Today is not just an exceptional day for Limerick and the Mid-West, but for the entire country, said Taoiseach Enda Kenny at the launch of the €52m Bernal Project at the University of Limerick.
While just half of the major appointments to the project have been made, the science and engineering initiative is expected make a significant contribution to Ireland’s national research initiatives in the strategically important areas of pharmaceutical, biomedical and energy research and development. Mr Kenny said it could, in fact, have “global implications”.
Named after the influential 20th century Irish scientist, John Desmond Bernal who was regarded as the founding father of molecular biology, the project outlines a detailed plan to enhance research excellence in the fields of pharmaceutical science and engineering; energy and sustainable environment; modern and biomedical materials and engineering.
The UL Foundation has committed to providing €36million in philanthropic funding for this project, primarily from the Atlantic Philanthropies, the project’s main sponsor to date with a commitment of €26.3million. The balance will come from State funding and university funds.
Some 150 construction jobs will be created in constructing the new building with a further 75 long-term, research and teaching positions.
The Bernal Laboratory will house fully-equipped laboratory facilities in a 7,459m2 building, with completion envisaged by 2015.
“This is exactly the kind of development Ireland needs as we continue to enhance our attractiveness as a location for inward investment and jobs in research and development,” said the Taoiseach.
“Following the recent Budget, successfully exiting the bailout later this year will improve international confidence in Ireland and will help attract in more investment and jobs in research and development activities.”
UL president Don Barry said the announcement of the project - which was first revealed by this newspaper a year ago - “is one of the most significant days in the history of the university because as a result of today’s announcement we’re really going to enhance the university”.
UL’s position in the world league tables of universities has consistently been debated, but without laying too much emphasis on these tables - which are open to interpretation - he said the Bernal Project should raise the university’s profile worldwide, and attract further investment.
“By recruiting people of the stellar quality that we’re recruiting I think we would automatically move up the league table, but it might take a number of years because league tables are based on five year records. I’m confident that in a couple of years time we’ll see the effect of this recruitment feeding into our position in international league tables.
“But I do want to stress that I see our number one priority is to produce good graduates to work with companies that enable job creation, which is what the country needs. The country doesn’t need people in league tables, it needs jobs on the ground and graduates that have the skills that companies require. That’s what the University of Limerick is about, and I think that’s what our supporters and the taxpayers of Ireland would want us to focus on.”