Ireland’s EU Commissioner: Research, Innovation and Science

The European Commissioner-designate for Research, Innovation and Science, Ms Máire Geoghegan Quinn, had her confirmation hearings before the European Parliament last week, and by all accounts acquitted herself very well – the Irish Times described her as ‘unshakeable in her self-confidence’, which perhaps is the more remarkable as this is a new area for her. But she was clear and emphatic in her views, by all accounts well informed, and she drew a favourable response from the MEPs present.

However, her views are also reported to have created some tensions between Fianna Fail and the Green Party back in Ireland. The Commissioner designate does not of course represent Ireland at the Commission, much less the government parties, but of course she was nominated by the Taoiseach and to that extent what she says can have a political dimension back home. At the confirmation hearings she is reported to have expressed support for research into nuclear energy and genetically modified crops, both of which were rejected by the original FF/Green programme for government, presumably at the instigation of the Green Party.

If the reports of her statements at the hearing are correct, I think it is important to express strong support for the Commissioner designate. As I have mentioned previously, I am extremely uneasy about a commitment (for whatever reason) not to undertake research on something: rejecting additional knowledge for ideological reasons is not a respectable position and should not find its way into anyone’s programme. In fairness, individual Green politicians have been open to research and debate on nuclear power, while however still declaring that they will remain opposed to its use. I am not aware of any similar openness to a GM foods debate.

It would be hugely damaging for Ireland to be seen as a place that is hostile to innovation and research, and these elements of the programme for government always seemed to me to be counter-productive in our current ambition to develop an effective knowledge economy. I hope that Ms Geoghegan Quinn’s strongly stated views have an impact back in Ireland and that they prompt us to redouble our efforts to provide ethically aware research leadership in all areas, even those that make some of our politicians uncomfortable.

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11 Comments on “Ireland’s EU Commissioner: Research, Innovation and Science”

  1. Iainmacl Says:

    I suppose it depends on your interpretation of her remarks. If she was hostile to nuclear research then she would not be supported by the French and other pro-nuclear governments/parties. So whether it is ‘open mindedness’ or typical political manoeuvring to get a job…..depends on your viewpoint I guess. 😉

  2. Vincent Says:

    The Nuclear position is foolish at best and was always. There was always something downright weird about the Irish position given Hinkley Point, Wylfa, Sellafield and Faslane.
    The position on GM crops is a different matter entirely, but I really do not see how it matters a hoot to the research. The issue is one where the planting of these crops in the open soil can lead to contamination. So, why not from a closed Lab’ drive the samples to the airport, thence to Canada or wherever else has no problems planting in the open air.
    Certain information has been accepted by farming groups that some form of subsequent transfer from fields of GM to traditional crops has occurred. This has happened often enough that the position of fraud is somewhat undermined.
    Nor of course does this come at the very necessity of GM to Europe at all. But even if there is an insistence that Europe accept them there could be a good argument for these Islands keeping clean as both a control and a massive plant bank, sans GM interference.


    • Vincent, your argument on GMOs starts from an (unstated) assumption that there is something wrong with GMOs. What is that, though? Also, if we are going to adhere entirely to the GMO-free principle, we had better get rid of insulin fast…

      • Vincent Says:

        Nope, my argument starts from the certainty that there COULD be something wrong with GMOs. And a bit like the French Revolution it’s way to early to say either way.
        And I see little harm, given the food production of these two islands, GM crops do not matter one haporth to the overall total production.
        As to the Marketing, Purity Goodness and the Real thing*. We should get a good twenty years out of that one, until some greedy gobshite does an Angel Dust, a Foot and Mouth or try to feed pigs heavy metals on it

  3. kevin denny Says:

    There is no serious scientific basis against GM foods, it is Green dogma (stupidity, actually). See:
    http://www.senseaboutscience.org.uk/index.php/site/project/16/
    or

    Click to access MakingSenseofGM.pdf

    • Vincent Says:

      That may very well be the case, Kevin. But why go past the point of no return when you do not have to. I would also suggest it is perhaps the best marketing opportunity in many a long year.


      • Vincent, what would that marketing opportunity be?

      • DW Says:

        Vincent says “why go past the point of no return”, well we have done that already with field trials of GM sugar beet from 1998 to 2000…and the sky didn’t fall!!…also Vincent should note the point of doing GM research in Ireland is to examine risk and benefits in Irish conditions thus shipping them abroad is pointless

    • Iainmacl Says:

      I’d be a little cautious about ‘Sense about Science’ since I know a number of these people from their previous incarnations as the RCP (revolutionary communist party) and the Institute of Ideas. From the supposed left to neocon. It is fascinating to see how the organisation seems to have evolved over the years from PR and corporate sponsorship from major pharmaceutical and chemical companies to claim to be an independent voice of science by herding a large number of distinguished profs onto its various panels, etc. I’m not saying that their arguments are fallacious, I’m just saying that they needn’t necessarily be considered as irreproachable when it comes to discussions on topics such as GM and nuclear power given their links.

      http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2003/dec/09/highereducation.uk2

  4. bodonovan Says:

    I think the significant point in Máire Geoghan Quinn’s remarks is not about the ethics of research into GM modified crops or Nuclear energy. For me the significant point is that she is willing to take thoughtful independent view and won’t bow to “political orthodoxy” in her country or party of origin.

    I was delighted to hear about her appointment, not because she is Irish, but because she is a very able politician whose career in domestic politics ended prematurely. Too often we get commissioners who have left domestic politics either because they are at retirement age or worse still because they have resigned in disgrace.

  5. iainmacl Says:

    Speaking of atomic/nuclear, you might like this lovely ad from the 1950s.


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