Top science adviser faces fresh claims over doctorate

A DEPARTMENT of Enterprise probe has raised fresh questions about the status of a PhD received in America by the Government’s top scientific adviser.

Dr Barry McSweeney - appointed to the €120,000 position of Chief Science Adviser by then Enterprise Minister Mary Harney last June - has been embroiled in controversy since it emerged he received a doctorate from an unaccredited institution in the US.

Although Dr McSweeney has argued the Pacific Western University was “a vastly different body” when he received his PhD, it has been branded a “degree mill” where qualifications can be received for a fee.

In the Dáil yesterday, Enterprise Minister Micheál Martin said the National Qualifications Authority of Ireland (NQAI) - responsible for accreditation in Ireland - had assessed the “bona fides” of the Pacific Western University and found it “did not have accrediting powers within the US”.

But he stressed Dr McSweeney’s view “was that the body he dealt with at that time is vastly different from the one in place now.”

Dr McSweeney has not publicly commented on the issue while his direct employer Forfás was unavailable for comment.

Mr Martin said he has met with Dr McSweeney and informed him of the NQAI’s conclusion, and asked the adviser for more information on the qualification.

Sources close to Tánaiste Mary Harney last night defended the appointment, saying he had vast experience and was recommended in a telephone call from former British Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock. One said there was “no PhD requirement” for the job.

Mr Martin pointed to Dr McSweeney’s professional and academic record which includes the post of director general of the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre - a position responsible for more than 2,000 people and a broad range of scientific and technological areas.

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