#ESOF2012 – Ireland needs to be an innovation leader and join the decision-makers

11 Jul 2012

Dr William Donnelly, head of research and innovation at Waterford Institute of Technology’s celebrated TSSG and whose experience in European framework programmes goes back to FP2, said Ireland needs to bolster its success so far with FP7 by rejoining the top science decision-making bodies in Europe.

Donnelly said that during the economic good times Ireland’s membership of key decision-making groups began to wane and now more then ever we need to start showing leadership again.

Strategically, Donnelly pointed out, Ireland is in the league of innovation followers. We need to be in the league of innovation leaders.

“Ireland needs to look at the Single European Market. We tend to look towards California and the US, but we have a major Single Market right here on our doorstep.

“It’s all about pooling and leveraging resources, bringing about a critical mass and fostering human capacity.

“We have hemorrhaged some of our best researchers in recent year,” Donnelly said pointing out that the €963m Marie Sklowdowska-Curie Actions contained in the recent €8.1bn investment under the €55bn FP7 strategy is a way of reversing that.

Waterford Institute of Technology of Technology’s (WIT) TSSG is seen as an exemplar in working with European research bodies as well as being an major influencer in the shape of future telecoms and internet technologies.

TSSG has funded 62 projects out of 110 from FP7 funds and a total budget of €266m and this has contributed to creating 400 jobs in the South East of Ireland.

“You have to be part of the decision-making bodies to influence direction,” Donnelly urged. “The platforms are the industry. During the good years we stopped doing that and we have to get back into the decision-making roles.”

Co-ordinating national policies with European policies

Donnelly said that ample opportunities are in danger of slipping through our fingers if we don’t take advantage of the open market.

“Ireland is one of the most open economies in the world and we should use those links to connect the countries elsewhere in the world for our own benefit and Europe’s benefit.”

He cited the example of Asian telecoms giant NTT which has been asking how better can it participate in European tech and science innovation.

Donnelly also warned that Ireland’s Employment Control Framework which restricts who can be employed in academic institutions needs to be reevaluated.

“If we don’t fix this the best researchers will go to Europe rather than come to Ireland.

“We are seen as an innovation follower, not as a leader. We need to take a more strategic, cohesive approach to research and remove the silos,” he said referring to the enduring separation of the sciences from arts and humanities.

“I’m a technologist, but see a lot of opportunity to work in areas like design, usability and databases.

“We need to combine our SME agencies and our academics to work together in a strategic way. We need to link better with European and international networks. We need to better leverage EU funding by prioritising certain areas and developing an integrated support framework for industry.

“We need to think about research, innovation and market development in the same way.

“We are a services economy, it’s not just about innovation but about the consumer. We need to be open to integrating best of breed research from elsewhere in Europe – we don’t have to invent everything.

“The goal is to transform Ireland from being an innovation follower to an innovation leader. We can do it. But first we need an agile research and innovation infrastructure,” Donnelly urged.

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