Dáil debates

Thursday, 7 February 2008

4:00 pm

Photo of Olivia MitchellOlivia Mitchell (Dublin South, Fine Gael)
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Question 6: To ask the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the steps he has taken to ensure employment growth in the life sciences sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4213/08]

Photo of Michael AhernMichael Ahern (Minister of State, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Cork East, Fianna Fail)
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The life sciences sector in Ireland comprises approximately 400 enterprises, employing more than 40,000 people, and accounts for almost €43 billion in exports per annum. The industry is made up of a host of leading Irish and international firms. Ireland has been extremely successful in attracting investment from leading international life sciences enterprises. The majority of overseas operations based in Ireland are engaged in manufacturing activities, although a number of them have also established higher-value activities — such as research and development, supply chain management and international financial management — here in recent years. Ireland is home to 15 of the world's top 25 medical technologies companies, nine of the top ten global pharmaceutical corporations and three of the top ten biotechnology corporations.

As regards overseas investment, IDA Ireland completed its strategy review for the pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical sectors in June 2007. The strategy aims to develop an integrated pharma-biopharma cluster through attracting investments in both the earlier and downstream segments of the value chain, relative to the manufacturing segment, where most of the existing IDA Ireland client base is focused. Specifically, IDA Ireland will be focused on attracting both top tier and emerging pharma and biopharma companies engaged in research and development, process development and clinical trials. The agency will also focus on companies in development and manufacturing, together with those in downstream segments such as marketing and regulatory affairs. In addition, IDA Ireland will focus on embedding existing companies by increasing their strategic competencies in Ireland and expanding the level of high value activities undertaken here.

From an indigenous point of view, the Irish life science sector is, for the most part, characterised by a large number of small and medium sized enterprises, the vast majority of which have yet to achieve international scale. Indigenous enterprises are engaged in a wide range of niche sectors within the life sciences industry. The strengths of the indigenous life science sector are in diagnostics, pharmaceutical manufacturing, functional foods, speciality biopharma — such as drug development — medical devices sub-supply and information technology for life sciences. Enterprise Ireland's strategy for the life sciences sector is focused on sustaining export growth, continuing to develop new high-growth potential start-ups and supporting established enterprises in achieving international scale.

From an overall point of view, Forfás and the enterprise agencies maintain a high level of focus on this key, high-value sector of the economy. Forfás, with the enterprise agencies, is currently researching a report on the life sciences ecosystem in Ireland, which will identify and inform responses to the sector's developmental requirements here.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

Forfás maintains a close involvement with various industry associations and stakeholders to ensure a constant awareness of the industry's immediate needs is maintained. The expert group on future skills needs recently produced a report on skills needs in the medical devices sector. This important document will serve to identify the skills this key sub-sector of the life sciences sector will demand in Ireland over the medium to long term. It will also be a useful tool for education and training providers in their efforts to provide courses which will meet those demands.

The measures outlined, which are illustrative of a co-ordinated response by the enterprise agencies to the requirements of the life sciences sector, will contribute to ensuring that this sector remains a key employer in Ireland into the future.

Photo of Deirdre CluneDeirdre Clune (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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The expert group on future skills needs issued a report on the skills that will be needed in the medical services sector. The Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment was addressed by Mr. Dorgan before he retired, who indicated that the attention of IDA Ireland is focused on this area. Ireland can create a great deal of investment from industries involved in the area.

The expert group's report contains many recommendations. The first of these relates to the establishment of a centre for medical device manufacturing excellence in the higher education system. However, the recommendation on which I wish to concentrate is that which refers to the need to upskill existing operators. The expert group states that the need for low-skilled operators is on the decline and that there will be a need to upskill these individuals to meet projected demands.

Photo of Michael AhernMichael Ahern (Minister of State, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Cork East, Fianna Fail)
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Deputy Clune is absolutely correct. The Minister of State with responsibility in this area, Deputy Haughey, will be developing proposals in respect of the upskilling of operators. That report will be forthcoming in the not too distant future. The Minister of State's work will address the points raised by the Deputy. In order to maintain the growth and development of the economy, there will be a need to upskill, particularly in the areas to which she refers.

Photo of Deirdre CluneDeirdre Clune (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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Do we really need another report?

Photo of Michael AhernMichael Ahern (Minister of State, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Cork East, Fianna Fail)
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It will not be a report. The Minister of State will be taking on board and implementing the recommendations made by the group.

Photo of Deirdre CluneDeirdre Clune (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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Will the recommendations be implemented?

Photo of Michael AhernMichael Ahern (Minister of State, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Cork East, Fianna Fail)
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Yes.

Photo of Deirdre CluneDeirdre Clune (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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How will it be done?

Photo of Michael AhernMichael Ahern (Minister of State, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Cork East, Fianna Fail)
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The Minister of State with responsibility in that area, Deputy Haughey, will initiate the implementation process.

Photo of Deirdre CluneDeirdre Clune (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment has overall responsibility in respect of this area.

Photo of Michael AhernMichael Ahern (Minister of State, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Cork East, Fianna Fail)
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Deputy Haughey is a Minister of State at the Department.

Photo of Deirdre CluneDeirdre Clune (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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That is fine. So the Minister of State will make a report on the report.

Photo of Billy KelleherBilly Kelleher (Minister of State with special responsibility for Labour Affairs, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Cork North Central, Fianna Fail)
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It is called joined-up thinking.