Hoping to find the right recipe

 

SO long responsible for what is being fed into the brains of his students Dr Danny O'Hare now turns his thoughts to what food the nation's citizens are eating and exporting.

As of this week he chairs a board with the task of renewing confidence in the consumer's mind that the food we eat is safe.

As a scientist he is well qualified for the task. He also has the experience to deal with the numerous disparate elements involved, from the producers through to the consumers, and with enough savvy to deal with the media. His board will meet for the first time next Wednesday.

Those who know Dr O'Hare describe him as very straight. He took over as head of the then NIHE in 1977, which opened its doors to students in 1981, concentrating on science and technology. It has grown into a university with almost 6,000 students and an exceptionally high placement rate for its graduates.

The focus now includes the arts, and recently the Royal Shakespeare Company performed at the campus. Dr O'Hare is particularly adept at raising funds for his university from the business world, and he has managed to secure £2 million from an anonymous donor to build a sports centre.

He did not kick up over the new University Bill. "Danny is not given to attention seeking or making strong statements," said one colleague. "He has built up DCU through hard work and making intelligent decisions. He has focused on making his students employable when they graduate and has an excellent record in this area. They are snapped up by industry."

A native of Dundalk, he retains some of the Co Louth accent. He is one of a family of four and was educated at the local CBS.

His third level academic career spanned eight years. At University College Galway he received his BSc and MSc in chemistry, and at St Andrew's in Scotland a PhD in physical chemistry.

He was an assistant professor at Michigan State University and a research fellow at Southampton University. He was the first principal of Letterkenny Regional Technical College in 1971-74 and a head of Waterford RTC before moving to Dublin's NIHE.

The NIHE was inaugurated as Dublin City University in 1989. In 1994 Dr O'Hare was appointed chairman of Beaumont Hospital and is chairman of the National Distance Education Council.

Last Thursday evening the Minister for Health, Mr Noonan, assured his new Food Safety Board chairman that he was "on his own" and would not need to report to the Department. The immediate tasks involve appointing a chief executive and other staff and finding headquarters. Dr O'Hare favours a north side location, as so few national bodies are on that side of the Liffey.

He sees his appointment as a chance to make a contribution. "It is important to do things like this. It is one of the reasons I am involved in education. This is a tradition in Ireland and people respond very well when the government asks them to so something for the country."

Dr O'Hare would like to see the board involved in drafting new legislation to establish it on a statutory basis.

The board will "put confidence on a sounder basis", he says. "Of course, there are things that can be improved, but there is no organisation or set of human beings that cannot be improved upon. There are a number of problems facing the food industry internationally. It is not just Ireland - we should not be too readily in the business of self flagellation."

He looks on the task as an opportunity "to say in a fully objective way that our food is excellent. It would be a subjective statement but it would be factually based on a board operating with open procedures and based on scientific data."

The board will do whatever it takes to satisfy itself of a food's healthiness. All current practices, even those considered safe, will be examined, and regular reports will be made.

At this point he does not know if those who err will be named publicly. "But the reports will be clear and unambiguous. The public will know fully the work of the board and what action it has taken. We will also be looking for input from people, not just handing things down from the depths of our wisdom."

He recently had a health scare and according to friends has been trying to take it easier. During his leisure hours he and his wife, Sheelagh, like to walk in the Phoenix Park with their dog, Spencer. He has recently taken up golf again and he enjoys music, particularly classical, although his children expose him "to all kinds of things".