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Irish Scientists Hit by Budget Cuts

DUBLIN—In its "emergency" budget yesterday, the Irish government announced measures that will reduce many scientists' pay and cut funding to universities and research institutes.

All public sector workers will have their payroll taxes increased by 2% to 6%—to the tune of €6000. Approximately 3000 publicly funded research scientists, working at seven universities and 13 institutes of technology, will be affected. The hike follows a pension tax in February, which reduced annual pay by an average of about €2000.

The government has clearly signaled that more spending cuts are on the way, and this is likely to put further pressure on scientists' take-home pay in 2010 and 2011. Meanwhile, the current expenditure budget for higher education has been cut by €16 million, and the capital expenditure budget has been cut by €24 million.

Against this backdrop, it is not surprising that there is a level of nervousness that top researchers attracted to Ireland in recent years might decide to leave. The state-backed Science Foundation Ireland—the major funding body for research here—insists that all remains well, but insiders talk about a growing sense of unease.

“The big problem is uncertainty,” says a leading scientist who did not wish to be named. “Pay and taxes alone are unlikely to drive scientists abroad, but a fear that major disruption is coming with no ability to recruit in strategic areas might be the final push.”

The larger concern is that the gains in Irish science during the Celtic Tiger era, when funding flowed into Irish science at a remarkable rate, could be lost.