Tuesday, 29 March 2011
Technology Research Centres
Question 35: To ask the Minister for Enterprise; Trade and Innovation the date on which the network of technology research centres will be established as per the Programme for Government; the locations for the initial three centres to be established; the way these will be funded; the timeframe for the establishment of further centres; the location of these centres; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5864/11]
In the programme for Government a commitment has been given to establish a network of technology research centres that will accelerate the exploitation of new technologies and bridge the gap between research and technology commercialisation. The initial focus will be in the key areas of biotechnology, nanotechnology and high value manufacturing.
In establishing the technology research centre networks I intend to build on the existing infrastructure of relevant centres for science engineering and technology, CSETs, strategic research centres and competence centres currently in place. My intention is that over a period of time a programme will be devised that will put in place a structure, or structures, to deliver on this initiative. Experience has shown that the best results are delivered when such centres are established by means of a competitive process. In this way the best proposals come to the top, ideas can be generated and refined, collaborations established and both industry and research centres afforded an opportunity to define the most apposite agenda to bring together both the needs of the present and the opportunities of the future. This process will determine both the timing and location of the centres.
The programme for Government has committed to the initial establishment of three technology research centres, one in each of the fields of biotechnology, nanotechnology and high value manufacturing. The establishment of an applied biotechnology centre is timely because it will allow Ireland to fully capitalise on the very significant investments made in our basic research base since the late 1990s through highly talented people and the provision of world-class infrastructure. Nanotechnology is set to have a big impact on sectors which are important to the economy, in particular ICT, life sciences and the food sector. Ireland has made substantial investments in nanotechnology research, principally in CRANN in TCD and the Tyndall National Institute in UCC. A Forfás review of the nanotechnology infrastructure in Ireland proposed that the State should take a more proactive role in driving the commercialisation of nanotechnology, diversify funding and collaborate with industry and academia to deliver on key focus areas and leverage existing resources more fully.
The proposal to establish technology research centres can facilitate a transformational change, enabling Irish industry to exploit new opportunities. The timeframe for future centres will be determined by the progress and success of the three initial centres.
For years we have heard Governments talk about developing a knowledge economy, but at the same time moneys have been ripped from the education area. There have been two difficulties in the research and technology sector during the years. The first concerns the amount of money being invested and the priority given to the sector, while the second concerns the ability to monetise research results, create feasible businesses from them and sell them abroad. I welcome some of the initiatives mentioned by the Minister of State and look forward to seeing some of them being pursued. I have a major issue with the technological research that takes place in that there is no understanding of what the market thinks. It is said the market has all of the answers. What input will industry and the market have in developing the technology and research initiatives mentioned? In most enterprise initiatives there is some level of benchmarking to establish what amount of money will be returned on each euro invested. What return does the Minister of State expect to receive on each euro invested under this initiative?
We already have a process in place which adopts the clustering approach and brings together industry and research institutions. The purpose is to create synergies between industry and the research function within third level institutions in order that research findings can be commercialised. In the applied nanotechnology sector, for example, companies such as Aerogen, Analog Devices, Intel and Medtronic are all well established and already have well established links between industry and the research component. The Deputy has raised a valid point as to when research takes place and when the findings are commercialised. A relationship is developing between Science Foundation Ireland and Enterprise Ireland and it is growing deeper as the months pass and the sector becomes a more important part of the economy and our recovery. It has become glaringly obvious that we need to ensure the two agencies work side by side to ensure jobs are created as a result.
I will revert to the Deputy on the question of value for money and the return on our investment. I have the same question and, therefore, beg the Deputy's indulgence in giving a response. At this time I am being briefed as a new Minister of State and only developing my knowledge of the situation. These questions are inherent in the process. I will be happy to share information with the Deputy in due course.
I welcome the Government's investment in the research centres. I will pick up on Deputy Tóibín's point. I understand the Minister of State is new in the brief, but I imagine he did not pick up on the three areas of biotechnology, nanotechnology and high value manufacturing. Evidence from around the world shows that governments, even with the best interests, are incredibly bad at choosing areas in which the private sector should invest. There are many examples of failure from all over the world in this regard. On the basis that the Minister of State was given these three areas, I encourage him to look hard at why and how they were chosen. Were they chosen by the private sector companies which were going to have to commercialise operations in them or were they chosen by Government bodies or quangos which concluded they were good areas in which to invest? The Minister of State should look closely at why they were chosen and encourage the participation of the private sector in choosing the areas in which research will be developed.
The Deputy's comments presuppose that there is no interaction between the private sector and the Government. However, there is interaction, through the State agencies. I invite the Deputy to look at the Enterprise Ireland website or interact with the organisation when he will see there is a vast array of companies which interact with both it and Science Foundation Ireland. There is interaction between them so as to ensure research findings can be commercialised. The three strands selected were industry-driven and driven by the technology leaders within the various competence centres. The strategy is clear and well thought out. If the Deputy has ideas as to where there should be research, I would welcome engagement with him in that regard.
Question No. 36 answered with Question No. 34.