Tuesday, 4 October 2005

Questions (265)

Gay Mitchell

Question:

344 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if his attention has been drawn to correspondence (details supplied); if the Government has committed any funding to research of this kind; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26344/05]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment)

I am aware of the correspondence to which the Deputy refers concerning the acceptability of the EU funding ethically sensitive research activity, which arose in the context of the recent adoption by the European Commission of its specific programmes under the proposed seventh research framework programme, FP7. The Government is fully conscious that the ethical framework within which research is carried out, particularly in the context of the EU funded framework programmes, has given rise to significant ethical concerns among member states and the European Parliament especially with regard to the use of human embryonic stems cells.

The current sixth framework programme, FP6, decided by Council in agreement with Parliament, explicitly forbids EU funding for research that involves human reproductive cloning, the creation of human embryos for research, often referred to as therapeutic cloning, and research that would change the genetic heritage. However, FP6, which covers the period 2003 to 2006, does allow EU funding of projects involving the derivation and use of human embryonic stem cells derived from supernumerary embryos.

The Department of Health and Children is responsible for ethical issues in the health and related areas and, during the course of the negotiations at EU level on FP6, it advised on the approach to be taken by Ireland on such issues. In this regard, in discussions at Council on the issue of stem cell research under FP6, Ireland considered it inappropriate to object to the EU funding of such research in member states where it is legal and deemed ethical and, consequently, it did not oppose the Commission's proposal, that is, the core principle of respecting "ethical subsidiarity" was guaranteed.

Under FP6 the funding of such ethically sensitive projects is dealt with through a process of ethical review and must conform to the ethical rules of the current programme. In summary, the current rules state that all projects that raise any ethical questions are submitted to a rigorous four stage process before being funded: national ethical review, European scientific review, European ethical review and consideration by a committee of member states. EU research programmes never fund in a member state, under any circumstances, anything that is not legal or is deemed unethical in that particular member state. In this regard, I can confirm that no EU funding has been committed to such research projects in Ireland. Funding is being provided by Science Foundation Ireland for regenerative medical research involving stem cells deriving from adult sources.

The seventh framework programme is due to commence at the beginning of 2007 and is scheduled to run until 2013. In presenting its proposal for FP7, the Commission has stated that it has adopted a no-change policy with regard to the respect of fundamental ethical principles in research activity. This explicitly respects the positions of those member states whose legal and ethical regimes forbid such research.

The detailed technical examination of the FP7 specific programmes will be undertaken by member states over the coming months and the aim is to ensure that a final decision, taking into consideration the views of the European Parliament, is secured so as to enable a smooth transition from FP6 to FP7. In this regard, I have sought the advice of the Minister for Health and Children on the position to be adopted by Ireland on the ethical issues that arise in respect of EU funded research activities in the Commission's proposals.