Review of the year part 3

31 Dec 2003

2003 may go down in the annals as the year when Ireland truly set itself on course to become a knowledge economy — a shift in direction that comes at a price and is far from complete. Revisit the highs and lows in a month-by-month flashback of the year that was. JULY-SEPTEMBER

New legislation put Science Foundation Ireland on a statutory footing that makes the agency permanent and fully independent. The director general of SFI, Dr Bill Harris, had argued that continuity of funding over the medium to long term is a prerequisite for attracting top researchers to Ireland from the world’s top universities and research establishments. For once, no one seemed to disagree… Following on from its Shannon announcement, Intel invested €12m in establishing its global IT Innovation Centre in Leixlip, in what the IDA has described as the foundation stone for a new era in inward investment. The announcement is part of the IDA’s aim to push Ireland higher up the technology value chain. For Intel’s part, the investment brings to over €5bn the amount the company has invested in Ireland since first establishing operations here in 1989… As if to remind us that it wasn’t all good news, international software services firm Software Spectrum moved 100 jobs from its Dublin support centre to Hamburg, Germany, where it reckoned it could achieve greater efficiencies…

Tánaiste Mary Harney TD announced the membership of the new 12-member board of Science Foundation Ireland, which included leaders from the engineering and scientific research communities, business, academia and the public service. Another four of the board come from the international research community. Dr Pat Fottrell, former president of NUI Galway, was made chair… Eircom Net finally revealed details of its flat-rate internet service, some two months after wholesale unmetered rates for dial-up access became available… Ireland’s business sector was driving growth in local PC shipments, according to IDC. Small and medium enterprises in particular accounted for much of the growth in the three months to the end of June, as manufacturers placed extra focus on this market sector… Industrial and technology advisory agency Forfás warned that Ireland is at a difficult economic crossroads and that globalisation has led to the emergence of lower cost locations such as India and China that may threaten many of the activities Ireland depends on for success. While Ireland has succeeded in growing employment 40pc since the economic doldrums of the early Nineties through identifying opportunities in software, electronics, internationally traded services and manufacturing, a rapidly changing economic environment means the future is less certain…

Ireland’s science crisis deepened as general demand for IT courses in the seasonal round of CAO offers fell on average by 40pc, with some 1,000 IT college places left unclaimed. There was also waning student interest in science subjects amongst second-level students with only one in seven taking higher level physics and chemistry in the Leaving Cert… The percentage of online residential users remained static for the past three quarters, despite signs of growth in other areas of the internet services market, the latest quarterly report from the Commission for Communications Regulation revealed. The report also documented “a good uptake” of flat-rate internet access products and a doubling of DSL broadband connections following reductions in price last May… Within days of Eircom slashing the costs of its ADSL service, Esat BT unveiled its own competing consumer broadband offering. Not before time sighed the nation’s tech heads, hungry for faster speeds at price they can afford…

Something worth saying …

On the public sector
“If we could supply the same vision, flexibility and drive that the government clearly had around when it came to attracting inward investment to the local ICT market then we’d be in a fantastic place” — Joe Macri, general manager, Microsoft Ireland

“The opportunity for the health service is to look at what we have [EHSS] in place and extend it out rather than investing again in other agencies, replicating what we already have. Invest instead on making them better so that everybody benefits” — Valerie Judge, chief officer, Eastern Health Shared Services (EHSS)

“I see energy and commitment [in government] but I don’t see actuals. There are too many people not doing enough. There’s a lot of bureaucracy, a lot of people talking but it’s slipped across too many departments. What it needs is a very clear focus” — Joe Browne, director and general manager, Xerox Ireland

On communications
“The government sold the major asset of the State [Eircom] while trying to sell Ireland as a European hub. The problem is that it has no control over the infrastructure that could enable that to happen. It’s out there talking about something it can’t deliver” — Sean Bolger, Access Telecom

“We acknowledge it’s not just about us putting the infrastructure in the ground. That’s our primary responsibility but we have a role to play in boosting demand” — Dermot Ahern TD, Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources

“Companies are becoming increasingly sceptical and do not trust those that are selling the [ADSL] service because over the past few years the industry has been engaged in over-promising and under-delivering. This has been compounded by the late rollout of DSL largely as a result of resistance by Eircom to deregulation and the relative lack of powers of the regulator” — John Dunne, chief executive of Chambers of Commerce of Ireland