: I understand that. I am delighted the Minister of State accepted Senator McCarthy's amendment. It certainly adds significantly to the section. It is hugely important that competitiveness should go hand in hand with environmentally sustainable development.
What I am really asking is a serious question in terms of how the foundation will work. The foundation will carry out functions which are assigned to it, with the consent of the Minister, by Forfás. I refer here to section 7(1)(f), which states it will carry out functions that may from time to time be assigned to it by Forfás. That is really what it says.
What is the difference between “oriented basic research” and basic research? If they are going to be asked to do something, it has to have some relevance to their work or what they are doing. Forfás will not ask them to do something that has no relevance. Basic research into an area is precisely that and it is not directed beyond it. It is related to or it is dealing with an area of concern. It seems that the word “oriented” confuses the issue. I understand what the Minister of State said, namely, that Forfás will be responsible for informing the Minister.
With respect, the Minister of State did not deal with the area under section 7(3)(c), which states “as may be prescribed from time to time by the Minister.” Will the Minister do this on a regular basis and will Forfás select from that what it considers to be important? Is that how it will work?
Mr. M. Ahern: The SFI is an agency of Forfás which can transfer functions to it, where appropriate. Similarly, this section gives Forfás power to transfer functions to the SFI. It also gives power to the Minister to transfer functions. That is the reason for section 7(1)(f).
Mr. Leyden: I can see Senator O'Toole's point. I would ask the Minister of State to review the wording to make crystal clear exactly what is the intention of the section. As Senator O'Toole said, he is not moving the amendment but there is an opportunity at this point – that is the idea behind Committee Stage – for the Minister of State and his officials to tidy up the section to make it clear what is the position. Clarification is also required in respect of the words “oriented basic”.
Mr. M. Ahern: Oriented basic research is carried out with the expectation that it will produce a broad base of knowledge likely to form the background to the solution of recognised or expected current or future problems or possibilities.
Mr. O'Toole: That is the point. I accept that explanation; it makes sense. However, it is going to produce something broad. That is the opposite to my understanding of oriented. There is a simple way to deal with this. Would it be possible at some stage to insert a description? I am not an expert in this area but “oriented basic research” might have a scientific meaning. If it has, the solution is simple. We should just insert a definition or explanation and leave it at that.
Question proposed: “That section 9 stand part of the Bill.”
Mr. McCarthy: Section 9 states: “The Minister shall, in so far as is practicable and having regard to relevant experience, ensure an equitable balance between men and women in the composition of the Board”. This is a little weak. The gender balance has to be clearly defined. Does the Minister agree that it is weak?
Mr. M. Ahern: This is a standard provision providing for an equitable balance between men and women on the board, having regard to relevant experience. At present, there are four women on the SFI board.
Dr. Henry: How many men?
Mr. Coghlan: Eight. It is a 12 person board.
Mr. M. Ahern: There are 17 men and four women.
Dr. Henry: That is not an equitable balance.
Mr. Coghlan: I thought there were only 12 on the board.
Mr. Leyden: I am seeking clarification. Amendment No. 5 provides for the deletion of the words “Director General” later in the Bill but the phrase is used in section 8.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: That will be dealt with when we discuss section 13.
Mr. Leyden: Yes, but the words are included in section 8 so that will have to be changed.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Section 8 has been agreed.
Dr. Henry: Is four women and 17 men what the Department considers an equitable balance? This is important because this might occur with other Bills.
Mr. Coghlan: There is something amiss. Section 8 states that the board will consist of 12 members.
Mr. O'Toole: That is the new board.
Mr. Coghlan: I am sorry. It is the new board, not the existing board.
Mr. McCarthy: It is not good enough to have a board comprising 17 men and four women. The inequity on this board is self-evident and, in many respects, is probably a dangerous precedent for legislation passing through this House which deals with the same form of transition. It is not in line with what we believe to be equitable or fair to the female of the species.
Mr. O'Toole: I agree with what Senator McCarthy said and have committed to it. However, I have often been in a room full of people articulating that view yet, when they have the opportunity of nominating, they suddenly forget it. Even though I agree with Senator McCarthy, there is a difficulty in that one cannot say more than is in the Bill. If the only person considered suitable for a position is male does one instead choose a woman who is unsuitable? One must try to create role models.
I do not wish anyone to suggest I do not think any woman is qualified, which is not the case. The simple solution is if all nominees on the board can nominate two people, one can create role models and ensure there are no problems. However, we will find that many bodies can only nominate one person. I have argued on other legislation that, if nominating bodies could nominate two people, it could be a condition that one is male and one female. In this case, we can get close to what is suggested by Senator McCarthy. As long as bodies can only nominate one person, one is asking them to make a choice which may sometimes be unfair and inequitable. There is another side to this argument.
Dr. Henry: I am dismayed that only four of the 21 members are women. I wonder what I have been doing for the last 30 years – obviously not half enough. Women have done a great deal of work in technology and science organisations and many students of scientific disciplines are women, including 60% of those in medicine and a high proportion in genetics. Role models are important so people can aspire to these positions. Science Foundation Ireland will be at the pinnacle of what one could hope to get into in terms of scientific research. Will the Minister of State tell the Minister, Deputy Harney, that we are dismayed by the composition of the board and that we hold out great hopes for the future? Senator O' Toole's idea about a body being able to nominate two people is an important one, but I do not know how it would sit with the Minister of State and the Minister.
Mr. M. Ahern: The board is an interim body of 21 members. The new board will comprise 12 members and there is no stipulation in the Bill that will limit the number of males or females on it. I will communicate the Senator's comments to the Minister, of which I am sure she will take note.
Question put and agreed to.
Section 10 agreed to.
Question proposed: “That section 11 stand part of the Bill.”
Mr. Daly: Will the Minister of State indicate where it is proposed that the board will meet? While many aspects are determined in this section, there is no indication of what the venue will be for meetings. Will it be moveable, at one location or a matter for the board to decide? In view of the Government's plans for decentralisation, it is important that the offices, headquarters and venues for meetings of this new authority should be outside Dublin, if at all possible. Can the Minister of State indicate what is proposed? I suggest Youghal as a suitable location.
Mr. M. Ahern: I agree with the Senator that the whole thing should be moved to Youghal but no place has been determined for meetings and, given that Science Foundation Ireland will be involved on the international stage, it is likely that some meetings will take place outside the country. The board will determine the most suitable venue at a particular time.
Mr. Daly: Will the meetings be at a fixed location?
Mr. M. Ahern: No.
Mr. Daly: They could take place anywhere. Can the Minister of State say where the headquarters and administration will be based? Has that been decided? It is important that, in establishing—
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: The Senator is referring to a different section—
Mr. Daly: One can raise the question of where the establishment is to be based on section 6 or section 11.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: The BMW region.
Mr. O'Toole: Kilrush.
Mr. Daly: Perhaps later, but the Government has a policy—
Mr. McCarthy: Dingle first, Kilrush later.
Mr. Daly: —of decentralising 10,000 administrative staff from Government services in the capital to rural areas. At one stage the Government made a decision that any new agencies would be established outside Dublin.
Mr. M. Ahern: The headquarters at the moment are in the IDA's headquarters in Dublin but I am sure the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, will take note of the Senator's concerns and I will pass them on to him.
Mr. Daly: I am confused. Of Forfás, the IDA and this new agency, which will be in charge and where does one go if one has a query? It is undesirable that the headquarters of the agency are in the IDA's headquarters in Dublin. I would like the Minister for State to consult with his colleagues to see if it is possible to locate the agency somewhere outside Dublin which is well-established, recognisable and easy to find.
Mr. O'Toole: I agree with Senator Daly and this is something about which the House should be keen. Will the Minister for State accept an amendment that the board should meet or be based outside Dublin? I was not joking about Kilrush but there are other towns and not specifically in that area. This agency could bring life to a place outside Dublin. As it stands, it will be part of the great congested metropolis of 750,000 people rushing to work in the morning and getting in each other's way, whereas it could be based somewhere else. Will the Minister for State accept a Report Stage amendment to the effect that this board would meet in west Kerry, west Clare or west Cork?
Mr. McCarthy: I agree with west Cork.
Mr. O'Toole: I am building support.
Mr. Leyden: We will encourage the Government to locate these offices and headquarters in a rural area. It could easily be in the BMW region which you, a Leas-Chathaoirligh, would appreciate.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: That is correct.
Mr. Leyden: There is nothing in the Bill to determine it will be located in Dublin or anywhere else, so there is flexibility in relation to the decisions being made by the Government on all State organisations. It is worthwhile noting that we strongly recommend this agency is located outside the capital.
Dr. Henry: Look what happened when the Cabinet met in Ballymascanlon – the health budget was scuppered.
Mr. McCarthy: I agree with Senator O'Toole that this could be the benchmark for bodies yet to be established, to be placed outside the Dublin area. This could be done at least at the embryonic stage of a scheme and would be an encouraging lifeline to many towns and villages. One is also reducing the concentration in an already over-congested and over-urbanised centre.
Mr. M. Ahern: There are some 20 staff in SFI who share facilities with other agencies and those people will have to be taken into consideration if they are to be moved.
Question put and agreed to.
Question proposed: “That section 12 stand part of the Bill.”
Mr. Coghlan: I look forward to hearing the Minister of State outline the rationale behind this thinking. Since becoming a Member of this House I have wondered why it has become fashionable to clobber politicians. In this instance, however, those being scapegoated are people who are already on the board and who may aspire to elected office. If these individuals are already on the board, I presume it is because they have the relevant expertise and why should they be disbarred from holding elected office on these grounds? The State is riddled with anomalies in this regard and I will come to deal with one or two of them in a moment.
My understanding of the section is that the process will also work in reverse and that elected representatives will be prevented from taking a place on the board. Politicians are over-laden—
Mr. McCarthy: We have Senator Leyden.
Mr. Coghlan: —with registers of interests and declarations. Given that we all comply with the law of the land in regard to registering or declaring interests, I do not see a problem. Members are aware of semi-State bodies, the boards of which include some excellent politicians. I know of one elected politician who represents Senator Leyden's party in my part of the country and who was an excellent appointment to the board of Bord Fáilte.
There are directors of a company that is, to a large extent, owned by a semi-State body who are also trustees of that body's shareholding. If people hold shares in their own beneficial interests and are, in addition, trustees who represent all of us, they must surely have a conflict of interest. However, the situation to which I refer continues to obtain. That is the unacceptable side of the coin. I am just trying to find a happy medium and I do not see why politicians must be automatically disbarred from sitting on the board. I wish to hear the Minister of State address that point.
Standards should obviously be the same across all State and semi-State companies and bodies, but that is clearly not the case. To borrow language that would be a lot more familiar to my colleague, Senator O'Toole, the entire issue is somewhat of a scata bullán. Do Members know what is a scata bullán?
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: I think we are about to be informed.
Mr. Coghlan: I would be delighted to oblige the Leas-Chathaoirleach and the House by providing the information. A scata bullán was defined by a very distinguished canon with whom Senator O'Toole would be more familiar than I—
Mr. O'Toole: Monsignor.
Mr. Coghlan: Monsignor O'Fiannachta of Dingle, when referring to the language of another noted Kerryman, Páidi Ó Sé—
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: The Senator is being parochial.
Mr. Coghlan: I am not because it applies to this—
Mr. McCarthy: It has huge international consequences.
Mr. Coghlan: I thank the Senator. It genuinely is a scata bullán. Monsignor O'Fiannachta officially translated the term as “a herd of bullocks”, but one might interpret it otherwise.
There is no even-handedness in the approach taken in this section. In the absence of such even-handedness across the State services, I strongly object to the section and look forward to the Minister of State's response.
Mr. Leyden: I suggest to the Minister of State that a provision should have been included to allow members of local authorities to sit on the board. He may be pleased to note that members of prison visiting committees may also be members of Seanad Éireann, Dáil Éireann, the European Parliament or a local authority. To disbar people who may be eminent professors, scientists or researchers from being members of the board if they are elected to a local authority is grossly unfair. I accept that Members of these Houses or the European Parliament should be disbarred because they have a full-time commitment to their work and it is extremely difficult to find the time to be both a legislator and a research scientist. As soon as an individual becomes a member of a local authority, he or she will be disbarred even though he or she may be providing a tremendous service to the board in terms of research.
As local authority members will possibly be excluded from membership of either House of the Oireachtas or the European Parliament, it is surely going too far to force people to decide between continuing as members of a research board or becoming members of a local authority. There is nothing inconsistent about being a member of this board while also serving on a local authority. This may not affect many individuals; it may not arise at all.
I ask the Minister of State, however, to discuss this with the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Harney, to see if this provision can be removed. I am happy to concur with the exclusion from the board of Members of the Oireachtas, who have enough commitments already. It would also be inconsistent if Members of the Oireachtas had to resign from local authorities but would be eligible to participate on boards of this quality and size.
There is much precedent for this. Some Bills have excluded members of local authorities from boards, while others have not. Most Bills have excluded Members of the Oireachtas from such boards, there is a clear precedent for that. If one looks at the legislation passed in these Houses over the years, one will find that different Departments have different requirements in this regard. Some Departments have not disbarred local authority members from being members of State or semi-State boards. Members of local authorities can become members of the boards of IDA Ireland, Bord Fáilte, Aer Rianta, Aer Lingus and other bodies, so why should they be excluded from this particular board?
Mr. O'Toole: Throughout the previous session, I opposed the inclusion of provisions of this nature in every Bill that came before the House. Such provisions are appalling. On the Order of Business, a Member referred to the pressure politicians are under to complete so many declarations of interests and so on. On each occasion a provision that oppresses, deprecates and diminishes politicians and makes them inferior to everybody else comes before the House, it is supported unanimously. If ever a group of individuals needed a union or shop steward to look after them, it is the Members of these Houses. I have never seen such a shower in my life. As soon as anybody kicks us in the teeth, we invite them to do it again.
How dare anybody tell Members of this House that they may not sit on the board. A ridiculous argument has been put forward that Members are too busy. If the people who will eventually constitute the membership of this board were not already as busy as politicians, however, they should not even be considered for membership of the board. These will be people who have already proven themselves and demonstrated their commitment elsewhere.
I agree with everything Senator Leyden said about local authority members, but exactly the same argument applies to Members of the Houses. I am sick and tired of this. I ask the Minister of State to reply to the following observation, although I know the answer he will give. I guarantee the House that this provision was not included in the draft Bill that left the Minister of State's Department to go to the parliamentary counsel. It is the invention of the counsel and, perhaps, the Department of Finance, but I will guarantee that it was not included by the Minister of State's Department. I am sure the Minister of State will confirm this if he is allowed to respond to the point. I know for certain that this is the case. I put it to the Minister of State, however, that this provision is not required in the legislation. Has anybody consulted with the people who will ultimately run this body? What objection do they have to politicians?
Let us be straight about the real objection to including politicians on the board. A politician who was also a member of the board of Science Foundation Ireland would be in a position to return to the Houses and inform us that its budget was being cut to pieces, that it had not been allowed to take on a particular project or that it was not in a position to realise the goals it set out to achieve. The board would be improved by allowing this.
This provision is there so that political parties will not abuse the nomination system by crowding it with their nominees. This is a very good reason for having it, but it is not a good reason for disbarring public representatives. I am sick and tired of everybody around here contributing further to and reinforcing the cynicism that exists in Irish life towards public representation. If Members of the Oireachtas took a bit of pride in their work, stood up to criticism and put forward their arguments, we would be a lot better at what we do. Being made doormats by everybody who chooses to criticise us is not part of what we do. We should come out fighting and put the boot in hard and often to those who would criticise us so they will think twice about doing so the next time. This section is a classic example of putting down politicians.
In order to ensure that we do not have boards crammed with political nominees with nothing to offer, the nominations should go through a committee system, like the example provided by the US Congress. If a Member is proposed for membership of a board it could be questioned at a committee and a case for that Member would have to be made. The House has previously discussed this issue. This would mean it is not decided in party committee rooms or elsewhere, but neither would we deprive people of ability of the opportunity to make a commitment in certain areas.
It is unacceptable that we should deal with this in this way. It is not good enough to disbar a certain group. I guarantee that if any group other than politicians were disbarred they would be appalled. Can one imagine the reaction if teachers, farmers or women were disbarred? It is seen as fine to kick politicians around, stand on them and steamroll them into the ground – nobody cares. This is the way we do business here and it demeans political life.
I do not know of any Member of either House who is appropriate for this position, but that is not the case I am making. We are telling the public that democracy needs their commitment and we ask people to put their names on the ballot paper and do something to develop our society. This will be part of the infrastructure of Ireland in the future. There is no gain in this section and I think it should be removed. It is not included in all legislation. Senator Coghlan has raised an important point.
Dr. Henry: It is quite instructive to see who, other than elected politicians, is disbarred from membership of the board. Section 9(6) lists the only others to be disbarred:
A member of the Board shall be disqualified from being such a member where he or she–
(a) is adjudicated bankrupt,
(b) makes a composition or arrangement with creditors,
(c) is convicted of an indictable offence in relation to a company,
(d) is convicted of an offence involving fraud or dishonesty, or
(e) is disqualified or restricted from being a director of any company (within the meaning of the Companies Acts, 1963 to 2001.
There is no other specification of who can be on the board. Only politicians and the people I have listed are disbarred; it is a funny group to have put together. This does not even say that members of the board should have science or business backgrounds.
Mr. M. Ahern: Section 12 prohibits Members of the Oireachtas, the European Parliament or local authorities from membership of the board. This is now a standard provision in legislation establishing a public body. Similar provisions apply to the board members of Forfás, IDA and Enterprise Ireland under the Industrial Development Act 1993 and the Industrial Development (Enterprise Ireland) Act 1998.
It is important that people who deal with the agencies and ask whether matters are conducted on a political basis know the decisions of our industrial development agencies to grant substantial amounts of taxpayers' moneys are made on a purely independent basis and there is no taint of party or independent politics attached. It is a difficult position for a politician to be in, therefore it is better to exclude not just Members of the Oireachtas but also members of local authorities. It would be wrong to include one category of politician and exclude another; politicians at local and national level should be treated equally as far as the foundation is concerned. While I appreciate there are some boards on which this provision may not be appropriate, I feel it is appropriate where the dispensing of research grants is involved.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Is section 12 agreed to?
Mr. O'Toole: No. What does the Minister mean by “no taint of party or independent politics attached”? We know what it means; it means we will be answering the question. All those boards on which this has happened are mistakes.
Public cynicism is fuelled because while not nominating a Senator or Deputy, parties will appoint someone like the head of a comhairle ceantair, the implication being that he – although it is more likely to be a woman because the party would be concerned about gender balance – would not be tainted in any way. That someone is not a Member of the Oireachtas does not mean he or she is not political. A party general secretary could be appointed under this legislation. It is not the case that people from within the Oireachtas could not do good work on this board.
I am an Independent politician and I have nothing against party politicians. I admire the work they do. Members of a party could be nominated to the board and take decisions on the merits of a case without having to be tainted by their political beliefs.
The thinking that has led us to this is what caused the problems in Northern Ireland. I was sick and tired telling teachers from Unionist and Nationalist backgrounds that they could work together to ensure the children in their schools got proper education without being tainted by their political views. The idea that one takes political views into every committee one sits on is wrong. One might as well talk about people not being able to go to bed in case they bring their political views with them. It does not make sense.
If we are worried by things being tainted by political views, then we should find a way of filtering nominations to ensure this does not happen. Excluding all politicians and lumping them with the people Senator Henry listed will only delight those who think all politicians are crooks.
Mr. Leyden: Senator O'Toole is very persuasive in his arguments.
Mr. O'Toole: I thank the Senator.
Mr. Leyden: I am very pleased that he, as president of ICTU, is not excluded from the social partnership negotiations. As a Member of this House, his position is as significant, if not more so, than membership of any board. I say this in support of his argument.
I will try to encourage the Minister and the Government to examine the position regarding local authority membership. It means that a member of a town council in Boyle in County Roscommon or anywhere else, who might be a scientist or someone who could contribute greatly to the foundation, would be excluded from membership. A person would have to decide if he or she wished to become a member of this board and, having become a member, would have to resign if he or she became a member of a county council.
Under proposed legislation which has not yet been passed, Members of the Oireachtas will be precluded from membership of a local authority.
Mr. O'Toole: I disagree with that.
Mr. Coghlan: I disagree also. We cannot make fish of one and flesh of another.
Mr. Leyden: I too have strong reservations about that.
An Cathaoirleach: We will deal with that matter when we come to deal with that legislation.
Mr. O'Toole: We should let democracy take its course.
Mr. Leyden: The civil servants or the parliamentary counsel may be more responsible than the politicians for this provision. If this is taken to its logical conclusion, a politician should not even be a Minister because he or she has to make difficult decisions. When I was Minister of State with responsibility for trade and marketing I was responsible for the awarding of many grants and, therefore, I was a politician as well as Minister. It is strange that politicians being members of boards has become so unpopular. Being a realist, this Bill is a Government provision and I will vote with the Government on it.
Mr. O'Toole: I am glad the Senator is calling a vote on it.
Mr. Leyden: If a vote is called on this section, I will vote with the Government, but I hope what I have said will persuade the Minister of State in this regard. I discussed this matter with my colleagues on this side of the House this morning and they would support what I am saying. Excluding local authority members from this board is grossly unfair and unconstitutional. The Minister of State should consult the Government and the parliamentary counsel about excluding this section. If it were excluded, I would be pleased.
Mr. McCarthy: Who demanded that section 12 read as it does? Whom does it benefit? Does it benefit the science foundation, the Minister or the Civil Service? When did the section appear in the Bill? Senator O'Toole rightly pointed out that it may possibly have appeared after it was seen by the Minister at draft stage. Who explicitly decided to debar all public representatives, politicians by and large, from taking seats on this board? Does the inclusion of the section benefit the science foundation or someone in the Department? Did this section appear in the Bill before or after it was initially drafted for the Minister?
Mr. M. Ahern: This provision is similar to one included in the Industrial Development Act 1993. A similar provision was included in the Industrial Development (Enterprise Ireland) Act 1998. It is a provision that has been included in legislation for many years. I understand it was included in the draft Bill.
An Cathaoirleach: Is section 12 agreed to?
Mr. Coghlan: No. Many good arguments were advanced by Senators O'Toole, Leyden and McCarthy, with all of which I concur. This provision is blatantly discriminatory and as such we cannot allow it to stand. I appeal to the Minister of State to remove it. As Senator O'Toole and others said, it does not do anything to improve the Bill.
Mr. Daly: Similar provisions in relation to Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas and Members of the European Parliament were included in a series of Bills in recent years. A reference to members of local authorities in an earlier Bill was deleted following discussion. I appeal to the Minister of State to consider the possibility of removing subsection (1)(d), which specifically refers to members of local authorities, before the Bill proceeds to Report Stage.
I do not believe we can argue about the reference to Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas or Members of the European Parliament. The inclusion of such references is a fairly well established procedure in a series of Bills dating back to the 1980s and I do not believe we will succeed on excluding that reference. The provision in subsection (1)(d) in relation to members of local authorities is a new provision in legislation and a similar provision was removed from a Bill a few years ago. I urgently appeal to the Minister of State to examine the possibility of removing that subsection before we proceed to Report Stage.
Mr. M. Ahern: The provision in subsection (1)(d) was included in the Industrial Development (Enterprise Ireland) Act 1998, although it was not included in previous Bills in this area. I will discuss this matter with the Minister and relay to her the views expressed by Members on all sides of the House before the Bill is taken in the Dáil.
An Cathaoirleach: Will the inclusion of subsection (1)(d) be reconsidered before Report Stage?
Mr. M. Ahern: No.
An Cathaoirleach: Is section 12 agreed to?
Mr. Leyden: It is agreed subject to review by the Minister.
Mr. Coghlan: When will Report Stage be taken?
Mr. Leyden: When we have dealt with Committee Stage.
Mr. Coghlan: If it is taken later today, this matter will not be reviewed by then.
An Cathaoirleach: Is section 12 agreed to?
Mr. Coghlan: No.
Mr. Leyden: Section 12 is agreed subject to the Minister—
An Cathaoirleach: I am putting the question.
Mr. Leyden: I am trying to prevent a vote on this issue. If there is a vote on the section, it will remain part of the Bill.
Mooney, Paschal C.
Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Moylan and Minihan; Níl, Senators Bradford and J. Phelan.
Question declared carried.
An Cathaoirleach: As amendment No. 5 is consequential on amendment No. 6, it is proposed to discuss these amendments together, by agreement. There is a correction. The footnote should read: “Subsection (9) is the correct reference if amendment No. 6 is agreed”.
Government amendment No. 5:
In page 11, subsection (2), line 19, to delete “The Director General” and substitute “Subject to subsection (9), the Director General”.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 6:
In page 11, between lines 33 and 34, to insert the following new subsections:
“(8) For the purposes of appointing the person to be the Director General appointed immediately after the establishment day, the Minister may, before the establishment day, designate a person to be appointed under this section immediately after the establishment day.
(9) If a person has been designated in accordance with subsection (8) the Board shall, for the purposes of appointing the first person to be the Director General immediately after the establishment day, appoint that person to be the Director General.”.
Amendment agreed to.
Section 13, as amended, agreed to.
Mr. McCarthy: I move amendment No. 7:
In page 12, lines 13 to 16, to delete subsection (2).
This subsection, which we propose to delete, states:
In the performance of his or her duties under this section the Director General shall not question or express an opinion on the merits of any policy of the Government or a Minister of the Government or on the merits of the objectives of such a policy.
We have come across this before and in this case it pertains to the Public Accounts Committee. Earlier in that section it states:
The Director General shall, whenever required to do so by the Committee of Dáil Éireann established under the Standing Orders of Dáil Éireann to examine and report to Dáil Éireann on the appropriation accounts and reports of the Comptroller and Auditor General, give evidence to the Committee on–
Why is it the raison d'être of the Government to continually attempt to muzzle the chief executive officers and directors general on these boards who have supreme authority? In the view of the chief executive officer, the Government may not be doing something as it should be done, may be ill-advised or may attempt to assist the board in its deliberation, but by giving it bad counsel would not achieve that objective. We have opposed this in a number of Bills. Does this pertain to the PAC? Why is the Government so passionate about muzzling people on boards? I cannot see the logic of it.
Dr. Henry: Senator Quinn and I have objected to this stipulation in other Bills. Like Senator McCarthy, I cannot understand why a well qualified person, whose advice is worthwhile, should be appointed if that person cannot question or express an opinion on the merits of any policy of the Government or a Minister, or on the merits of the objectives of such a policy. It might be vital that this person who has the expertise should be in the position to make his or her views known. I support all that Senator McCarthy has said.
Mr. M. Ahern: It is proposed not to accept this amendment. This is a standard provision in this type of legislation. Ministers are answerable to Parliament for policy, while the function of the director general is to carry out such policy. While the director general is responsible for the day-to-day management of the foundation, including accounts, etc., it would not be appropriate for a director general to question or express an opinion on any policy of the Government or a Minister when appearing before Oireachtas committees. The director general is not being muzzled. He or she can express his or her views to the appropriate bodies. However, when appearing before Oireachtas committees it is to deal with his or her function of managing the institution and not with policy, which is set down by the Government.
Mr. Leyden: This section may seem harsh. In reality it is important for a director general to carry out the policies of the Government. If he or she does not carry those out, there is no provision in the Bill to reprimand or fire the director general, merely a recommendation. There is no provision stating that if he or she does not carry out those policies or in any way disagrees with the Government, he or she would lose his or her position. It is important not to have independent republics when establishing boards like this. The Government makes the policy to be followed by the board. Such policy has the sanction of the Oireachtas and the Cabinet. It is generally a good provision and one to which most directors general would adhere, without needing to be directed in a Bill. However, it is no harm to remind them of their responsibilities.
Mr. Minihan: I do not support the amendment. We must be realistic in making a clear distinction between governance and management. The Government governs and those employed as directors general manage. They have a responsibility to work towards Government policy. If they have difficulties with Government policy, they have ample opportunity to influence that policy at the meeting that would take place. We cannot have an employee, the director general, in conflict with the Government. A director general manages Government policy. A Government is elected to set policy.
Mr. McCarthy: As previously stated, this section has appeared in other Bills. However, it appears to me and others in this House as an affront to accountability and transparency. Why does this Bill state the director general shall not question or express an opinion? That is an affront to democracy. I do not accept the Minister's response or what the Government Senators have just said. We are passionate in the strong convictions we have on this issue. What would happen if, for example, the Minister, in the opinion of the director general, was doing something that was not right and if the director general, who, I presume, will be appropriately qualified and be very expert, was not able to question or express an opinion before a committee of Dáil Éireann, which has to be the Committee of Public Accounts in relation to the appropriation accounts? It is outlandish and disgraceful.
Dr. Henry: On previous occasions when we have disputed this, I remember Senator Quinn saying that this person is not a civil servant. If the board disagrees with what he or she is doing, he or she can be fired.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 14 agreed to.
Section 15 agreed to.
An Cathaoirleach: Amendments Nos. 8 to 11, inclusive, are cognate. Amendment No. 12 and amendment No. 1 to amendment No. 12 are consequential on amendment No. 8. The amendments may be discussed together by agreement.
Government amendment No. 8:
In page 13, subsection (2), lines 25 to 29, to delete paragraph (a) and substitute the following new paragraph:
“(a) he or she or any connected relative or nominee of his or hers or any connected relative is a member of a company or any other body which has a beneficial interest in, or material to, a matter referred to in that subsection,”.
Mr. M. Ahern: The amendment changes the term “member of his or her household”, which is an outdated phrase, to “connected relative”. We discussed the issue and have found a precedent for the use of a better word. The text is based on section 29 of the Transport (Railway Infrastructure) Act 2001. Where a question arises in relation to compliance with these disclosure requirements, that question shall be determined by the board and the outcome shall be recorded in the minutes. We accept the amendment to amendment No. 12 tabled by Senator Henry which proposes to delete “the spouse” and substitute “the parent, spouse,”.
Dr. Henry: I thank the Minister of State for accepting my amendment to amendment No. 12. Although this is an important section, it will be difficult to implement. It is probably advisable that a quorum of the board consists of five and that its committees may include members other than members of the board. The reason I take this view relates to my efforts to try to keep up to date with medical research. A few years ago, Dr. Mary Angel, the then editor of a journal about which I am particularly enthusiastic, the New England Journal of Medicine, introduced a policy by which the findings of drug trials would not be published if anyone involved in them had a beneficial interest in the drug under examination. However, after about two years the journal found it impossible to keep to its policy because so many people had some involvement with the companies which owned the drugs under examination. Science Foundation Ireland will have considerable difficulty in ensuring that the people involved on the fringes – employees and so forth – or connected relatives do not have a beneficial ownership in companies, particularly as so many people own shares.
The Bill states that small amounts of money or distant connections to companies, for example, through a pension fund, which could not be regarded as influencing the decision of a person, are acceptable. While I accept the need for this section, I do not underestimate the problems people will encounter in trying to avoid falling foul of it. In the past, Harvard researchers could not own more than $50 dollars of stock in a product or drug on which they were undertaking research. Right or wrong, this threshold was increased. One has to be concerned by the possibility that people will be influenced by personal investments they hold in companies manufacturing a device, drug, or development which they are examining. This is a difficult area.
I welcome the decision to accept my amendment. I am slightly concerned, however, by the use of the word “sibling” in the definition of “connected relative”. I recall a similar discussion on family connections during the debate on a Bill being taken by the previous Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, which did not include the word “sibling” in its definition of connected relative. The Minister pointed out it would be impossible for him to know about everything in which his ten siblings were involved. It could easily arise that a person's siblings are involved in enterprises without that person's knowledge.
This provision may prove difficult to police in practice. Nevertheless, I accept the spirit of the section and agree that it is necessary. I welcome the arrangements for committees which provide that people other than board members may be appointed. Without this provision, one could have trouble ensuring their composition is sufficiently broad.
Mr. Leyden: The Minister has made every effort to encompass every eventuality. The points the Senator made are important and her interpretation has been accepted. It is realistic to expect persons to be aware of their responsibilities regarding possible connections of close relatives. It is difficult to be definitive, however, given the nature of current relationships. One could include a person's partner's siblings or parents, for example, but where does one draw the line? It is difficult to define a connected relative. I commend the amendments, which try to close a loophole.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 9:
In page 13, subsection (2)(b), line 30, to delete “member of his or her household” and substitute “connected relative”.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 10:
In page 13, subsection (2)(c), line 33, to delete “member of his or her household” and substitute “connected relative”.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 11:
In page 13, subsection (2)(d), line 37, to delete “member of his or her household” and substitute “connected relative”.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 12:
In page 14, between lines 12 and 13, to insert the following new subsection:
“(7) In this section ‘connected relative' means, in relation to a person to whom this section applies, the spouse, partner, brother, sister or child of that person.”.
Dr. Henry: I move amendment No. 1 to amendment No. 12:
In the proposed new subsection (7), to delete “the spouse,” and substitute “the parent, spouse,”.
Amendment to amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 12, as amended, agreed to.
Section 16, as amended, agreed to.
Government amendment No. 13:
In page 14, between lines 29 and 30, to insert the following new subsection:
“(4) In this section ‘confidential information' includes information that is expressed by the Foundation or a committee to be confidential either as regards particular information or as regards information of a particular class or description.”.
Amendment agreed to.
Question proposed: “That section 17, as amended, stand part of the Bill.”
Mr. McCarthy: How does the provision on confidentiality conform with the principle and ethos of the Freedom of Information Act?
Mr. M. Ahern: Section 17 applies to normal day to day operations of Science Foundation Ireland. SFI will be subject to freedom of information and this section will be subject to the Freedom of Information Act. The Freedom of Information Act has detailed provisions to protect interested third parties. Section 17 prevents the release of confidential information other than that which is appropriate through the Freedom of Information Act, which has sufficient checks and balances. Effectively, therefore, the section is subject to the Act.
Question put and agreed to.
Section 18 agreed to.
Government amendment No. 14:
In page 15, subsection (1), line 8, to delete “and” and substitute “given with the concurrence of”.
Mr. M. Ahern: This is a drafting amendment which aligns subsection (1) with subsection (2).
Amendment agreed to.
Section 19, as amended, agreed to.
Sections 20 and 21 agreed to.
Question proposed: “That section 22 stand part of the Bill.”
Mr. Daly: This section concerns the appointment of consultants and advisers, of which I expect there will be several. As it does not appear to be necessary to obtain consent from Forfás, the Minister or the Minister for Finance for such appointments, it appears the foundation can hire as many consultants and advisers as it wishes, provided it has the funds to pay for them.
The normal procedure is that there is some reference to such consultants and advisers who might be appointed having to obtain the necessary consent either from Forfás, the Minister or the Minister for Finance, but it does not appear to be necessary in this section. Will the Minister clarify the position? A situation could arise where consultants and advisers would get substantial amounts of money and there should be some control over that.
Mr. M. Ahern: The budget comes from the Minister's office. The day to day management is in the hands of the board, chief executive and director general of Science Foundation Ireland and if they wish to employ consultants they will have to comply with the tendering conditions that apply to all Departments. They do not have a free hand in that regard. It will depend on the budget available and the procedures laid down in all Departments.
Question put and agreed to.
Section 23 agreed to.
Government amendment No. 15:
In page 17, line 32 to 38, to delete subsection (3) and substitute the following new subsections:
“(3) The accounts of the Foundation for each financial year shall be prepared by the Director General, approved by the board and submitted to the Comptroller and Auditor General for audit as soon as practicable, but not later than 4 months after the end of the financial year to which they relate.
(4) A copy of the accounts referred to in subsection (3) and the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General on those accounts shall, as soon as is practicable, be presented to the Minister who shall cause copies of the accounts and the report to be laid before each House of the Oireachtas.”.
Mr. M. Ahern: This amendment provides a clearer timeframe for the preparation and submission of the accounts for the Comptroller and Auditor General. Four months is allowed for the board to approve the accounts. Because of its international composition the board meets four times a year and this timeframe will allow the accounts to be approved by the board in the January to April period.
Dr. Henry: I am delighted with the first part of the amendment which states that the accounts for each financial year have to be brought forward not later than four months after the end of the financial year to which they relate. When I first came into this House accounts were so long coming forward that by the time they arrived they were historical documents.
I am a little concerned, however, to see the old phrase “as soon as is practicable” in subsection (4) which states: “. as soon as is practicable, be presented to the Minister who shall cause copies of the accounts and the report to be laid before each House of the Oireachtas”. Why can they not be brought forward immediately after they have been seen by the Comptroller and Auditor General? Why have the words “as soon as is practicable” been included?
Mr. Cummins: I concur with Senator Henry on this aspect. I welcome the four months provision because heretofore we had to wait a long time for the accounts, but why can they not be presented within, say, a further two months? “As soon as is practicable” could be forever and, like Senator Henry, I would be concerned about the section. A time limit should be included in the amendment.
Mr. Leyden: The Minister is right to include this section and it is also appropriate. The words “as soon as is practicable” are used in most Bills and provide for unforeseen circumstances that may arise, allowing a certain degree of flexibility. There is no reason the Minister would not bring forward the accounts as quickly as possible, but there has to be some flexibility in Departments in that regard.
Mr. M. Ahern: The audit is in the hands of the Comptroller and Auditor General whose office is not under the control of the Department. When the Comptroller presents the accounts to the Minister, the Minister will be in a position to lay them before the Houses of the Oireachtas. From my experience the Comptroller and Auditor General's office does its work in a very professional manner. The words “as soon as is practicable” do not mean that the Comptroller will take a long time to prepare the audit. The matter is out of the hands of the Minster once it is in the hands of the Comptroller and Auditor General.
Amendment agreed to.
Question proposed: “That section 24, as amended, stand part of the Bill.”
Dr. Henry: “Oriented basic research” leaps from the page here again but the Minister will be pleased to know that I have been able to contact my advisers, who have told me to leave it in the section. Researchers are always trying to go off to do research and I gather it is better to include it than take it out.
Question put and agreed to.
Section 25 agreed to.
Government amendment No. 16:
In page 18, subsection (3), line 8, after “research laboratory” to insert “that is independent of any institute, college or university”.
Mr. M. Ahern: Section 26(1) and (2) are standard provisions in previous industrial development legislation and the Government, in approving the establishment of the technology foresight fund and the foundation in February 2000, agreed that the establishment of research laboratories by the foundation should be an option, if necessary, to secure world-class performance in the context of a competitive approach to the allocation of funds. Such laboratories would be of a quality to attract world-class researchers to their activities and provide a creative working relationship with the national research community in third level colleges, research institutes and industry.
The Government, in noting the report of the advisory group on implementation in October 2000, agreed that it would be consulted by the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment in the event that the foundation decided to establish research laboratories on a greenfield site, that is, a site or location not attached to an existing institute, college or university. The amendment, in effect, defines a greenfield site as one that is independent of any institute, college or university.
Mr. Daly: The Minister of State has answered my query which concerned the legislation and the reason it would be necessary to notify the Government in the event of the foundation requiring laboratories. It would certainly notify the Minister or the Minister of State.
Does the foundation currently have any laboratories, premises, land or facilities? I presume it has certain premises and land available to universities or whatever, but it is not clear from this section whether the foundation has land, premises, laboratories or whatever at its disposal.
Mr. M. Ahern: The SFI funds and supports the laboratories in UCC, Trinity and Galway.
Mr. Leyden: Why does the site have to be independent of any institute, college or university? Could the foundation not work in collaboration with existing facilities rather than create new ones?
Mr. M. Ahern: The institutes, laboratories, etc. financed by the SFI are normally attached to universities or institutes, but if that is not feasible or practicable it can seek permission from the Government to set up a greenfield site.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 17:
In page 18, subsection (3), to delete line 11 and substitute “consult with the Government in respect of the opinion of the Foundation”.
Mr. M. Ahern: The relevant Government decision, referred to in the previous amendment, stated that the Minister should consult rather than notify the Government in the event of the foundation deciding to establish a research laboratory. The text is being aligned in accordance with the Government decision.
Amendment agreed to.
Section 26, as amended, agreed to.
Sections 27 and 28 agreed to.
Government amendment No. 18:
In page 18, before section 29, to insert the following new section:
“29.–Section 28 of the Act of 1986 is amended by substituting the following for subsection (4) (as amended by the Act of 1998):
‘(4) Without the prior permission of the Government, the total amount of money granted to a particular undertaking under this section shall not exceed in the aggregate the higher of–
(b)€5,000,000 in excess of the aggregate amount of such expenditure for which the prior permission of the Government has previously been obtained.'.”.
Mr. M. Ahern: This amendment retains the content of the original text and expands it to include (b) above. The effect of the full text now proposed is that where an agency now proposes to give an undertaking of training grants of €5 million or €5 million in excess of the level of training grant previously approved by the Government it must receive the approval of the Government before committing to the grant. The Government has the power to refuse approval, to approve the amount proposed with conditions or to approve a lesser amount. It does not have the power to increase the amount of the grant proposed. The reference to the Act of 1995 was also incorrect. It should refer to the Act of 1998.
Mr. Leyden: The provision “or subject to order” is needed here so that in five or six years a Minister does not have to come back to the House to change the aggregate amount, which may then be out of date. If it is possible on Report Stage the Minister of State should consider allowing the Minister to raise the amount as conditions change, subject to ministerial order or decision within the Department. Many Bills are tied down too much when it comes to amounts and Ministers must change them through legislation. This is a simple mechanism which would allow the Minister to lay down conditions or to be consulted if it were necessary to raise the amount.
Mr. M. Ahern: Senator Leyden's point is valid and we will look at this.
Amendment agreed to.
Section 29 deleted.
Government amendment No. 19:
In page 18, to delete line 38, and substitute the following:
“29.–(1) Following consultation with such bodies as may be”.
Mr. M. Ahern: This is a drafting amendment from the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel, adding a side note to the text which had been left out.
Amendment agreed to.
Section 30, as amended, agreed to.
Sections 31 to 36, inclusive, agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments and received for final consideration.
Question proposed: “That the Bill do now pass.”
Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. M. Ahern): I thank all Members for their valuable contributions and their good will towards the establishment of Science Foundation Ireland. As reflected in the debate today and on Second Stage, Ireland's sustained economic growth and prosperity will depend on establishing a culture of scientific and technological innovation as well as excellence in research and development and a globally competitive knowledge-based economy.
In the past 30 years Ireland has moved from being an agriculture-based economy to an economy driven largely by our success in attracting high technology investment. In that period we excelled in making products invented and developed by others. That approach has helped us to become a modern, confident economy which in the past decade has been the envy of much of the rest of the world but that strategy will not sustain us into the future.
Industrial revolutions in the past have been based on coal and oil and most recently they have resulted from silicon-based electronics. The new revolution will be based on the creation, dissemination and application of knowledge and ideas. While we may lack the natural resources which would have allowed us to be leaders in past industrial revolutions we will be able to strive for leadership in the knowledge age. By growing, attracting and retaining the people who will create the knowledge underpinning future competitiveness and effectively utilising and commercialising that knowledge, we will continue to create highly skilled well-paying jobs for our increasingly educated labour force. Support through SFI for research will be central to that mission.
SFI has already funded over 80 researchers, many from Ireland, with some of the largest Government grants for individual scientists in the world. With this support, eminent researchers from Belgium, Canada, England, Japan, Scotland, Switzerland and the US have been attracted to our universities and institutes of technology. This blend of talent from inside and outside Ireland will speed up our scientific capacities and competitiveness.
We must now move our economy to a new plane, founded on a strong research ethic. We need to concentrate our resources on innovating and developing the ideas that underpin the products and service of the future.
The setting up of Science Foundation Ireland is an ambitious project and will lead to a sustained, continuing transformation of the level of Irish scientific and engineering research and raise the perceptions and possibilities for scientific exploration nationwide. I am grateful to Senators for their support and I appreciate their co-operation in completing all Stages of the Bill so speedily.
Dr. Henry: I congratulate the Minister of State on getting the Bill through the House this afternoon. If he had not explained it so carefully we might have been here much longer. I congratulate him on the way he dealt with the Bill. It is wonderful that it is going through. The Tánaiste, the Minister of State and the Government are to be congratulated on ringfencing the money for this research and development, which is so important for our future.
However, we cannot stop with what we have now. I do not read the International Herald Tribune very often but the other day it carried the results of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development survey on 15 year old students. It is the Programme for International Student Assessment, or PISA, and it looks at the assessment of students' average reading, mathematics and scientific literacy in the 21 most developed countries in the world. We are well above the OECD average but why are Japan, South Korea, Finland, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Britain ahead of us? We must improve and get up there. It is fine to be well above the average – the United State and Germany are below the average – but we have to ensure our 15 year olds are at the top of the tree.
We are putting a huge emphasis and investment into this area. We should not just look at what we have established today, we should consider what is going on in all areas of education and science. I have been pressing the Department about the establishment of a science museum for as long as I can remember. We talk about getting children interested in physics, chemistry and mathematics, but there must be something tangible that we can show them. Members must have seen the announcement about the giraffe being stuffed at the Museum of Natural History. Scores of children and adults visit that museum every day. If something is interesting for people to look at, they will go to see it and become enthusiastic. It is essential that we build from the bottom, not only in terms of launching the science foundation but also in terms of establishing a science museum which children can visit and which will interest people.
We must encourage our schools to look closely at science. We are concerned about the drop in numbers taking chemistry, physics and mathematics at higher level. We must consider all these areas in order that we do not have a science foundation with nothing to back it up. I congratulate the Government and the Minister of State for all they have done to establish the foundation.
Mr. Leyden: I thank the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Harney, and the Minister of State, Deputy Michael Ahern, for their contribution to the debates on this excellent Bill. I also compliment my colleagues in the House for their work. In the past I brought Bills through the Seanad and I always found it worthwhile to introduce a Bill here because it benefits from the input and expertise of our colleagues from Trinity College. They have earned their money today. Although their franchise is restricted, they have qualifications which are of benefit in terms of discussing legislation such as the Industrial Development (Science Foundation Ireland) Bill 2002.
This excellent Bill will create employment opportunities and the contributions from all sides of the House to the debate on it have been worthwhile. The Minister of State considered the amendments put down and the discussions on them and the Bill has been enhanced by them.
Question put and agreed to.
Sitting suspended at 5.05 p.m. and resumed at 6 p.m.
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