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Stormont to Help Promote STEM Subjects

University of Ulster academic and chairman of the Royal Society of Chemistry Northern Ireland section (RSCNI), Dr Tony Byrne, has said the establishment of the All Party Group on Science and Technology at Stormont will help promote STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Maths) subjects.

Dr Byrne, who played a key role in the establishment of the APG, said it will bring together assembly members and others with an interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, to inform policy and ensure that independent scientific advice relating to key issues is made available to the government. 

“It is a vital tool forraising awareness among MLAs of important technological and educational developments in STEM related areas,” he added.

“The APG will achieve this by holding focused meetings, with debates opened by guest speakers who are active in the fields of interest and with a series of special events throughout the year. With the recent appointment of an Educational Regional Co-ordinator, we will be looking at how we can utilise RSC staff and members in Northern Ireland to promote the chemical sciences and the RSC.”

The APG was formally established this week following a two year campaign spearheaded by the RSCNI. MLAs representing all political parties and representatives of professional bodies from the science, technology, engineering and mathematics community attended the inaugural meeting at Stormont.

Topics discussed included the possible appointment of a chief scientific adviser to Northern Ireland, fracking, neurodegenerative diseases and agricultural productivity.

According to Clare Viney, RSC Director of Communications, Stormont should match other devolved administrations in having its own chief scientific adviser. “It’s a no brainer,” she said.

Basil McCrea, MLA said ‘a very impressive group of people’ across the scientific spectrum attended the meeting.

“Top of the agenda is the feeling that we do need a chief scientific adviser, much as we have a chief medical officer and a chief legal officer,” he told the BBC, “because so much of what government does these days is a dispute between differing arguments and the government does need to be able to work out in a very timely and quick manner what has to be done; and you need to have built up a body of trust and body of information and someone that you think is competent who can give you advice in a very quick timescale.”

Dr Dermot Hanna, secretary of RSCNI’s who was instrumental in the formation of the APG said: “The NI Local Section of the RSC is delighted at the formation of the All Party Group on Science and Technology and we are particularly pleased with the strong support from MLAs of all parties in the NI Assembly.

A professional bodies’ forum has also been established to support the work of the APG. Bodies represented include: Royal Society of Chemistry, Society of Biology, Institute of Physics, Chartered Institute of Environmental Health Northern Ireland, Campaign for Science & Engineering, Institution of Civil Engineers, Institute of Materials, The Association for Science Education, Northern Ireland Region, The British Psychological Society, Institution of Mechanical Engineers, Institution of Engineering and Technology, Energy Institute, Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineering, Institute of Mathematics and its Applications (IMA) and Institute of Food Science & Technology.