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Ireland’s Minister for Innovation & Research visits the SKA Headquarters

Irish Minister John Halligan with SKA Director-General Dr Phil Diamond, members of the Irish delegation and SKA staff

Minister John Halligan (centre) and members of the Irish delegation were welcomed by SKA Director-General Prof. Phil Diamond (centre-right) during their visit to SKA Headquarters. Credit: SKA Organisation

SKA Global Headquarters, 10 May 2018 – The SKA Organisation was pleased to welcome John Halligan TD, Irish Minister of State for Training, Skills, Innovation, Research and Development, and representatives from Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) during their visit to Jodrell Bank in the UK yesterday.

The minister was greeted by SKA Director-General Prof. Phil Diamond and met members of the SKA leadership team, who provided a briefing on the current status of the project, recent design and engineering work, and the latest governance milestones, as the SKA Organisation moves towards becoming an inter-governmental organisation.

“We’re delighted to have received Minister Halligan” said Prof. Diamond after the visit. “As a landmark project on the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures, and considering Ireland’s key investments in research and particularly astronomy in recent times, we believe a closer collaboration with Ireland would be natural and mutually beneficial.” 

The visit follows several major developments for astrophysics in Ireland, most notably with the recent creation of the Irish Low Frequency Array (I-LOFAR), the westernmost station of the Europe-wide LOFAR network, an SKA pathfinder telescope. LOFAR is operated by the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy (ASTRON) – a partner in the SKA – and stretches across seven European countries.

Construction of the telescope at Birr Castle, in the central County Offaly, was made possible by a €1.4 million award from SFI, with further contributions from private donors. SFI provides funding for research in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), as well as support for education and engagement activities surrounding STEM. Birr Castle has had a long history of astronomy, being the home of the Leviathan of Parsonstown, the world’s largest telescope throughout the second half of the 19th century. 

Ireland also announced plans to join the European Southern Observatory (ESO) later this year, giving the country’s astronomers access to some of the most advanced telescopes in the world.

The visit also afforded an opportunity for Minister Halligan to meet a fellow Irishman, Dr Evan Keane, the SKA’s resident pulsar specialist.

“This is an exciting time for astrophysics in Ireland – in the past it has been difficult for Irish-based researchers to get access to facilities, but joining LOFAR, and soon ESO, has transformed the situation,” Dr Keane said after the visit. “On a personal level, when I was training there were almost no opportunities to perform cutting-edge radio astronomy while based in Ireland, so it’s extremely positive to see these developments. Hopefully it will also inspire a whole new generation of Irish astrophysicists.”