One of the recommendations of An Bord Snip Nua is to transfer all research money from the departments and agencies to a single research body. Besides the cost savings, I see three advantages:
1. Competition for research allocation between fields (as opposed to the current earmarking of research money for someone’s pet projects)
2. Academic quality control (captive agencies occassionally grant funding to researchers of low repute but the right political colour)
3. Streamlining of applications and administration (at present, research bodies need to keep track of the rules of a range of bureaucracies)
I see two disadvantages, however:
1. Disruption: Transfer of tasks between public policy inevitably leads to chaos, and no research funding will flow for a certain period. This may lead to the destruction of human capital — that is, the good researchers may leave the country, leaving the dross behind. Continuity is therefore a high priority.
2. Applied research has a lower status, and funding will be under additional pressure from blue-skies research. The agencies and department that lose their research grants should have a substantial say in the type of research to be funded (but not, of course, select the researchers).