Speech by Minister Varadkar – Discover Research Dublin event – Trinity College Dublin

Good evening.  I am delighted to be here tonight to officially launch the second annual Discover Research Dublin event.  Tonight over 450 cities across Europe will be holding similar events – as researchers throw their work open to the public – and I would like to congratulate Trinity, in partnership with the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, for ensuring that Dublin plays a leading role in celebrating and communicating the value of innovation and creativity in research.  The last time I was here in Trinity I was about to get a bucket of ice-water thrown over my head, and the success of that fund-raising initiative – which has raised over €1 million here in Ireland for research into motor neurone disease – shows just what can be achieved with a little innovation and creativity.

Today, for Discover Research Dublin, over 50 free events are taking place across Trinity – showcasing all kinds of exciting research – from a discussion of ‘Skulls, Scripts and Censorship’ in the Trinity Long Room Hub, to a ‘Lego Challenge’ in the Innovation Academy, where teams will be challenged to build a series of increasingly more difficult objects, against the clock.  It certainly sounds more enjoyable than the ice-bucket challenge!

The events tonight have been organised around four themes –

·    Body Parts
·    Meet the Researchers
·    Creativity in Research
·    and Living Thought / Thinking Life

But I think what is more interesting is that each theme is offering a range of events under a number of different categories.  There are: debates and discussions, family friendly events, interactive events, performances, and tours.  So there is something for everyone, no matter whether your interest is in robots with personalities – and I’ve met a few of those in my time in politics! – Harry Clarke’s stained glass windows, or an experimental performance installation inspired by Allen Ginsberg’s poem Howl.
And there is much that interests me as Minister for Health.   The interestingly titled ‘Mending Broken Hearts’ will look at what happens in the body during and after a heart attack, and will show how regenerative therapies are being used to treat damage caused by heart attacks.  At another event, Professor Orla Hardiman, who has been such a powerful advocate for neurological patients in Ireland, and for patients within the Irish health system generally, will be presenting on the importance of research funding in general.

What is great about these events is that they show that research benefits us all – it is for everyone – and it right that we remind the world of that on a night like this.  I would like to congratulate everyone involved in organising tonight’s events, and all the volunteers who have given up their time to make it such a success.   It should also be noted that this is a European success story as well as an Irish one.  It was made possible because of funding secured by the Trinity Biomedical Sciences Institute under Horizon 2020, the new EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation.   And it is quite right that it was the first Horizon 2020 funding to be awarded in Ireland.   The success of nights like tonight is that it reminds people of why research funding matters.  It benefits us all, and while its results might not always be immediate, they are long-lasting.  And who knows, tonight’s events might also inspire some talented people into considering a career in research.

Given such a choice of events, I’ve decided to go to something that is both medical and historical.   I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to return to the Old Anatomy Building, where I used to have classes as a medical student.  There, very shortly, Dr. Joe Duignan will be giving a talk on ‘Trinity Medical Graduates in World War One’, and given that this year marks the centenary of the start of the first world war it is a very timely topic.  I was not aware that over 800 Trinity medical graduates went off to fight in the first world war, and that statistic provides a very different way of thinking about that conflict.  In our efforts to remember the sacrifice of the people who fought – and died – in that war, we should not forget just what a disaster it was for the world, or the terrible carnage that it brought with it.  Trinity knows that more than most other places.  I know from the work of Dr. Tomás Irish, who is writing a history of Trinity in this period, that over three and a half thousand members of the Trinity community fought in the first world war.  15% of them never came back.
And it wasn’t just Trinity men who served in the conflict.   27 Trinity women performed valuable war work, included one who lost her life in the conflict.  Many worked as medical doctors in hospitals, showing over and over again that they were as good, and as brave as the men beside them.  There are many inspiring examples.  For example, Ina Clarke, a demonstrator in Anatomy, served at the Ulster Volunteer Hospital in Pau, in France.  The Provost’s daughter, Rachel Mahaffy, set-up her own hospital at Mountjoy Square in Dublin to look after the war-wounded who were sent home, and it was entirely maintained and staffed by graduates and undergraduates of the college who worked there for free.

I look forward to hearing more tonight about the medical graduates who served in the conflict.  This event, organised by Professor Cliona O’Farrelly, is an important reminder of one of the darkest times in world history.  It brings home to us the horrors of war, and it reminds us of the courage of doctors and nurses who do their best to save lives, and ease suffering, no matter what the danger.
Afterwards, for a bit of light relief, we have a talk by the gerontologist and medical historian, Joe Harbison, on ‘The Return of the Provost’s Mummy’.  I’m wondering why I was never taught any of this good stuff when I was a student here!
So, to conclude, I would like to congratulate Trinity and RCSI for putting together a wonderful series of events, and all the organisers and volunteers who have sent out a powerful message that research is transformational.  It changes lives, and it is right that its value is communicated so widely, tonight and on every night.

Thank You.