INFANT chiefs call for transparency in funding process

INFANT chiefs call for transparency in funding process
Louise Kenny

Two members of the board of governors of a groundbreaking perinatal research centre quit following a decision by Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) not to award it funding.

British biochemist Douglas Kell, a professor of Bioanalytical Sciences in the School of Chemistry at the University of Manchester, resigned from the board of governors of University College Cork’s Infant research centre last August.

He said he had followed in the footsteps of board chair Ruth Barrington, who had resigned a couple of weeks previously.

Prof Kell said he quit in protest at “an utter lack of transparency” around the SFI funding process and at UCC’s failure to appeal the SFI decision.

“UCC should have been prioritising Infant and for some reason declined to do so,” he said.

The Irish Examiner asked UCC why it had not appealed the decision but its response did not address this query. It said “support from SFI for the centre has, to date, been a significant catalyst for major growth and development”.

The Infant centre was among seven SFI research centres established in 2013 that secured a six-year term of funding and the only one of the seven whose application for a second term of funding was unsuccessful.

Last month, Infant’s “impressive” scientific contribution to the world of science was honoured in a commemorative stamp by An Post.

Infant co-founders, consultant obstetrician/gynaecologist Louise Kenny and Geraldine Boylan, UCC professor of Neonatal Physiology, winners in 2015 of SFI’s Joint Researchers of the Year Award, said they were extremely disappointed with the SFI decision.

Prof Kenny, adjunct professor at Infant, said she believed it was “political”.

“To pretend it’s about the science is insulting and damaging to the Infant centre,” she said.

Prof Boylan said they were the smallest of the centres to apply for funding and the only one working in women and children’s health “so we are not going to have the same output and deliverables”.

SFI director general Mark Ferguson said the Infant application involved €26m in funding and the decision not to award it was “not about the work they have done, we are not questioning that at all” but followed an assessment of their latest funding proposal.

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