Colleges’ research partnership with navy ‘disbanded’

A partnership between two third-level colleges and the Irish Naval Service to promote commercial maritime research has been mothballed for “not being fit for purpose”.

Patrick O'Shea: The UCC president said the IMERC in Ringaskiddy no longer has any budget or staffing.

A review, last year, of the Irish Maritime and Energy Research Cluster, in Ringaskiddy, concluded that its operations were “creating difficulties” and would damage the original aim of its sponsors.

IMERC was established in 2010, jointly by UCC, Cork Institute of Technology, and the Irish Naval Service, to promote Ireland as a world-renowned research and development location. The aim was to unlock the country’s maritime and energy potential.

The review, commissioned by UCC and CIT, found the governance of IMERC was “inadequate” in providing direction to staff and guidance to key stakeholders, which include the National Maritime College of Ireland, a constituent part of CIT, and the Centre for Marine and Renewable Energy (MaREI).

It warned that UCC, CIT, and the Irish Naval Service were being exposed to reputational and financial risk by poor public procurement, poor public relations, and poor financial management at IMERC.

The report said such deficiencies needed to be rectified “to prevent damage to the reputation of Ireland’s maritime and marine sectors.” Details of the report have only become public since the information about the operation of IMERC was sought by the Dáil Public Accounts Committee. There was confusion about IMERC and its relation to the NMCI and MaREI.

The review group found that IMERC’s mission and aims were too broad and vague, which had facilitated the development of “a widely held sense of mission creep.”

“Key stakeholders expressed concern that the achievements of their distinct entities were often claimed by the institutional IMERC brand to the detriment of their institutions and the potential alienation of their funders,” the report said.

UCC and CIT provided €750,000 per annum to IMERC, while the Irish Naval Service provided staff and collaboration.

The report said there was no shared understanding on the use of brand identities, and the lack of a coherent approach had fostered mistrust. The report warned that IMERC was having a potentially detrimental effect on MaREI, as it was causing confusion amongst potential collaborative partners.

Similarly, they believed IMERC posed a threat to the future of the NMCI.

The report claimed IMERC had become “real estate-focused, with less attention on encouraging participation in research and innovation.”

It found the role of IMERC’s governing authority was unclear.

UCC president, Patrick O’Shea, said that IMERC no longer had any budget or staffing and its incubation facility, at Ringaskiddy, was now managed jointly by UCC and CIT.

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