Tuesday, 31 May 2005
Research and Development.
Question 36: To ask the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if he will initiate a time limited review of the research and development agendas of the development agencies, to ascertain where the systems failures within each of the agencies and within their client companies are in respect of the promotion of innovation and research. [18095/05]
The research and development performance of Irish industry has shown a worthwhile improvement in recent years. Data made available by Forfás indicates that business expenditure on research and development increased from €917 million in 2001 to €1,076 million in 2003. We have made considerable progress, but more needs to be done. The EU's research and innovation performance is significantly behind the US and Japan. Ireland's performance is still below the EU average. One of the two central conclusions of the Enterprise Strategy Group in 2004 was that an increased focus on research should be a core pillar of enterprise policy.
The national action plan for promoting investment in research and development to 2010, Building Ireland's Knowledge Economy, was published last August. It sets out challenging targets for enterprise research and development performance, such as a doubling the number of companies with minimum scale research and development activity, or activity that is worth more than €100,000 per annum. It envisages a fourfold increase in the number of firms that engage in research and development expenditure of more than €2 million per annum. It recommends that overall business expenditure on research and development should be more than doubled, to €2.5 billion. Enhanced research and development performance by firms needs to be supported by vibrant science and technology infrastructure, which can increase the pool of talented researchers available to industry and generate intellectual property that can be commercialised by firms.
Work is under way on programmes, initiatives and strategies that will facilitate the fulfilment of the challenging agenda I have outlined. The new Cabinet sub-committee on science, technology and innovation, which I chair, has mandated the interdepartmental committee on science, technology and innovation to prepare a strategic implementation plan to develop Ireland's knowledge economy.
The development agencies, Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland, together with Science Foundation Ireland are working closely with my Department in the development of the plan and, indeed, the key performance metrics. The targets are reflected in Enterprise Ireland's new strategy, TransformingIrish Industry, which I launched recently.
Among the initiatives which I expect the plan to incorporate are a strengthening of the infrastructure for intellectual property, protection and commercialisation in third level institutions, greater promotion of research and development among non-research and development performing firms, initiatives to improve productivity and efficiency and simpler, more accessible financial support for both collaborative and in-house research and development.
We have step-changed the level of State investment in research and development since 1998-99 through the PRTLI programme and the Science Foundation Ireland Programme, which has greatly expanded research capacity.
This is a question on which I would like to spend an hour. Unfortunately, the Minister has not answered the question which was whether he will initiate a time limit for a review of the research and development agendas of the various development agencies. For example, city and county enterprise boards have no research and development focus in their remit. Will he give them a research and development focus because such agencies dealing with micro industries are facing a sector that has huge problems, not just in terms of cost but of awareness, expertise and guidance in the area where there is a void? Will he agree that up to now there has been a significant void in the whole area of research and development? What is in ahead of the curve and what is in transforming industry will not of itself change this fact. Will the Minister initiate a time limited review of the research and development agendas?
There has been a review of Enterprise Ireland. I am preparing a roadmap or blueprint to achieve the Lisbon Agenda target of 2.5% in research and development. This will include the business spend as well as the State spend. We have signed up for the goals. We are in favour of increased research and development investment. We did a fantastic job in the past five or six years in research and development compared to the previous 20 years, which has brought us to a certain level. I am very committed to this subject.
We now need, in a nuts-and-bolts fashion, to work out how we will achieve the Lisbon targets, how to double the number of researcher postgraduates in the next six or seven years, what it will mean for the expansion of universities or institutes of technology and what it will mean for business to increase significantly the business spend in research and development. We have all signed up to the objectives and goals. We now need to sign up for and work through the incremental steps necessary to achieve the challenging targets we set ourselves over the next five to six years. I hope to have this completed by July.
I would welcome a debate in the House in the autumn on research and development, because it is important for the Parliament to speak on the importance of research and development to Ireland's economic competitiveness in the future.