Friday, 4 July 2003
Industrial Development (Science Foundation Ireland) Bill 2002 [ Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil ] : Report and Final Stages.
This is a Seanad Bill which has been amended by the Dáil. In accordance with Standing Order 103, it is deemed to have passed its First, Second and Third Stages in the Seanad and is placed on the Order Paper for Report Stage. On the question "That the Bill be received for final consideration", the Minister may explain the purpose of the amendments made by the Dáil. This is looked upon as the report of the Dáil amendments to the Seanad. The only matters, therefore, which may be discussed are the amendments made by the Dáil. For Senators' convenience, I have arranged for the printing and circulation of the amendments. Senators may speak only once on Report Stage.
Question proposed: "That the Bill be received for final consideration."
The Bill has changed little since it was passed by the Seanad in February. On foot of an amendment by Deputy Upton, section 6 and the Title were amended to include the Irish language version in the name of the foundation – Fondúireacht Eolaíochta Éireann.
Deputy Upton also proposed an amendment to section 14(3) which provides that the foundation, rather than the director general, shall have regard to any recommendations of an Oireachtas committee. This amendment was accepted.
A new section 27, the transfer of rights and liabilities to the foundation, has been added to the Bill. Since the foundation was set up as a committee of Forfás, it has entered into grant agreements that involve the payment of grants in instalments over a period of time. This provision allows the rights and obligations arising from these arrangements to be transferred to the foundation when it is established as a statutory body. The provisions of the new section are based on similar provisions in the Industrial Development (Enterprise Ireland) Act 1998.
The remaining amendments in sections 2 and 20 are drafting arrangements.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House and thank him for the explanation of the amendments approved in the Dáil. As the Bill has not changed much I have nothing further to add to what I said on its various Stages through this House. The establishment of Science Foundation Ireland, which is doing good work, is important for the country. One must be impressed with Dr. William Harris, the director general, and all those involved. I compliment the Minister and his officials on the work done in regard to this Bill. I wish Science Foundation Ireland every success.
I welcome the finalisation of this Bill. I congratulate the Minister of State and the Tánaiste on bringing it forward and on their dealings with it. I also compliment the Leader of the House in whose name the Bill went through the House. That the Bill was initiated here shows the significance of the Seanad. We had a marvellous debate with contributions from Senator Henry and others involved in the field.
In the original Bill there was an exclusion clause regarding membership by public representatives. The Chair would be interested in this also. If a public representative is qualified, there is no reason that he or she should be excluded from a foundation because he or she was elected to a local authority, the Dáil or Seanad. It is strange that there is no exclusion clause for Members of the Oireachtas in regard to membership of prison visiting committees. It is right that Members should serve on them if they feel they could serve in that capacity. I asked about this issue on Second Stage. Will the Minister of State clarify whether the exclusion clause remains part of the Bill? As bankrupts and others were excluded I thought councillors were also. Perhaps I am making a good pitch for re-election here by trying to ensure that councillors would be allowed to be members of the foundation.
I welcome the Minister of State and these acceptable amendments. This Bill is one of the most wonderful things that has happened for research work in this country for decades. It is directed at bio-sciences and information technology which are only part of many important areas of research.
There must be a framework created for research and development in this country. I realise this is not part of the remit of the Minister of State's Department. The conference of the heads of Irish universities has expressed grave concern about the shortage of research funds going to other areas within the third level sector. The reason this is particularly important is that Science Foundation Ireland must draw from those people doing masters' degrees or post-doctoral research in other disciplines. It cannot exist as an island. We must also ensure the continuation of courses to train the people needed in these areas. I ask the Minister of State to use his good offices with the Department of Education and Science to ensure the universities do not have to cut such courses.
I must declare an interest in that I chair the Trinity College Dublin Association and Trust. I am also a member of the Trinity Foundation, both of which are fundraising bodies for the University of Dublin. Given the strained circumstances in the private sector, it is difficult to raise the sums required to continue research outside the remit of Science Foundation Ireland. However, it is vital backup for us. As a small country, we have an advantage over others in that there is a great deal of co-operation with and personal knowledge of the work others are doing. This can make a huge difference when one is trying to secure co-operation in such important areas.
I praise the Bill for what it seeks to do and ask the Minister of State to keep an eye on the Department of Education and Science which will have to provide money to back up the research being carried out in other disciplines. We are trying as best we can to raise funds within the universities. However, when very rich people have lost one third of their wealth, as they see it, with the fall in the value of shares, they are not as enthusiastic as they have been about giving. Low interest rates also mean we are getting a poor return on our investments. Therefore, to support the foundation, we need to make sure we put as much money as possible into other areas of research in third level institutions.
I wish to declare that I am a member of the Oireachtas science foundation group which promotes the sciences and come from a background in the sciences. I welcome the Bill and agree with Senator Leyden that it has great potential. However, I ask that the Leader arranges for the House to debate progress in the area one year from now. I have every confidence in Dr. Bill Harris as director general of the foundation. However, I have grave concerns about the Government's commitment to the sciences.
A recent report suggests that there have been severe cutbacks in graduate research – a backward step. This is a modern progressive country and research is vital. We must continue to plan for five and ten years down the line and research is the only way we can do so. I urge the Government to examine the budgets for research and, if they have been cut back as severely as has been reported, to look at reinstating them. Daily newspaper reports refer to underspends in Departments. Therefore, there is money floating around somewhere. One area we cannot afford to ignore is the sciences.
We must look at the issue from the bottom up by promoting the sciences in primary schools. I was a teacher before I became a Senator. The new curriculum of the 1970s introduced the sciences, which was a great idea. However, the Department of Education and Science gave no resources to schools or teachers to teach them. Therefore, the curriculum never got off the ground. The Department is now making fresh attempts under a new curriculum to teach them.
I urge the Minister of State to ask his Department to seriously examine a request by Carlow Town Council and Carlow Institute of Technology to have a centre for the sciences based in the town, mirroring one in Cardiff, which promotes the sciences by encouraging young people to visit the centre to look at the different areas of the sciences. It is a fantastic centre. We had an open day in Carlow which the Minister for Education and Science was due to visit but, unfortunately, had to cancel at the last minute. We seek a commitment from the Government to get the development of such a centre under way. It would be one of a kind in Ireland, attract hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren and adults during the year and help to raise the profile of the sciences. It could only be of benefit to the entire country.
I thank Senators for their support in the passing of this Bill and goodwill in the establishment of Science Foundation Ireland. I thank the staff of the Office of the Attorney General and the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel for their assistance in drafting the legislation as well as the staff of my Department which has done such a wonderful job in the preparation and honing of the Bill.
We must change from being an economy which produces goods and services, based on knowledge and ideas generated elsewhere, to one which generates knowledge and innovative ideas from investment in our own research. The most exciting developments in the world today utilise new scientific discoveries. By focusing on its priority areas of biotechnology and information and communications technology, Science Foundation Ireland is investing in areas with the potential to change the lives of future generations. Given that the emphasis of Government policy is on moving towards a knowledge based economy, Science Foundation Ireland will have a critical role to play in improving our ability to undertake top class research and development across the spectrum, particularly in the biotechnology and ICT sectors.
The essence of the foundation's work will be to provide the funding for the various sectors, particularly the university sector, through the research grants scheme which will provide support for our top young researchers to progress and become the best in the world. In Bill Harris, as director general, we have one of the most influential and well respected people in the world. As the House is aware, he comes from the National Science Foundation in the United States where he has been a leading professor. Since he has come to Ireland, his leadership has lifted us onto a new plain. I am confident that, with his leadership and a board made up of the most eminent people in the area of science and technology, we now have the ability to compete with anyone else in the world in terms of being at the leading edge of research. I take this opportunity to wish the foundation well.
The considerable amount of money made available by the Government, which has now been allocated to universities, is being extremely well spent. A joint venture between NUI Galway and Hewlett-Packard in Galway city involves one of the most advanced pieces of technology in the area. Universities are highly significant in terms of job creation. By way of illustration, some time ago I sat with the president of Siebel Systems, probably one of the top software companies in the world, and asked him the reason the company located in Galway. He told me that, at the time the company was choosing a European location, it was looking at Sweden, the United Kingdom, France and Ireland. Having spent half a day in NUI Galway and GMIT, the company decided to locate in Galway. What better endorsement of our education system and our young students could we have than to have them as key factors in Siebel Systems locating here? This foundation will add considerably to our ability to be at the leading edge.