Belfast Telegraph

Foster launches MLA/scientist pairing scheme

Stormont Executive press release - Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment

A new MLA/scientist pairing scheme will open up a unique channel of communication between leading scientists and elected representatives. 

Scientists will inform MLAs about their area of expertise and gain an understanding of how the Northern Ireland Assembly works, how legislation is made and how they may inform the process.

Northern Ireland is the first regional assembly to roll out the scheme, which will focus on geosciences.

Launching the Politics Plus exchange event in Stormont today, Energy Minister Arlene Foster said: “This scheme will lead to enhanced collaboration between politicians and scientists which will assist the development of future legislation and strengthen the impact of science on policy.”

"Exploration for natural resources is one of the key drivers of economic growth. For example, for centuries hydrocarbons have been needed to fuel our cars, heat our homes and produce plastics and lubricants for our industry.

“Increasingly there is a need for a mix of energy from more sustainable sources but hydrocarbons will still be required as part of that mix. Mineral exploration is also required to source precious metals, base metals for industry, rock salt to de-ice our roads, and rare earth elements are required to make components for computers and smart phones. This new scheme will highlight the importance of these issues.”

Professor Tom J. Millar MRIA, Dean of Engineering and Physical Sciences and Professor of Astrophysics at Queens University Belfast said: “Queen’s is enthusiastic to both embark upon and support the opportunity to further the impact of research and innovation of its scientists and political scientists by directly engaging and working along MLAs with the aim of informing new government policy. Both MLAs and scientists will continue their own professional development through shared learning, exchange of ideas and policy research."

The Secretary of the Royal Irish Academy, Professor Vani Boroorah MRIA commented: “The Academy is delighted to work in partnership with GSNI, QUB and the NIASLT today in supporting this inaugural MLA/scientist pairing scheme. By bringing independent and expert scientists into Parliament Buildings today, we are facilitating the exchange of knowledge with the MLAs they will work with over the coming year. The Academy is committed to working with both parliaments on the island, to engage elected representatives and inform policy making.”

Speaking at the launch of the Politics Plus Exchange programme the Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly, Mr William Hay MLA said: “Politics Plus plays a vital role in helping to enhance the capacity of the political institutions and providing opportunities for engagement between different sectors. 

A democratic institution cannot stand in isolation. It draws strength from its partners and those it interacts with – this project is a great example of this as it offers opportunities to exchange ideas, enhance learning and enrich the workings of the Assembly.” 

Dr Vivian Scott, a geophysicist from the University of Edinburgh, who previously took part in the Royal Society's MP Pairing Scheme at Westminster, shared his experiences with the audience which included MLAs, and scientists from government departments, business and universities from both Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland. The event was chaired by Tim McGarry.

The scheme is facilitated by the Northern Ireland Assembly Legislative Strengthening Trust (NIALST) in partnership with the Geological Survey of Northern Ireland (GSNI), Queen's University Belfast (QUB) and the Royal Irish Academy (RIA).

The scheme at Parliament Buildings will run until March 2014.

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