Minister Halligan announces that the Irish Research Council will invest €5 million in research that tackles societal challenges

The Irish Research Council, which has invested €4.7 million since 2012 in research projects aimed at addressing major societal challenges, now plans to invest €5 million in the coming year.

Minister of State for Training, Skills and Innovation, John Halligan TD, today (13.04.2017) in announcing this investment, said: “Innovation 2020, Ireland’s five-year strategy for research and development, emphasises the importance of research that addresses societal challenges and contributes to evidence-based policy-making. The Irish Research Council has a long track record in funding research of this type, and researchers funded in the past have gone on to make significant contributions to public policy in Ireland and further afield. They have delivered social innovations in areas as diverse as disaster recovery, child welfare, family law and gender-based violence.

Government Departments will be keenly interested in the knowledge and outputs from the latest round of awards as they address current pressing policy themes, such as social housing and access to higher education to name but two”.

Dr Eucharia Meehan, Director of the Irish Research Council, said: “Supporting research that addresses major societal challenges is a key priority for the Irish Research Council, and has been over our 15-year history. We know research has an important role to play in finding innovative and strategic ways to tackle societal challenges. Think of how major social innovations – such as the smoky fuel ban, the plastic bag levy or the smoking ban – had their origins in ground-breaking research.

Since 2012, the Irish Research Council has invested €4.7 million in research projects focused on societal issues including housing and homelessness, educational disadvantage, and crime prevention. We have supported 149 projects to date, and we are stepping up our work in this area even further during 2017, making €5 million available to researchers across a number of different funding programmes.”

Funding for research that addresses societal challenges

The Irish Research Council’s funding streams for research that addresses societal challenges include:

  • The New Horizons Interdisciplinary Programme, which was established in recognition of the key role played by interdisciplinary research in addressing societal challenges. €2.5 million in funding is being provided for New Horizons, which will fund 12 new awards
  • The Research for Policy and Society initiative, which engages government departments and agencies in identifying policy topics for research. €1.9 million has been allocated for this programme in 2017, which will be invested in 21 research projects
  • The Engaging Civic Society strand under the New Foundations programme which is run in partnership with The Wheel. Twenty-eight awardees will share some €545,000 in funding through this programme this year. 
  • The CAROLINE Programme, co-funded by the EU, which provides mobility and career development fellowships for researchers who collaborate with NGOs or international organisations, and conduct research in a discipline of relevance to the United Nations 2030 Agenda for shared economic prosperity, social development and environmental protection. 

At today’s announcement, Dr Meehan said “collaboration with government departments and agencies, as well as civic society organisations, will be an important factor in ensuring the success of research projects focused on societal challenges. The strategy tasks government departments and agencies with exploring the potential to collaborate with civic society and enterprise to address societal challenges. This type of collaboration results in evidence-based policymaking and better outcomes for society.”

Researchers working to resolve societal challenges

During today’s announcement, the Irish Research Council highlighted how research can contribute to resolving societal challenges. Many of the researchers funded over the past 15 years have gone on to make significant contributions to national and international policy. Researchers highlighted in this regard include:

  • Professor Ursula Kilkelly, who received funding from the Council for a number of projects focused on child law. She now directs the Child Law Clinic at UCC, and was appointed by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs to chair the Board of Management of Oberstown Children Detention Campus. 
  • Professor Anna Davies, who received funding for research on sustainability and the governance of waste. Now Professor of Geography at TCD, Anna has served on the National Expert Advisory Council on Climate Change and been an expert witness on a range of European-level committees on food sustainability and environmental protection. In addition Professor Davies secured a prestigious Consolidator Grant from the European Research Council. 
  • Professor Philip Lane, who has received three separate research funding awards, is now Governor of the Central Bank of Ireland, and has served as a consultant to the European Commission, the European Central Bank, OECD, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and others.