Broadband more important than electricity – Labour MEP

11 May 2010

Labour MEP Alan Kelly has hit out at Ireland’s preparedness for the smart economy, pointing out that the country is 18 leagues behind Germany on patents and warns this is linked to poor broadband infrastructure.

Kelly pointed to the latest published tables of EU patents that show Ireland is behind both Hungary and Romania when it comes to granting patents in new technology and that Ireland was granted 1,100 less patents than Sweden last year.

“These figures show that the Government is simply not laying the foundations of a smart economy,” Kelly said.

“It should be our ambition to be on top of the European league of patents but the truth is on population terms we are nearly 18 times behind Germany and much lower than many of our Eastern European countries.

“We are hearing a lot of soundbites from Government relating to the smart economy, but not a lot of substance. When a company or a research unit of a university comes up with a new technology that may become commercially profitable, they immediately register a patent for it.

“These figures show that we are lagging seriously behind in the innovation front and if we want to protect our standard of living we must change this.”

Kelly decided the reason for this is down to three key problems:

·        The average age of an Irish entrepreneur is too high

·        The vast majority of PhDs remain in the education cycle rather than entering industry or becoming entrepreneurs

·        Lack of proper broadband is hampering education and in turn affecting our intellectual capital

“The average age of an Irish entrepreneur is too high,” Kelly railed. “It shows that our entrepreneurs are not investing in innovation in the way we would like.

“We have to support our young people who have commercially innovative ideas and try to create in Ireland a consolidated young network of entrepreneurs who look to base themselves in Ireland and become world leaders in their field.

“We also need to seriously address how we deal with PhD students in Ireland. The vast majority of our PhDs remain in the education cycle rather than entering industry or becoming entrepreneurs.

“There needs to be much more dialogue between our business community and our third-level colleges when it comes to forming courses. In the disciplines that we aspire to lead in, like pharmaceuticals, IT and renewable energy, etc, entrepreneurship should be considered a natural component of third-level education.”

Back to the broadband issue

Kelly also argued that the low number of patents has a lot to do with Ireland’s lack of proper third-generation broadband.

“Our broadband system is not sufficient to make Ireland a leader in technology and is hampering the quality of our children’s education. Broadband is important to our smart economy now as electricity was to ours during the ’30s.

“Irish people are used to a certain standard of living. That will only be maintained if we use our young population to develop the kind of cutting-edge entrepreneurs that will create export-lead, high-value jobs that will service the rest of our economy.

“It is perfectly clear we are not doing that right now and a dramatic change of thinking at Government, administrative and state-agency level is needed to fix this,” Kelly warned.

By John Kennedy

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years