Irish Politicians Get Gift of the Science Gab

DUBLIN--The Irish government has unveiled a set of measures to make scientific advice more accessible to its policy-makers.

The centerpiece of the government's first "White Paper" on science, published on 29 October, is a plan to establish a National Science Council that will advise members of the Irish Parliament's science subcommittee. Advice from the permanent council--which will include representatives from universities, industry, and the government--is meant to trickle up to the real decision-makers: cabinet ministers, who are also members of the Irish Parliament.

Other planned measures announced by Pat Rabbitte, minister for commerce, science, and technology, include regular government audits of its science spending, a review of tax incentives for R&D investments, and a program to grant top postdocs IrL20,000 ($32,000) a year for 2 years. Although Rabbitte pledged little new money for the initiatives, Irish scientists have seen an improvement in their bottom line of late: Federal spending on basic research has risen fivefold in 3 years, to IrL2.5 million ($4 million) in 1996.

The lobby group for Irish scientists welcomed the announcement. "The publication of the White Paper is an important step in itself," says John Donovan, executive secretary of the Irish Research Scientists' Association, which in the past has accused the government of neglecting science.