Seanad debates

Thursday, 8 October 2015

10:30 am

Photo of Brian Ó DomhnaillBrian Ó Domhnaill (Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

Go raibh maith agat, a Leas-Chathaoirligh. I welcome the Minister of State. This important topic concerns investment in research development and job creation strategies within Ireland and across Europe in the years ahead. Horizon 2020 is a very successful mechanism to drive research across Europe. It is a €80 billion fund and I understand Ireland obtained around €35 million in 2014, of which about two thirds went to the SME sector. That is a positive story. It can drive research.

Yesterday morning I attended the Teagasc briefing, where I met Professor Gerald F. Fitzgerald from UCC, who is at the cutting end of food technology and agri-food research. Teagasc has some of the best agri-food researchers in the world based at Moorepark and in the organisation, which is wonderful. Ireland can develop a template by using the resources of Horizon 2020 to place ourselves at the cutting edge of research, not only in the agri-food sector but across the spectrum.

While America has always been viewed as the major hub of research, funding from the public purse in the US has been stagnant or falling. In Europe with Horizon 2020 and within the member states, funding has been increasing in certain areas. That has to be welcomed. There are other areas in which the Americans would be ahead. They have sectoral research interests where they are very much more advanced than Europe, but Europe is ahead in terms of overall funding.

The research base we generated in Ireland over the previous programme, which is going to be advanced during Horizon 2020, has helped our foreign direct investment policy. It has helped bring new jobs into the country and has enticed US multinationals to locate themselves here. The issue of the tax base was touched on. That issue is not going to go away; the European Commission has an idea and, generally, when it has an idea the Commission follows through, regardless of how much time it takes. It is looking at consolidation of that base. That is a debate for a different day but it is something that will impact on foreign direct investors' decisions to remain here. I would be critical of some of the multinationals that are here, given the level of taxation they are paying. That may also be a debate for a different day.

The level of co-funding from the Irish Exchequer is important here. The Minister of State touched on it in his contribution. There is a need to retain the level of co-funding. What is the Government's strategy on this for the lifetime of Horizon 2020? What is the Department's strategy?

Senator Barrett touched on something important regarding research opportunities for universities. Third and fourth level institutions will see this as an opportunity to attract funding. They would argue that they have been depleted of funding from the public purse. As a result, they see research as a way of filling the gap to meet the deficit in funding. I agree with Senator Barrett there is a danger that attention would move from teaching students and producing graduates to research. Although there is nothing wrong with that, it would mean the focus would move away from providing the world-class education that can be and is being provided in the Republic. It is a double-edged sword and I am not sure what are the Minister of State's views on it.

With the global population due to increase between now and 2050 there are huge opportunities, particularly in the agri-food area, which are being capitalised upon. We need to continue to capitalise on them under Horizon 2020. The pharmaceuticals and other areas are also significant.

Would it be the Minister of State's opinion that there is enough of a joined-up approach within the Department to assist applicants? The success rate is only running at about 16% of all Irish applications. That means 84% of applications have been unsuccessful in attracting funding at European level. Is there anything that can be done to increase the success rate? It is a competitive process. Are applications not being prepared properly or is there something else that can be done by the State to support individual or collective applications?

I welcome what the Minister of State has had to say. This represents something very positive in terms of driving research and creating employment. However, research and development do not necessarily translate directly into jobs. The Horizon 2020 programme ultimately is a European programme. Generally speaking, if the research is created then the jobs will develop close to where it is based.

I wish the Minister of State well in his role. I am sure he is not relishing an early election given the amount of work he has to do before then.


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