Taoiseach urged to implement Innovation Taskforce report

12 Mar 2010

Technology industry and academic leaders have welcomed the recommendations of the Innovation Taskforce and are urging Taoiseach Brian Cowen TD to implement them as a matter of urgency for the economy.

The report of the Innovation Taskforce includes a broad array of actions from broadband to tax measures that would make Ireland more entrepreneurial and attractive for investment.

They include IDA and Enterprise Ireland creating a ‘European accelerator’ that would attract the world’s most innovative start-ups to locate here, a greater nationwide appetite for entrepreneurship as well as 1Gbps ubiquitous nationwide broadband.

“Acting on it is where the crunch will come to,” said Ben Hurley who heads up the National Digital Research Centre at the Digital Hub. “They have brought a large number of influential people together.

“What’s required to instil the innovation economy is a copper fastening of the things that need to do. It should act as a good reference document to promote good initiatives already in place

“Getting interaction between industry – multinationals and SMEs – and academia is critical in terms of bringing commercial awareness into the transfer process.”

“In bringing these recommendations from a policy viewpoint to practical action on the ground we must be careful that we’re not overly influenced by the political process but delivering what needs to be done.”

E-net the company which holds the concession to manage, maintain and operate the State’s Metropolitan Area Network (MAN) broadband programme across 93 cities and towns, welcomed the call by the Government’s Innovation Taskforce to make significant further capital investment to upgrade Ireland’s broadband network and have called for urgent identification of the source of funding.

“This report further strengthens the already very strong case for prioritising significant further investment in Ireland’s broadband infrastructure,” said Conall Henry, CEO of E-net.

“It’s also clear that this investment needs to commence immediately – the longer we leave it the less of a competitive advantage we’ll derive from it.

“The crucial next step is to clearly identify where funding for these measures will come from. There is already a consensus on a number of investment priorities. The National Competitiveness Council and Forfas have both recommended that new Metropolitan Area Networks in the five National Spatial Strategy centres – Shannon, Ennis, Mallow, Tuam and Castlebar – are built.

“Developing world class, advanced broadband networks and services is essential if we are to support the development of a strong smart economy in Ireland. Advanced broadband in key regional centres is required to enable many of our main exporting sectors (e.g. ICT, medical technologies, financial services, tourism, international education services) to retain the current levels of trading and to enable them to exploit future growth opportunities.”

Maths education should be a top priority if the 117,000 jobs by 2014 outlined in the Innovation Taskforce report are to be realistic, according to John Power, director General of Engineers Ireland.

The way maths is taught in schools is critically important as it underpins the ability of graduates and the workforce to perform in science, technology and business, key facets of the innovation template, Power said.

“During Engineers Week last month, Engineers Ireland launched its ‘Report of Task Force on Education of Mathematics and Science at Second Level’, which outlined several key actions to reform how the subjects are taught in secondary schools, including greater resourcing of the Project Maths initiative and the requirement for teachers to have specific education qualifications in the area of maths and the sciences to teach the subjects.

“The Innovation Taskforce has made its recommendations. It is paramount this is not another report that is brushed aside. Engineers Ireland is now determined to work with Government to convert the actions, and the others outlined in our maths and sciences report, into real change and a ready supply of graduates with the right skills in maths and the sciences to support our innovation targets and the smart economy framework,” Power added.

Power also welcomed the report’s views on remedying the inadequacies of the broadband infrastructure as a matter of urgency.

The American Chamber of Commerce warned that today’s global trading environment, intense competition means we need to look to new areas of innovation and added value to generate and sustain our economic success.

“Ireland needs to continue to offer something distinctive and we welcome the series of measures identified by the Taskforce which aim to make Ireland a global innovation hub which continues to attract foreign direct investment”, said Mike Devane, head of the American Chamber Research & Development group.

The American Chamber’s ‘Retuning the Growth Engine’ paper identified collaboration as critical to driving the commercialization of Research in Ireland.

“The Chamber believes that without the engagement of the FDI base, research activities and programmes in Ireland will not generate enterprise to sufficiently address the economy’s employment ambitions. We very much welcome the recommendations of the Taskforce in this regard.

“Creating a collaborative culture where multinational companies, indigenous companies, government and the education sector work together to drive innovation and create new enterprise will ultimately yield a greater return on investment for the benefit of our economy.

“The Government is itself well positioned to be a driver of innovation in this country, utilising state assets and resources. As it seeks to reform and deliver efficiencies in the public sector it can acquire innovative processes and expertise from companies and thereby help to create a world class reference site for marketing this innovation abroad.”

Devane said that investing 3pc of GDP in research and development is a minimum requirement if Ireland is to bring the vision outlined in the Innovation Taskforce Report to reality.

“But the outputs of this significant investment must be measured and must be realised for the benefit of the country of Ireland rather than for individual universities or organisations. The American Chamber believes the underlying objective of this investment should be to evolve the country into a vital global research and commercialisation hub where innovation is our trademark. This, together with a ‘can do’ attitude will make a real and lasting contribution to the economy by generating value, wealth and exports.”

“Most importantly, the Taskforce recognizes the need to consolidate and retain existing investment while seeking new mandates. In this regard it is important to continue to attract large capital intensive projects in manufacturing where research and innovation are an integral part of excellence in advance manufacturing. Ireland must continue to address its competitiveness issues.

“For Innovation to grow – whether from the existing base of companies or from new investment we must have an economy which can compete on a cost basis with other locations,” Devane said.

Responding to the publication of the Innovation Taskforce Report’s recommendations the TCD Provost, Dr John Hegarty and the UCD President, Dr Hugh Brady, warmly welcomed the Taskforce’s acknowledgement of the Innovation Alliance and its endorsement as a model which should be rolled out nationally.

“The Report provides a clear and decisive framework within which the goals of the Innovation Alliance between the two universities can be realised,” they said.

“The vision of Ireland as an Innovation Hub by 2020 recognises the value of human capital for Ireland’s economic recovery. Knowledge is the currency of the innovation economy and the education system is pivotal in making innovation happen.”

“We have taken significant steps to mainstream innovation as a core element of the education experience and evolved polices to support the creation of new enterprise and enhance partnerships with industry.”

“The Taskforce’s recommendation to reposition the Strategy for Science, Technology and Innovation at the heart of innovation policy and to extend it to 2020 is crucial in delivering these goals. The report’s recommendations also provide clarity of national policy for the coordination of research funding activities.”

“Taken in their totality, these recommendations provide a platform, connecting all parts of the innovation ecosystem including education, enterprise and government and have the potential to change the future of this country.”

Announced a year ago today, the Innovation Alliance set out to develop an innovation ecosystem for Ireland with higher education, enterprise and government driving economic recovery. The Provost of Trinity College, Dr John Hegarty and UCD President, Dr Hugh Brady, were subsequently both appointed as members of the Innovation Taskforce by An Taoiseach in July 2009.

By John Kennedy

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