Lifeblood of research is funds, TCD event shows


THE CAMERA never lies, and it showed clearly that Minister for Education Batt O'Keeffe was under pressure.

This view was confirmed by a digital blood pressure device located nearby.

The cause of his strain was not persistent questioning by journalists, however. Rather, the Minister had unwisely strayed too close to health-monitoring equipment installed at the Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin.

He was at the Gallery yesterday morning to launch Transformations: how Research is Changing Ireland, an event and publication marking the 10th anniversary of the Higher Education Authority (HEA)-managed research funding scheme, the Programme for Research in Third-Level Institutions (PRTLI).

Twenty-three research groups have installed stands in the gallery, with the public encouraged to visit until December 2nd to see first hand the research under way in universities and institutes of technology across the country.

Researchers from University College Cork (UCC) quickly hooked up Mr O'Keeffe to check his blood pressure. "It was too high but it was a bit unfair with all the people and the stress and all the women on the stand," offered one of the UCC team.

The Minister was also caught by a thermal-imaging camera installed by University College Dublin's Urban Institute. Usually used to provide images showing where heat escapes from buildings, it delivered a thermal image of Mr O'Keeffe's very warm face on a large flatscreen for all to see.

He told the high-profile launch, which included Minister of State for Science Jimmy Devins, senior civil servants, HEA executives, university presidents and leading researchers from across the State, that the last few days had provided ample reason to be overly warm.

He also apologised for the Taoiseach's absence despite the fact the event's invitations had promised his appearance. Most of the guests had expected a big announcement, specifically the long-delayed €300 million earmarked under cycle five of the HEA programme.

Mr O'Keeffe promised that all research funding defined under the National Development Plan (NDP) would come.

"The NDP has clearly articulated the amount of money to be put in place. If we are serious about being a knowledge economy, we must continue to invest. That is what our future is going to become," he said.

"There now, I have confirmed that there will be a fifth cycle," he told the audience to applause.

Dr Devins praised the exhibition and its outreach to the public. "The whole idea of demystifying science and making it accessible to the public is the way forward," he said.