Prof Philip Nolan departs as director general of Science Foundation Ireland

Former director general was subject of protected disclosures by five staff members

Prof Philip Nolan has departed his role as director general of Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) following a board meeting earlier this week.

The board had been due to consider the findings of an investigation into five misconduct allegations made by senior staff against Prof Nolan.

The allegations were denied by Prof Nolan, who had been due to take over an expanded national research group, Research Ireland, based on an amalgamation of SFI and the Irish Research Council.

SFI did not comment publicly following Monday’s board meeting, but sources have confirmed that Prof Nolan is no longer director general. Deputy director general Dr Ciarán Seoighe has been appointed acting director general.


Prof Nolan, former president of Maynooth University, came to public prominence while serving as a high-profile member of the National Public Health Emergency Team during the Covid pandemic.

An independent investigation into the misconduct allegations reportedly found that Prof Nolan was not in breach of corporate governance and did not make any findings of misconduct against him or find that his conduct constituted bullying.

However, the investigation is reported to have concluded that he displayed “inappropriate behaviour” towards the staff concerned, which was at the “upper level” in respect of two senior staff.

The State-funded research agency, which oversees the awarding of more than €200 million in grants, received protected disclosures against Prof Nolan in late December.

In a statement issued when details of the misconduct allegations came to light earlier this month, SFI said it took the reporting and investigation of the reports very seriously and was committed to the importance of a “fair, thorough, and robust process”.

“A key element of this process is to ensure, in accordance with applicable law and guidance for public bodies dealing with protected disclosures, the protection of the identity and any identifying information in respect of those making the reports, a breach of which obligation is a criminal offence,” it said, at the time.

The SFI board established a protective disclosures group which began its investigation in January, which involved communicating with all involved and carrying out an initial assessment of the reports before proceeding to an investigation.

This included hiring an independent investigator to assist with the process.

“An extensive fact-finding investigation was carried out by that independent investigator over the course of the following months,” said SFI, earlier this month.

“The investigator reported to the PDG [protected disclosure group] at the end of March and the PDG reported to the board of SFI in April. The SFI board is now taking steps to address the findings and recommendations made.”

SFI said at the time that it was not in a position to reveal identifying information in respect of any party.

“SFI has a comprehensive internal audit process. There is no evidence of any breach of good corporate governance at SFI. SFI is fully operational and continues to deliver on its mandate to fund and support excellent and impactful research and innovation for the benefit of Ireland’s economy and society,” it said.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent