Monday 18 December 2017

State risks losing €10m in EU funds over scholars' pay cuts

John Walshe

THE Government is in danger of losing up to €10m a year in EU funding because it imposed pay cuts on top university researchers who are funded entirely by Brussels.

Around 70 Marie Curie scholars -- mostly from overseas -- have had their awards cut in line with reductions in salaries throughout the public service. But the decision has angered the European Commission, which has accused the Government of breach of contract.

The universities say that they had to impose the cuts because they were not exempt from the Emergency Measures in the Public Interest No 2 Act, which was very broad in its coverage.

However, Dr John Walsh, who chairs the Irish Research Staff Association, described the Government's approach as nonsensical, especially as the scholars were entirely externally funded.

He claimed it flew in the face of all the government talk about the smart economy and it also damaged Ireland's reputation abroad as a centre for research.

"Any attempt by host institutions to reduce rates of pay for Marie Curie fellows will bring such institutions into conflict with the commission in its role as contracting authority, leading to a reduction of funding or cancellation of research contracts," Dr Walsh wrote in a letter to Science Minister Conor Lenihan.

"This situation will result in a loss of EU funding not only for individual researchers, but also for host institutions and higher education in Ireland; it will also significantly damage Ireland's international reputation for encouraging research and innovation."

The commission insists that all Marie Curie scholars throughout Europe are paid the same basic amount. "The maintenance of remuneration at the agreed rate is not an optional extra but an essential contractual requirement," it said.

As well as researchers in universities, there are about 30 other Marie Curie researchers working in industry, but their awards have not been cut as they are doing research in the private sector. Neither have awards been cut for Marie Curie researchers in the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland because it is not a publicly funded institution.

Over the past three years the scheme has been worth €35m to Ireland in terms of salaries and supports for researchers, many of whom are at the cutting edge in areas such as nanomaterials, biodiversity, lung diseases, and biomedical data.

Irish Independent

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