New science council expected as policy document is published

 

IRISH artists have had an arts council for years, now their colleagues in the world of science are to get a science council.

The new body is one of the measures expected when the Government publishes its long awaited science policy document today.

The White Paper on Science, Technology and Innovation has been described as a comprehensive review" of Ireland's capacity for innovation and "the foundation on which to build Ireland's economic and social development into the next millennium" by the Minister of State with responsibility for Commerce, Science and Technology, Mr Rabbitte.

National science policy was reviewed in the 1960s, and by the OECD in the 1980s, but this will be the country's first White Paper on science. The latest review process began three years ago when a Science, Technology and Innovation Advisory Council (STIAC) was appointed to produce a draft White Paper. Its report, published in March, 1995, contained 160 recommendations that would cost £360 million to implement.

Today's White Paper, however, does not seem to be recommending any increased funding for science and technology, nor setting any funding targets, according to documents seen by The Irish Times, and the new measures that will be introduced tomorrow are unlikely to be costly.

Science and technology policy touches on most if not all Government departments, and the State spends over £700 million a year on the area, which includes health research and hospital laboratories, education, marine research and industrial R&D grants.

Among the new measures expected today is an inter departmental committee to manage these activities and to plan State spending on science and technology.

In addition to this, and the permanent

Science, Technology and Innovation Advisory Council, the Government will retain the Cabinet sub committee established as part of its policy review process. It will also examine the potential for tax relief on investments in industrial research and development.

There is however, no mention of extending the business expansion scheme (BES), which currently applies to the music and film industries, to cover activities such as industrial research and development.

The White Paper had been expected earlier this year but various factors delayed it, including the need for agreement on how to manage the special research programmes that focus on hi tech areas (the programmes in advanced technology, or PATs). There was major disagreement over whether these should be controlled by the colleges, by industry or by the State agency, Forbairt.

A compromise is now expected that will establish the PATs as both a holding company and a subsidiary of Forbairt, controlled by the Minister, but with a standing advisory board.

In an effort to foster more industrial innovation, Forbairt will be asked to help small firms collaborate. The pilot programme for networking will be designed to help the companies overcome problems caused by their small size.

The Minister is expected to add "Innovation" to his title, but his Office will remain with the Department of Enterprise and Employment.

A number of other measures contained in the White Paper have already been announced, mostly as a result of the extra £4 million allocated to science in this year's Budget.

These include increased funding for the research programmes, Ph D students and post doctoral fellows; a public awareness campaign (including a national science and innovation week in November); and Forbairt's technology audit and placement schemes.