Medical science in Ireland is “under siege”, according to a government minister.
Dr Brendan Smyth, minister for health and the environment, said a lack of investment in research and development meant the country could not afford the next generation of specialists.
Speaking in the Dáil today, he said the country was in a “post-industrial” era and needed “new investment” to develop and maintain a highly skilled workforce.
He also warned that Ireland was in the midst of a “crisis of confidence” due to the uncertainty caused by the Brexit vote and the EU referendum.
Speaking to RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, he admitted there had been “a significant shortfall” in research funding and he warned that the country needed to increase its spending on research.
Mr Smyth said the Government was currently reviewing the allocation of research funding to ensure it did not “undermine” Ireland’s position in global science.
The minister said that the Government had already made significant cuts to the number of PhD students entering the country each year.
He said there were around 5,000 research positions open across the country.
In a recent report, he cited figures from the Higher Education Funding Council for Ireland (Hefce), which showed there were 5,918 vacancies for doctoral students in Irish higher education, down from 10,500 at the start of the year.
Dr Smyth added that there were currently around 100 research and teaching positions available in Ireland, with an additional 2,000 available for postgraduate students.
He warned that this “very fragile” situation in research would have an impact on the economy and on the quality of our workforce.
Mr Kerry told the Dail that “the threat of Brexit” had already led to an increase in recruitment and investment in the country’s research and research capacity.
He added that the Department of Health had been working closely with the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Technology and other bodies to address the issue.
“I think it’s an absolutely clear statement that we need to have investment in science and research, in the future of this country,” he said.
He made no mention of the Brexit referendum or the uncertainty surrounding it.
He was also asked if he thought the UK would continue to participate in international science and technology and the Government minister said he did not.
“We have the highest per capita science funding in Europe, we have the world’s second highest per head of population in terms of science expenditure, so I don’t think the UK will leave the European Union,” he responded.
He reiterated that the UK had a “good relationship” with the EU, adding that “there is a relationship, but it’s one that we have to manage”.
The Government is currently in the process of reviewing the funding arrangements for the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
This comes after a series of high-profile cases of funding being cut, including the US National Institutes for Health (NIA) and the UK Biomedical Research Council (BRRC).
Last month, the Government also announced it would be withdrawing funding for the University of Oxford and the University College London in a move it said would bring down costs.
Dr Kerry was also confronted by the issue of the funding of international science.
He told RTÉ that he supported the “polarisation” of research in Ireland and that there was a need for the UK to “rebuild” its research capability.
“Ireland has a lot of great research that is going on, the world is very, very interested in it,” he told RTE.
“The UK can and should be a world leader in the field of science.”
He added: “Ireland has to build up its scientific infrastructure, its scientific research and its research infrastructure in order to attract people to come here.”
Dr Kerry said that “once again” it was crucial to “be very cautious” when it came to the UK leaving the European Economic Area (EEA).
The minister is also set to discuss the future relationship between Ireland and the US in the next few weeks.