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Observatory funding has to be found

It's not very often I agree with the SDLP and/or the Liberal Democrats, but on this occasion, as an honorary life member of Belfast's Queen's University Ulster Unionist Association and a member of the UK Independence Party's constitutional affairs policy group, I should like to commend both Dominic Bradley (SDLP MLA for Newry and Mourne) and Lembit Opik (MP for Montgomeryshire and Liberal Democrat spokesman for Northern Ireland) for their robust defence of the Armagh Observatory.

Following a recent visit to the Observatory by members of the Assembly's Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee, Mr Bradley was reported as saying: " The observatory has worldwide status ... and it is disturbing to learn that the current funding situation is presenting a risk to its survival. In this, the 300th anniversary year of the observatory's foundation, it would indeed be ironic if this were to materialise. It is unacceptable that this prestigious facility has to scrape around to get enough funding to survive."

By the same token, Mr Opik (son of the famous astrophysicist Ernst Julius Opik who worked at the observatory from 1948 to 1981) has tabled Early Day Motion 1226 in the House of Commons: 'This House applauds the Armagh Observatory's considerable contribution to astronomical research and its very high international standing; believes the Observatory is one of the world-class scientific institutions in the British Isles; is very concerned about the funding shortfall currently facing the Armagh Observatory; fears that if this shortfall is not met, the observatory could close in 2009; and calls on the Government to ensure that the future funding of Armagh Observatory is secured to guarantee the on-going operations of one of the world's great seats of learning and research into the field of astronomy.'

As an Englishman by birth — who lives less than 20 miles from the Royal Greenwich Observatory at Herstmonceux (a somewhat shorter distance than I am from the Armagh Observatory) — and an Ulsterman by adoption, I nevertheless acknowledge the contribution which the Armagh Observatory makes to the scientific world as a whole and wish to put on record my support for calls from MLAs and MPs in all parties and none to safeguard its future.


Royal Tunbridge Wells, Kent

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