€50k expenses paid to science agency directors

Almost €50,000 was paid in expenses to four directors of the country’s science funding agency to attend board and committee meetings last year.

Three of the four directors are based in the United States and another in the UK, but the Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) annual report says that two of them waived the fee of nearly €12,000 to which they were entitled as board members.

The payments are revealed in a report which also highlights Ireland’s improved performance compared to other countries for the overall quality of scientific research.

After a number of years in the top 20 of the Thomson Reuters InCites data ranking, the country jumped from 14th to 10th, ahead of countries like Germany, Canada, France, Israel and Australia.

Despite this success, Tánaiste and Enterprise and Innovation Minister Frances Fitzgerald said it is even more important that economic and societal benefits are gained from investment in research and innovation.

“Lives are being improved through technological and medical advances, and high-quality sustainable jobs are being created,” she said.

The SFI financial accounts show that €49,200 of the €56,366 paid in vouched expenses to directors related to international travel and subsistence. All but €547 of the figure was paid to four of the directors as follows:

  • €23,513 to US-based Liam Madden, who attended five out of six board meetings. Professor Madden is senior vice president of engineering at Xilinx.
  • €18,154 to Barry O’Sullivan, the US-based chief executive of software firm Altocloud, who attended all six SFI board meetings.
  • €5,205 to Rita Colwell, professor at the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. The former director of the US National Science Foundation attended half of the SFI board’s six meetings.
  • €2,562 to Tom Blundell, the UK-based director of research, and professor emeritus in biochemistry at University of Cambridge. He was at all six board meetings in 2016.

Mr O’Sullivan, also known as an investor on RTÉ’s Dragons’ Den, and Prof Madden waived the €11,970 board fees. Both men and Prof Colwell also attended meetings of the SFI grant approval committee, chaired by Prof Madden.

SFI invested €184m across its research programmes last year, with €169m more leveraged by its research teams from the EU, private enterprise and other sources.

The agency said it directly and indirectly supported 31,000 jobs, with the researchers it funded in 2016 involved in 2,359 international academic collaborations, over 500 of them with UK researchers and institutions.

SFI chairman Ann Riordan said it will continue to work hard on existing partnerships in the UK and build new relationships with other research organisations and universities there:

“The global socio-political outlook is becoming more uncertain, with events like Brexit and the evolving global environment all having a substantial impact. While Brexit has serious implications for Ireland generally, there are also opportunities in the science and research world.”

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