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Amidst Bailout, Ireland Increases Science Budget

The Irish government has increased its funding for research in 2011 by 12.5% despite being forced to make €6 billion in cuts following its recent bailout.

The budget, which passed in the Dáil yesterday by a margin of four votes, came following an €85 billion International Monetary Fund-E.U. rescue package announced last month.

Measures included increased taxes, specific targets for reducing the numbers employed by the state, reductions in social welfare payments, reductions in the minimum wage, and reductions in pension payments to former state employees. But amid the belt-tightening, Ireland decided not only to protect its science and research budget but also to increase it by one-eighth.

Conor Lenihan, the minister responsible for science, technology and innovation, and the brother of the Finance Minister Brian Lenihan, said: "The budget for high-tech start-ups and focused commercial research is up for the first time in 3 years."

That emphasis on "commercial research" has some scientists concerned that funding for basic science will suffer as Ireland's research portfolio becomes even more focused and applied.

They're also worried about a policy change announced in March following a cabinet reshuffle. The move gave total control of the lucrative Programme for Research in Third-Level Institutions run by the Higher Education Authority (HEA)—one of two main public bodies funding science in Ireland—to Minister Lenihan's new department.

Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), the other major funding body in Ireland, meanwhile has survived, and seen its budget increased slightly for 2011. SFI has been associated with funding people, while HEA tends to fund infrastructure.

Dónal Leech, former secretary of the now-defunct Irish Research Scientists' Association said: "The cumulative effect of the past 2 years has been a cut of over 30% in the research budget of funders, mostly SFI." Science Foundation Ireland is the main public body funding science in Ireland.

Leech, director of the Biomolecular Electronics Research Laboratory, at the National University of Ireland, Galway, added: "Even if, as claimed, this budget increases research funding, this does not bring us back to 2008 levels."