This draft piece of legislation b0124d.pdf (oireachtas.ie) has been on IFUT’s radar for some time. There have been delays in getting it to this stage, earlier aspirations on the government’s part were for this piece of legislation to be titled The Research and Innovation Act, 2023! Nonetheless the Bill is now published as the first Bill of 2024 which probably indicates that there’s a real focus on getting the Bill through all stages without delay and into legislation.
The stated purpose behind introducing the legislation, according to the Department’s website, is to:
- to make further provision for the funding of research and innovation in all fields of activity and disciplines and, for that purpose, to provide for the establishment and functions of a body to be known as Taighde Éireann;
- to provide for the dissolution of Science Foundation Ireland, the transfer of its staff, records, assets and liabilities to Taighde Éireann;
- to amend the Higher Education Authority Act 2022 and to provide for the transfer of certain members of staff and records, assets and liabilities relating to research of An tÚdarás um Ard-Oideachas to Taighde Éireann; to provide for the repeal of certain provisions of the Industrial Development (Science Foundation Ireland) Act 2003 and the Industrial Development (Science Foundation Ireland) (Amendment) Act 2013 and the Industrial Development (Forfás Dissolution) Act 2014; and
- to provide for related matters.
The real question for IFUT in the first instance is to determine if introducing this legislation will have any material effect on the terms and conditions, or indeed the work in general, of those that we represent across higher education. Secondly, we must determine if there are opportunities for IFUT to secure amendments to the legislation to influence positive change to the terms and conditions, or indeed the work in general, for those that we represent.
In reading the legislation and looking at the ‘Objects of the Agency’ there doesn’t appear to be anything that could be deemed distasteful to IFUT, other than of course the unmitigated lack of ambition for Taighde Éireann (Research Ireland).
In May of 2023 IFUT participated in a ‘Pre-Legislative Scrutiny of the Research and Innovation Bill 2023’ (as it was titled at that time) meeting with the Joint Committee of Education, Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science. In addition to presenting the IFUT perspective, which Dr John Walsh of TCD did, we took the opportunity to present the perspective of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions ICTU to the Committee as our General Secretary is a member of the Executive Council of the ICTU.
The IFUT Statement to the Joint Committee clearly articulated the need now, more than ever, for evidence based research in ‘the advent of Trumpian politics, Brexit and mass campaigns for disinformation’ while reminding the Committee that ‘Long-term blue sky medical research was essential in laying the groundwork for the rapid breakthrough in achieving Covid-19 vaccines’. Our statement provided the Committee with data supporting the need for increased research funding in Ireland so that we might catch up with the EU average research expenditure of 2.32% from our current spend of 1.23% of GDP.
Both the ICTU and the IFUT submissions to the Joint Committee focused on the opportunities that the introduction of this legislation might present. We very much welcomed what was being described by those in favour of adopting legislation of this nature as being the granting or achieving of ‘parity of esteem’ between research on STEM matter, Arts and Huamanies and Social Sciences but we stressed that the legislation needs to be very clear in this point. Putting the Irish Research Council and Science Foundation Ireland into one entity, along with other research funders, is a real indication of a willingness and a want, on the part of the Legislators, to achieve this parity of esteem.
In November of 2023 the Irish Times reported:
The new agency will fund research and innovation excellence in all disciplines across the spectrum of arts, engineering, humanities, mathematics, science, social sciences, technology and others, the Minister said. The legislation places arts, humanities and social sciences research on a statutory footing for the first time.
Establishment of the agency in statute ensured parity of esteem for the IRC’s critical mission of supporting researchers at all career stages, Prof Nolan said. “In making competitive funding awards across all disciplines and of varying sizes, the agency will significantly broaden the access of researchers in all areas to an improved range of research funding programmes.”
Regrettably IFUT have not to date witnessed ‘IRC’s critical mission of supporting researchers at all career stages’ at play, nor have can we bear testament to a similar commitment of ‘supporting researchers at all career stages’ from Science Foundation Ireland as the situation prevails that the terms and conditions of employment for Researchers funded by both the SFI and the IRC, have been arrived at, with the guidance and leadership of the Irish University Association IUA (the employer’s representative group) without input from Researcher Representative Groups and Trade Unions such as IFUT.
The ICTU submission drew the Committee’s attention to the EU Directive 2022/2041 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 19 October on adequate minimum wages in the European Union and the requirement under this legislation for each member state with a collective bargaining threshold of below 80% (that’s us, regrettably) to introduce a framework to enable collective bargaining coverage to get to this this minimum coverage rate. We advised the Joint Committee that in developing this legislation that clauses, which we shared with the committee, could be adopted into the legislation to ensure that this new legislation went some way to redressing the poor collective bargaining coverage in Ireland by ensuring that this new body, Taighde Éireann, would take overall responsibility to ensure that the terms and conditions of employment, and engagement for researchers funded through this entity would be the product of collective bargaining. We further petitioned the Joint Committee for the ICTU to have nominating rights (for one representative) to the Board of Taighde Éireann.
The Bill, in it’s current state, does not provide for an ICTU Nominee to the Board. Section 16 of the Bill prescribes that the Board shall consist of a Chairperson and 11 ordinary members, one of whom will be determined by Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment and the remaining members being chosen by the Minister for Higher and Further Education.
Section 8 of the legislation addresses the objects of Taighde Éireann which regrettably do not include the responsibility to ensure that terms and conditions of employment are arrived at through collective bargaining as we had appealed to the Joint Committee.
However, certain wording in Section 9 ‘Functions of Agency’ could be interpreted to mean that the entity, Taighde Éireann, does have some responsibility when it comes to ensure that Researchers are engaged on reasonable terms and condition of employment. IFUT will direct our efforts towards securing amendments to Section 9 to ensure that the obligations on the entity in relation to ensuring that terms and conditions of employment and engagement for researchers are the product of collective bargaining and not determined by a cabal.
The Minister has assured IFUT that there will be ‘structured consultation’ on this Bill and we have no reason but to accept this assurance. IFUT head office are reaching out to our membership in an effort to gather views and opinions as to how best we should proceed in this consultation and we’d welcome if you could e-mail your views to email@example.com or channel your views to and through your local branches so that these opinions can be brought to the consultation forum.