Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Micheál Martin TD has revealed that the Government intends to implement 70pc of the 51 recommendations in the Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) report, which will include a restructuring of Enterprise Ireland (EI).
Martin also intends to establish a cabinet sub-committee on research and development (R&D), which will work towards making R&D activities in Ireland worth 2.5pc of gross domestic product (GDP) by 2010.
Speaking at a press conference at his department’s HQ on Kildare Street, Minister Martin said that 70pc of the 51 recommendations by the ESG have been approved by the Government following recommendations from a cross-departmental working group consisting of various general secretaries of departments.
He revealed that he recently established a cabinet sub-committee on R&D that will work toward devising strategies aimed at enabling Ireland to boost R&D activity to 2.5pc of GDP within a decade. “This will mean a doubling in PhD numbers by 2010,” he said.
One of the first recommendations of the ESG’s report last July related to the sales and marketing ability of Irish businesses and indicated that Ireland’s prowess in production and manufacturing has not been matched in the sales and marketing arena. It called for the establishment within EI of a dedicated structure, entitled Export Ireland, with its own budget to promote market intelligence and promotional activities. This morning he added that the internationalisation of Irish indigenous firms was key and has directed a complete business process and organisational re-engineering of EI’s overseas and marketing support division. He said that he will make a detailed announcement in relation to the restructuring of EI in the coming weeks.
Also recommended is the placement on a cost-sharing basis of 1,000 graduates and internationally experienced professionals in Irish firms to augment the stock of national sales and marketing talent. The report also called for IDA Ireland to target European sales and marketing headquarters projects from locally based multinationals and smaller companies in the early stages of internationalisation.
Martin said: “We are looking closely at putting more graduates in indigenous firms. We support the idea of giving indigenous companies marketing and sales support but would argue that the major focus be on small companies that may not have the resources to support investment in sales and marketing.” The minister has asked FÁS and EI to work together to expand and develop the existing FÁS graduate programme that has created a unique group of graduates who have lived or are living in some of the country’s most important export markets such as China and Japan.
In terms of boosting Ireland’s prowess in the areas of innovation and R&D, the report recommended the establishment of a dedicated structure, entitled Technology Ireland, with its own budget and leadership for market-led applied R&D. Public funding, the report recommended, for applied research and in-firm R&D should be increased to match that invested by the Department of Enterprise. This morning Minister Martin said that the annual R&D support given to EI will increase from €72m per annum to €92m this year. “State investment in R&D will grow from half a billion euros per annum up to 2000 to €2.5bn between 2000 and 2006,” he said.
As well as this, the report called for the allocation of a €20m budget for five years from existing enterprise development agency resources to support the creation of all-Ireland, enterprise-led business networks to support businesses where complementary strengths are recognised. Minister Martin praised the work of north-south trade body InterTradeIreland as well as recommending the continued funding for the Skillnets programme, under which some 40,000 people are currently in training.
The minister added that the Government has agreed to deliver partial or modified implementations of the remaining recommendations bar two.
One recommendation that was not adapted includes the creation of a “super regulator” to oversee the regulation of all market activities in the State as well as the aggregation of government contracts.
A further recommendation that was blocked is the creation of a single chairman for EI, IDA Ireland and Forfás. While the minister agreed to the idea of a joint working group consisting of directors from the three state agencies in order to create better synergies, he felt that the strong success of IDA Ireland in securing foreign direct investment could be stifled. “I would be worried that IDA Ireland would lose focus if a single chairman governed all agencies. Equally, we need to ensure that EI has a clear focus going forward. The key issue is how do we enable better synergies between the various agencies,” he added.
By John Kennedy