Tánaiste Simon Coveney has paid tribute to outgoing Marine Institute chief executive Dr Peter Heffernan for the “phenomenal impact” he has had on Irish and international scientific research writes Lorna Siggins.
Dr Heffernan has been a “trailblazer, demanding political attention”, ensuring Ireland’s reputation as a global leader in the “international marine space”, Mr Coveney said.
Dr Heffernan, who is retiring after almost 27 years in the post, says that Ireland can play a key role in international monitoring of ocean health and impacts of climate change.
Speaking by video at an event in the Marine Institute’s headquarters in Galway on Wednesday, Mr Coveney said that he shared Dr Heffernan’s “passion for the sea and all things marine”.
“As minister for marine, planning and now foreign affairs, I can say that without Peter we wouldn’t have a Marine Institute,” Mr Coveney said.
He recalled how his father, the late Hugh Coveney, had spoken about Peter Heffernan during his own time as marine minister, and how he had also then experienced the scientist’s “extraordinary energy, drive and ambition”.
"Without Peter, we wouldn’t have a Marine Institute”
US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s acting chief scientist Craig McLean and Minister for Marine Michael Creed also paid tribute to Dr Heffernan, while European Commission senior official John Bell highlighted his role in creating the Atlantic Ocean Research Alliance.
Initiated in 2013, the alliance commits North America, Canada and the EU to a shared vision of the Atlantic as “healthy, resilient, safe, productive, understood and treasured”.
Under Dr Heffernan’s tenure, the Marine Institute established a headquarters in Galway and developed a marine research fleet – with plans to purchase a new 50m ship to replace the 31m Celtic Voyager.
Dr Heffernan said the changing climate’s impact on the oceans is now the “greatest global challenge”, which Ireland is well placed to monitor – with significant investment in monitoring technology, including the weather buoy network and gliders,
Dr Paul Connolly, who succeeds Dr Peter Heffernan, is a former president of the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES).
Up until recently, he was the director of the Marine Institute’s Fisheries and Ecosystems Advisory Services (FEAS) team, providing scientific advice on the sustainable exploitation of Ireland’s fisheries resource and marine ecosystems.
Marine Institute chairman Dr John Killeen said that Dr Connolly “brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to the role, and will be dedicated to positioning the institute as a global leader in ocean knowledge, and empowering Ireland to harness our marine resource”.
Dr Killeen said that Dr Heffernan had “played a fundamental role in developing Ireland’s ocean research capacity”, and “driving collaboration in marine research and innovation in Europe and internationally”.
Dr Heffernan has been selected as a member of the European Commission’s mission board for Healthy Oceans, Seas, Coastal and Inland Waters.
The board is one of five major research missions of Horizon Europe, the EU Research and Innovation programme (2021 – 2027), and Dr Heffernan is one of two Irish appointees.