Seanad debates

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

4:30 pm

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Damien English, to the House.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Cathaoirleach for the opportunity to speak on this important programme for Ireland. Horizon 2020 is a very important issue and I am glad we have a chance to discuss it here in the Seanad. I have no doubt that over the couple of years of this programme we will have a chance to have further debates.

We are involved in Ireland's strategy for participation in the biggest ever European research and innovation programme, Horizon 2020. With €80 billion of funding available over seven years, Horizon 2020 is the main EU funding programme for research and development for the period 2014 to 2020. Horizon 2020's objectives are to enable a world-class research system for Europe, support European leadership in industrial development and address grand challenges facing society.

The structure and objectives of Horizon 2020 are very much in line with our national objectives, which are raising the level of excellence in our science base, making Ireland a more attractive location to invest in research and innovation, and addressing major societal challenges by bringing together resources and knowledge across different fields, technologies and disciplines, including the social sciences and the humanities.

Research and innovation are widely recognised as the engines which will ultimately drive European economic recovery. In Ireland's case it is having a big impact on our recovery over the past couple of years. Investment in research and innovation is now increasingly advocated by European policy makers, and Governments are being urged to increase investment at national level.

As Europe exits the crisis, it is increasingly clear that supporting growth enhancing policies such as investment in research and innovation has paid off. The evidence shows that much of the recent productivity gains come from innovation and that, on average, countries that invested more in research and innovation, before and during the crisis, have been the most resilient during the economic downturn.

The Government fully supports this approach. Investment in research and innovation in Ireland will ultimately lead to increased economic activity and the creation of sustainable jobs for the future. That is why this Government has maintained strong State investment in research and innovation over the three-year period since taking office in 2011. We are committed to continuing the process of economic reform and recovery, achieving sustainable growth, strong public finances and enduring job creation.

It is fair to say that when it comes to the science agenda and the science spend, we are building on the previous seven or eight years also. We have tried to keep that going in the past three years because the correct decisions were made in this area to concentrate money on research and innovation.

As a means to drive economic growth and create jobs, Horizon 2020 has the political backing of Europe's leaders and the Members of the European Parliament. They agreed that research is an investment in our future and so put it at the heart of the European Union's blueprint for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth and jobs.

By coupling research and innovation, Horizon 2020 is helping to achieve this with its emphasis on excellent science, industrial leadership and tackling societal challenges. The goal is to ensure Europe produces world-class science, removes barriers to innovation and makes it easier for the public and private sectors to work together in delivering innovation.

Horizon 2020 is open to everyone, with a simple structure that reduces red tape and time, so that participants can focus on what is really important. This approach makes sure that new projects get off the ground quickly and achieve results faster. That is very important if we are to get the multinational sector involved in this area because the timescale for them and the red tape can be off-putting. Under Horizon 2020 we have tried to ensure, from an Irish point of view, that it is more streamlined and that decisions are made in a more speedy manner.

I am proud to say that Ireland played a very significant role by securing political agreement on Horizon 2020 during its Presidency of the Council of the European Union last year.

I am accompanied here today by two key departmental officials, Mr. Aidan Hodson, and Mr. Pat Kelly, who both had an important role in trying to get that across the line and I thank them for their work in this regard.

It is generally accepted that international collaboration on research brings together resources and pooling of knowledge and enhances scientific excellence, thus achieving greater success in addressing research problems, as well as greater efficiencies. Participating in international research programmes facilitates inward and outward mobility of researchers, access to transnational collaborative networks, access to research facilities not available in Ireland and commercialisation of ideas and know-how. In recent days, I spent some time in India on an education mission but during that time, I stressed the societal benefits that can be achieved if we bring together our national researchers and our top brains in this area. Horizon 2020 allows for this and I refer to the agenda through which Science Foundation Ireland is trying to focus and bring together talents to make joint applications. This is the best way in which to maximise the return from taxpayers' money in this regard. The European research framework programmes have always been an important element in providing international linkages and enhancing the excellence of the Irish research and development system. They have enabled academic and industry research groups to work with peers across Europe and beyond and to derive the benefits associated with collaborative research, such as access to knowledge networks, sharing of costs and risks and, in particular for industry, the possibility of opening up commercial opportunities.

Ireland's participation in the seventh framework programme, known as FP7 and which ended last year, was highly successful with more than €620 million secured by Irish researchers. That was above the target set of €600 million and was a great achievement. However, success brings greater targets and raises the bar again and, consequently, a high bar has been set for what the Government seeks to achieve under Horizon 2020. While Ireland has a solid track record on which to build further success, it cannot afford to be complacent. Horizon 2020 is a new departure. It is not business as usual and the Government must adapt its approach to it. The competition from across the EU and beyond is intense. The global economic situation has resulted in reduced national funding resources and, increasingly, researchers are looking to Europe to fill that funding gap. However, Ireland is participating in the current framework programme from a far stronger position than ever before. A critical mass of research activity has developed in both the public and private sectors and Ireland is well positioned to perform strongly under Horizon 2020. The Government perceives Horizon 2020 as an opportunity to further deepen Ireland's engagement in collaborative European and international research. This is of key importance and already, in the first year, there have been successes in this area.

As each country participating in Horizon 2020 will be targeting increased participation, only projects of excellent quality will win funding. This requires that Ireland's national research and innovation system performs at the highest competitive level. Ongoing national funding of research and innovation will be required. As Horizon 2020 is a competitive funding process, it will not be possible to use Horizon 2020 funding as an opportunity to reduce national funding. It is of key importance to maintain national funding levels, which will help to make better applications, which in turn should be more successful. All available opportunities will be used to leverage national investment to maximise funding from Horizon 2020. National funders are putting significant focus on funding nationally in areas likely to win further funding from Horizon 2020 and other sources. It is about targeting resources and making sure that all Ireland's universities, colleges and research centres are not competing for the same part of the budget. Instead, there must be a proper plan in place that attempts to target certain areas in which Ireland has a track record of being successful, where there can be major wins and where good results can be achieved. A national strategy for Horizon 2020 is in place to direct engagement in Horizon 2020. A Horizon 2020 high-level group, chaired by my Department and comprising those Departments and Government agencies whose remit includes research and innovation, is tasked with overseeing the implementation of the strategy and securing the maximum benefits for Ireland. I recently met the aforementioned strategy group a few weeks ago and a very worthwhile round-table discussion was held to update the plans. That group, under the aegis of my Department, meets every five or six weeks to make sure that the plan is in place and this is checked on an ongoing basis.

The Government has set an ambitious target for Irish researchers to win funding of €1.25 billion over the lifetime of Horizon 2020. It has put in place a national support network, co-ordinated by a national director, Dr. Imelda Lambkin, based in Enterprise Ireland. In fairness to Dr. Lambkin, she was highly successful with FP7 and her track record speaks for itself. However, she is aware of the challenges in this regard and that this must be co-ordinated as well as possible to achieve these high results. A target of €1.25 billion constitutes more than a doubling of what Ireland achieved previously. It is quite a large target and, as I noted earlier, other parts of Europe and other countries also have realised that they must double their aims and consequently, the pressure is on. However, I believe the structures are in place to achieve this goal on which we must build.

The national support network, comprising national contact points who are experts in the various research domains of Horizon 2020, provides advice and assistance to researchers seeking to participate in the programme.

The network also includes a team of national delegates for Horizon 2020 who represent Ireland's interests in Europe on the various programme committees that design the work programmes and priorities. This national support network works in tandem with the high level group in co-ordinating the national effort to maximise our participation. We set this ambitious target to go beyond what we have been doing over the past seven-year programme. To get there will require special efforts designed to identify and create additional value over and above the strong results we traditionally achieve. A more strategic approach is required aimed at participation in larger scale projects, as well as playing a larger role in projects generally.

Essentially, the objective is to get some big wins to boost our success rate. Accordingly, I recently introduced an initiative to establish a strategic research proposal group to focus exclusively on large-scale strategic projects. The purpose of this special advisory group will be to catalyse, develop and advise on the successful submission of Horizon 2020 proposals of a major scale, ones beyond the norm. This will include proposals where Ireland can take a leading or major role, taking into account timing, likelihood of success and extent of the fit with national priority areas and strengths. The group will recommend and prioritise any additional commitments, including funding from the State, that might be required to achieve success. By harnessing the expertise across all relevant Departments and agencies we hope to identify and catalyse such winning bids. This new group will be chaired by Professor Mark Ferguson, director general, Science Foundation Ireland, and chief scientific adviser to the Government. The strategic group will be able to feed back into the various levels of the Department as to what resources or personnel are needed. It is all about putting the teams together that can win big for this country in Horizon 2020.

While it is still early days with the results from the first calls under Horizon 2020, there are some encouraging signs that Ireland will continue to be successful in those areas where we have traditionally performed well in previous research framework programmes, such as health, information and communications technology, researcher career development and support for SMEs. For example, research collaborations between Irish SMEs and higher education institutions have secured over €9 million in the first outcomes in the researcher career development area of Horizon 2020 known as the Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions, MSCA. Irish research performers have achieved success rates above the EU average, outperforming organisations from France, Italy, Spain and the UK. In one programme, 57% of Irish participants were selected for funding, with one project ranked top in all of Europe. The funding will support research and innovation projects at 18 Irish research performers including nine SMEs, many of which are spin-outs from higher education institutes. It is important to recognise the success and greater involvement of SMEs this time around.

Ireland had the highest success rate in Europe in the first results under the SME instrument with 20% of SMEs who applied being successful. The ten successful SMEs will receive €50,000 each to finance feasibility studies for their projects and may be considered for further financial support from the European Commission worth up to €2.5 million per project. This success is down to greater industry involvement at all levels. We need to get this message out there. Any Members talking to businesses should encourage them to tap into this source of funding.

Horizon 2020 is very different to what has gone before and our level of ambition is far greater. Given the scale of Horizon 2020, the fact that our national research priorities are aligned so closely to it, as well as the calibre of our national research system, I believe we can meet our ambitious target under the programme. The Government is determined to make this happen. The recently announced €245 million investment by the Department in five new, large-scale, world-class research centres is aimed at achieving a step-change in the reputation and performance of Ireland's research system. This builds on the announcement of seven similar centres last year. This involves industry matching €90 million of taxpayers’ money. We are constantly trying to get real bang for our buck. If we are investing taxpayers’ moneys into research centres of excellence, it is key we get industry involvement and matching funding. As we do not have an endless budget, we must target our funding at areas where we have been successful before and in which we have expertise. Building centres of excellence which are internationally recognised as the best will prove successful in winning future funding from Horizon 2020, as well as other programmes.

With these centres, together with the Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland technology centres, Ireland is now well placed to take the lead in developing cutting-edge research and new technologies. These centres will also strongly position Irish-based scientists to win funding from Horizon 2020 and other projects.
Horizon 2020 also represents a significant opportunity for North-South co-operation. Increasing the value of successful applications and funding awards from Horizon 2020 is an important objective not just of the Irish Government but also of the Northern Ireland Executive. Members of the Joint Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation were in Stormont recently to discuss this - Senators Mullins and Quinn might have been there. It also followed on from a discussion we had last year when we were there. Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly are really keen to learn from how well we have done with FP7 and to work with us so that they can gain. The whole island can gain when we work together on some initiatives and target certain areas. Enterprise Ireland also wants this to happen. It is key that we build on this and make it a North-South opportunity wherever we can.
The international collaborative nature of Horizon 2020 makes it ideally suited for Ireland and Northern Ireland to work together to mutual benefit. The importance of North-South collaboration is recognised by both Administrations and the alignment of our Horizon 2020 support structures, North and South, means there is now a strong basis on which to improve co-operation. At our recent North-South Ministerial Council meeting, InterTradelreland informed the council that it had produced a strategy document to be signed shortly outlining how we can target coming together and working together on a North-South basis for Horizon 2020.
Ireland's national support network for Horizon 2020 operates on an all-Island basis. The work of InterTradelreland, the North-South trade and business development body, has stimulated a move away from ad hocNorth-South collaboration to a more focused, coherent approach to co-operation that will be mutually beneficial. This work is paying dividends. The number of North-South collaborations has been rising steadily. These collaborations are generating economic value. A total of 89 successful North-South projects mobilised funding valued at over €80 million from the previous EU research programme, FP7. InterTradelreland will build on this success to further increase the level of co-operation for the Horizon 2020 programme. Mr. Patsy McGlone, MLA, and his team on the committee are very eager to make this happen. I urge everybody involved in the various committees to keep that relationship going and work together. As a Minister of State, I am certainly happy to facilitate any meetings when they are down here to keep the agenda going.
InterTradelreland has also developed a suite of supports dedicated to facilitating and supporting North-South co-operation and will continue its integration role with the national support network in Ireland and the newly-established Northern Ireland support structure. In addition, Science Foundation Ireland will work in partnership with agencies in Northern Ireland to promote all-island collaboration with a view to strengthening future Horizon 2020 initiatives.
I assure the Seanad that the Government is very conscious of the significant opportunities under Horizon 2020 and of the challenges ahead to maximize our participation in the programme. We have put in place a national strategy supported by a whole-of-Government approach and it is my priority to ensure that we deliver results. In recent weeks I have had meetings involving all the universities to discuss their plans for Horizon 2020 and to ensure that everyone buys into the targets. That is how important it is. Hopefully in the coming months I will get to visit all the other institutes of education and research centres involved. Our method is to encourage industry at all levels to get involved.
Excellence is rightly the standard by which applications for EU funding are judged. We have shown we can meet this standard of excellence through winning awards of over €620 million under the previous EU research programme. As I have said we have had encouraging results already in 2014 under Horizon 2020, but a sustained effort will be required over the lifetime of the programme. It lasts until 2020 and we have to aim high to win high. We have the track record that demonstrates our ability to compete successfully and I am confident that we will continue our success under Horizon 2020.
This will have a very significant impact on increasing jobs and sustaining our economy for many years as well as finding solutions to problems in processes in health, climate change, energy and other areas affecting people here in Ireland as well as across the globe.
For us, Horizon 2020 is about being able to increase the number of researchers we have, build employment and equip our companies to compete in the future. However, it is also to bring about solutions to societal problems across the board and certainly at a European level. Ireland has a major role to play. It will benefit us all in many ways.
I thank the Senators for facilitating this debate today. I look forward to hearing their comments and responding to them afterwards.

4:50 pm

Photo of Brian Ó DomhnaillBrian Ó Domhnaill (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Minister of State to the Chamber to discuss Horizon 2020 which gives us all an opportunity to look at innovation policies across Europe that affect all European citizens, including those here in Ireland.

It is important in the context of economic development and in the context of trying to rejuvenate European economies, including the Irish economy and in combatting the advance of new technologies in other jurisdictions such as in the US, China and India and other places. It is major step in the right direction in technological innovation across Europe.
The increased funding to €80 billion is very welcome. We have come through an economic tsunami over the past five or six years. Some €620 million in funding has been given to Ireland in the last FP7, compared to the expected €1.25 billion now. However, this must be qualified by the difficulties well documented by the Irish universities sector, the difficulties in funding for third and fourth level education and also the difficulties being experienced by the SMEs. The buy-in by the public and private sectors will, to a large extent, be contingent on the availability of funds from other sources. There is a need for a debate on how universities are to be funded in the future. On the private sector side, many SMEs are experiencing difficulties as a result of the banks not lending money. This is a major issue because there is a need for co-funding from applicants.
While I welcome Horizon 2020 as a marvellous step in the right direction, it is important to qualify it - this is not a political point - in the context of our situation. Ireland was successful under the last round. I refer to some of the beneficiaries such as Trinity College, Dublin, which drew down €84 million. Our universities are doing well under Horizon 2020 objectives. I read the Irish Universities Association document entitled, Horizon 2020 - Sustaining Excellence in University Research and Innovation, published in December 2013, which dealt with some of the issues the Minister has endeavoured to address today, in particular, the need for collaboration with the university sector, the centres of excellence, North-South co-operation, working with InterTrade Ireland and Invest Northern Ireland. The all-Ireland dimension is important in that we are working closely with our counterparts in the North and the universities work closely with their counterparts in the North. I live in Donegal and the north west does not have a university, the closest institution being the University of Ulster at Magee campus. I cannot understate the importance of Irish universities based here in Dublin, Cork or elsewhere, working with the likes of the University of Ulster and Queen's University, Belfast, in order to develop innovative cross-Border projects that could benefit counties like Donegal. There is a need for this co-operation in order to benefit all the Border counties and this should be considered.
The European economy and the world economy are at a crossroads. I refer to the growth in population and the need for innovation and new technologies. The Irish EU Commissioner, Phil Hogan, today doubled the research and development funding under Horizon 2020 for the agriculture and food sector. I referred to some of the challenges. I refer to a recent article in The Guardianwhich reported on the raid on European research funding by what it termed the Robin Hood scheme whereby the vast majority of the funding - 75% of European research council funding - was going to the larger researchers hosted in the UK, Germany, France, the Netherlands and Switzerland. This poses a challenge for smaller member states such as Ireland and we will need to box clever with regard to simplifying the application process and providing agency and government support for all applications.

Simplification of the application process is also important. While universities will certainly have the expertise to assist the SME sector, we must also provide assistance to that sector to be able to help itself. I will certainly take the Minister's advice to encourage SME companies to apply for the funding, but often it is the larger foreign direct investment, FDI, concerns or the larger research-based companies that are the focus of attention, be it of the State or of Europe, and perhaps the smaller company with the good idea does not get the chance to come through for many reasons, including funding from the banking sector. There is a need to examine that as well.

Overall, however, I welcome the funding. It will be challenging to draw it down. I hope the €1.25 billion will not be our upper ambition in terms of draw down and that we will go further than that if possible by trying to prepare and assist applications from within the State to be successful at European level.

5:05 pm

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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The president of the European Research Council was here yesterday and met with many researchers. We are trying to work on that as well. The Senator raised a good point.

Photo of Hildegarde NaughtonHildegarde Naughton (Fine Gael)
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Horizon 2020 is the largest research and innovation fund in EU history and is one of the biggest publicly-funded projects in the world. It has huge implications for both the Union and Ireland. It combines all the previous work in the area into a single ring-fenced fund. Approximately €77 billion is the sum involved. That is a considerable investment in Europe's future competitiveness.
It has three distinct elements - excellent science, competitive industries and better society. By investing in science the fund will raise the standard and therefore the attractiveness of European research. This, in turn, improves our competitiveness and, importantly, will ensure a steady stream of world class European researchers. These researchers will be provided with world class infrastructure to enable their endeavours. All of this will bolster the European position as a forerunner in science and innovation. It will help attract the best brains to our shores and ensure a sharing of information and talent throughout the Union. This will help to create jobs both here and throughout the EU.
One field of research to benefit from this will be frontier research. This is research that might not have any direct industrial application and is an outlier in terms of functionality, pushing the envelope of our knowledge. However, it is recognised as having huge implications in its application to other areas. Given its somewhat indirect application to industry it is usually the first to be cut when retrenchment is the order of the day. The 2020 project, through the European Research Council, will boost investment in this area.
As well as public investment, part of the project is to encourage private investment in the sciences. The EU or its member states cannot do it themselves. Innovative companies often find it difficult to raise finance for what might be cutting edge technology because it is not well recognised in the present day. Horizon 2020 will try to bridge this gap by providing loans and guarantees as well as direct investment. This will help to stimulate confidence in the private sector to invest and therefore boost overall private sector investment in areas such as nanotechnology and nanomedicine. The general estimation is that for every €1 publicly invested, €5 of private financing is generated. The idea is that the Union will provide the lead and private funds will follow.
Horizon 2020 takes a new approach to support SME innovation. It will allow SMEs to collaborate on projects as part of a group and to receive support which will be delivered through a dedicated SME instrument. The SME instrument will provide staged supports for innovative projects which have potential for high impact. This is predicated on a sustainable business plan. In tandem with the grants there will be a coaching facility and the availability of consultation to support innovation. The process is designed to ensure a favourable environment in which SMEs can innovate and flourish. Enterprise Ireland has already appointed two dedicated European advisers to deal with SME instrument applications, one in Dublin and one in Shannon. This is very welcome and I hope the Minister will continue to review the adequacy of this number as these projects develop. I also recommend the excellent Irish dedicated website created for the purposes of the project, Horizon2020.ie.

The EU has quite rightly identified seven societal strands where innovation can have a beneficial impact for our citizens.

As we are living longer, there are huge challenges for health demographic change and well-being. Horizon 2020 will particularly focus on research, tackling some of the biggest health issues which exist in our ageing society. Alzheimer's disease and the prevalence of antibiotic-resistant superbugs which will receive particular attention.

Of particular interest in Ireland will be the concentration on food security, sustainable agriculture and forestry, marine, maritime and inland water research and the bio economy. With a booming world population we need to find different ways to sustain life on the planet, be it recycling, waste disposal or our approach to consumption and production, all the while being mindful of our human impact on the environment. With 22 million employed in the wider agricultural sector in Europe, the focus on this area in particular is to be very much welcomed.

Many Irish organisations support the initiative, including the Irish Research Council, InterTradeIreland and the National University of Ireland among many others. All of these will hold briefings and will help demystify the process.

Time does not allow me to go into all of the details of the various programmes. I note the Minister of State's comments on the success of the Irish in attracting funding in previous years and the absolute necessity of not being complacent. The appointment of a high-level review group for the Irish strategy is welcome as we have set very ambitious targets for ourselves. It is good to hear that, to date, Irish researchers have been successful in their applications at above the European norm, and long may this continue. I am particularly pleased that Ireland has the highest success rate for funding under the SME instrument. Now that the banks are starting to function again, this additional and alternative source of funding will go some way to alleviating the difficulties SMEs have been experiencing since the downturn. After all, they are the lifeblood of our economy.

I am very supportive of Horizon 2020, which is an enormous opportunity to maintain and increase Ireland's standing in the field of research and innovation. We have set ambitious targets. The initial signs are good but we must not become complacent, as the Minister of State said. I look forward to further developments. Will the Minister of State commit to returning to the House to keep us updated on the progress made?

5:10 pm

Photo of Feargal QuinnFeargal Quinn (Independent)
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The Minister of State is very welcome. We worked together on the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. He will be pleased to know that last week we visited Belfast again and had a very fruitful trip. We spoke about some of the issues mentioned by the Minister of State, such as InterTradeIreland working with us and seeing what can be achieved. I congratulate the Minister of State and we are delighted to have him in the hot seat now. We will ensure we will not make it too hot for him.

I welcome the debate on this topic. The funding is very useful and potentially will go to very worthy causes. It is notable that a call was made this month for proposals for the development of a vaccine to combat Ebola and for medical treatment to save lives. This will be high on the list of targets of anybody in the area. Will the Minister of State elaborate on how SMEs will be informed on how to apply for a Horizon 2020 funding? Many SMEs are not aware of opportunities, and some of them may not have the time or resources to apply. What measures does the Government aim to take to aid SMEs in this area?

I also welcome the fact the EU aims to reduce red tape to make it easier for companies to apply for research funding. As the Minister of State knows, this is an old hobbyhorse of mine. Will the Minister of State comment on whether there is too much overlap, or potential duplication, in funding streams? We have various national funding schemes and various other schemes at EU level. It is getting very confusing for businesses. Surely there should be harmonisation or alignment of national and EU funding schemes, or a one stop shop where SMEs could see at a glance what schemes are available and which overlap. Ideally, SMEs would not waste time and resources by applying for grants that are not right for them. I am interested to hear the Minister of State's thoughts on this.

There are great opportunities, but I fear that many smaller businesses are not aware of how to go about availing of them or ensuring that they are not overlapping.
Another major issue is the fact that co-operation between companies is often crucial for success, in that they use different resources to produce products. It would be highly beneficial were the EU and the Government to invest resources in bringing companies together to make stronger products. I have a little bit of experience in this regard. Superquinn worked with Trinity College, which had developed IdentiGEN for the tracing of meat, to bring a successful product to the market. We were the first to do it. However, this would not have happened had a commercial company not worked with the university researching the product. IdentiGEN is now being sold worldwide. Co-operation between the research and business sides was vital. I note that Trinity College has again been successful in getting Horizon 2020 grants.
On the topic of research, Senator Ó Domhnaill mentioned that there had been some criticism of Horizon 2020's funding, in that the amounts awarded were too large and, thus, only a limited number of researchers could be reached. He cited a Guardianarticle dated 7 November, which stated: "If [European Research Council] starting grants were up to €400,000 instead of up to €2m, five times more early-career researchers (ie 1500) could be funded yearly." This makes a strong point that is worthy of consideration. Does the Minister of State agree that smaller grants might be better suited to invigorating research? It seems unusual to seek smaller grants but, given Senator Ó Domhnaill's figures on the few large countries that are able to avail of larger grants, this is understandable in a smaller country with smaller businesses.
What are we doing to get Irish researchers and academics to practise abroad? Language skills present an obvious barrier to mobility. Can we do anything to improve? The Government has provided significant opportunities via Horizon 2020. It would be a shame if we did not make use of them in every way we can. The ability of businesses to co-operate with research departments in universities has been proven, but we must not limit ourselves to Ireland alone. Let us see about co-operating abroad as well.
I congratulate the Minister of State. He and his team have put together a strong case that is worthy of support.

5:15 pm

Photo of Mary MoranMary Moran (Labour)
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With a budget of just under €80 billion and covering the 2014-20 period, Horizon 2020 is the EU's largest ever research and innovation programme. Its objectives are to enable the creation of a world class research system for Europe, support European leadership in industrial development and address the grand challenges affecting society.

Under the 2007-13 seventh framework programme for research, technological development and innovation, Ireland secured almost €600 million in funding and managed to achieve the national target set for participation. The Government's aim for the next stage of the programme leading up to 2020 involved setting an ambitious target of €1.25 billion in funding, which was approved in December 2013.

The programme set out by the Government covers a wide range of strategies that aim to maximise our participation in Horizon 2020 and achieve the targets. Recently, the Joint Committee on European Union Affairs received submissions from various organisations and stakeholders on Horizon 2020's mid-term review. It must be recognised that the economic landscape in Europe bears little resemblance to that of the early years of the millennium and the economic context underpinning the framework has undergone complete transformation. On the positive side, good progress has been made in education, climate change and energy.

However, the issues of unemployment, particularly youth unemployment, along with poverty and research and development have been much more challenging.

The Europe 2020 strategy sets a target employment for 20 to 64 year olds of 75% or 16 million additional people in employment. In Ireland's case the number in employment was up 31,600 or 1.7% to the end of the second quarter in 2014, which is one of the strongest growth rates in Europe.

One of the flagship initiatives under Horizon 2020 is the underpinning of a single digital market for Europe. However, the success of this initiative is under threat from the issues surrounding data protection. While it is vital that data continue to be allowed to flow across borders if businesses are to achieve their full potential, there has to be a balance between privacy and enterprise and the proposed legislation will need to take this into account. The target for research and development to reach 3% of GDP by 2020 will not be easy to achieve.

In the area of education, the Better Europe Alliance has put forward a good suggestion which would involve setting subtargets to highlight the different participation and outcome levels for specific groups of young people. In Ireland that could include Traveller children, children with disabilities or special learning needs and children living in disadvantaged areas. Setting subtargets for these groups could help to focus resources on the areas most in need.

Excellent science, competitive industry and better society are the three priorities of Horizon 2020. It is a very ambitious undertaking with the promise of huge rewards in many facets of life. Midway to 2020, it would certainly seem to be a case of refocusing and re-assessing in the context of the recent economic upheavals. Devising strategies to deal with the continuing problems of poverty and youth unemployment would seem to pose the most daunting challenges.

As I should have said at the start of my contribution, I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House. I wish to reiterate that he is doing a great job and I fully support Horizon 2020.

5:20 pm

Photo of Kathryn ReillyKathryn Reilly (Sinn Fein)
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I welcome the Minister of State to the House. Some of my comments will be around the digital agenda for Europe as part of Horizon 2020. The European Commission figures suggest that the app-economy workforce will rise by 4.8 million by 2018 with revenues more than tripling to €63 billion. We also know around 90% of jobs by 2020 will require workers to have skills in information and communication technologies. Therefore, as Europe becomes an increasingly fertile ground for digital content and applications, this infrastructure will enable Europeans to distribute their creations globally.

When I was researching for this debate, I looked at the Horizon 2020 website and its section on the digital agenda which led me to different issues, one of them being cyber security. While I do not know whether cyber security falls under the remit of the Minister of State, I will mention it briefly because it comes under the broad umbrella of Horizon 2020, and I wanted to raise the topic. In the communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions, and as part of cyber security, there is a strategy for better Internet safety for children. The strategy recommends that industry should be encouraged to take steps, including proactive measures, to remove child sex abuse material from the Internet, which is pertinent in the wake of the announcement by UPC the other week. Some concerns have been raised about such systems because they would raise significant privacy and data protection issues that have not been addressed, particularly as what is envisaged is a self-regulatory system that does not have a legislative basis or judicial oversight.

While removing the paedo-pornographic content from the Internet is vital and needed to combat child abuse worldwide, the term "preventing viewing" could refer to filters installed and controlled by end users or a network-wide blocking of websites. As has been pointed out by many experts, a network-wide blocking of websites raises serious concerns about fundamental rights and freedoms. In 2010, the European Data Protection Supervisor, when discussing these issues, mentioned a need to have appropriate safeguards to ensure that monitoring or blocking would only be done in a targeted way under judicial control and that there would not be a misuse of the mechanism. Given that the function of filtering or blocking is carried out by external actors, that raises issues of transparency, accountability and legitimacy and calls them into question.

The particular relevance of that to this debate and the digital agenda is the issue of mission creep, in that other content could be brought within the scope of blocking or filtering and the objective could move beyond that of crime prevention to take on other roles. As such, the need for categories of appropriate content should be clearly and precisely defined to prevent the excessive application of filtering and to ensure proportionality. I raise this issue because it has been argued that filtering is not conducive to the positive developments that ICT can facilitate, such as innovation and stronger democracies. The Minister of State also referred to how evidence showed that many of the recent productivity gains stemmed from innovation. With this in mind, there is a concern that filtering could lead to mission creep, thereby inhibiting some of the innovations that we would like to see in the digital field.

A broadly based group of stakeholders meets every four to six weeks under the chairmanship of the Minister of State's Department to oversee the implementation and further development of the national strategy for Horizon 2020. In terms of monitoring, are the outcomes of these meetings published on the Department's website or elsewhere?

The Government is encouraging small to medium-sized enterprises, SMEs, to engage in large collaborative projects or to seek support through the dedicated SME instrument for highly innovative smaller companies. On what basis has this approach been agreed and do SMEs have a successful track record in collaborative projects in this setting?

I thank the Minister of State for all his work.

5:25 pm

Photo of Michael MullinsMichael Mullins (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister of State to the House and wish him well in his new and challenging role. I saw his dedication and commitment at first hand when he was Chairman of the Oireachtas jobs committee. He is now in a position to deliver the goods.

This programme is one of the most exciting and best goods news stories that we have heard in a long time. Running from 2014 to 2020, this fund of €80 billion forms part of a drive to create new jobs growth in Europe. Not only is it Europe's largest ever research and innovation programme, it is the world's largest. It is designed to raise the level of excellence in our science base, to make Ireland a more attractive location in which to invest in research and innovation and to address many societal issues.

Senator Quinn referred to the main issue, namely, how to spread the message of this good news and ensure that SMEs throughout the country are aware that such a resource is available to them. This investment could help drive our recovery. Since the Government entered into office in 2011, there has been steady investment in research and development, but this is a major additional injection for the next six years.

I welcome the Minister of State's comment on how this would make it easier for the public and private sectors to work together, in that there would be less red tape. If there is one issue that small businesses keep raising with us, it is the amount of red tape they encounter and their difficulty in accessing information and grants. I welcome the fact that a high-level group has been put in place, chaired by the Minister of State's Department and with a support network in Enterprise Ireland, to drive this programme with dedication and commitment. I also welcome the fact that universities and colleges will be in a position to leverage much of the funding. I am conscious that, under previous programmes, my university of University College Galway was a significant beneficiary of funding for research and development projects that had considerable impacts on society.

The Minister of State referred to the societal challenges facing us as a nation. It is important that priority is being given to projects targeting some of the serious issues that will face our world in the years ahead. Senator Naughton referred to the need for investment in projects to assess and help with people's major health issues, but we are also conscious of the fact that the world's population will reach 9 billion by 2050. We need to change our approach to production, consumption, recycling and waste disposal radically while minimising the environmental impact.

Smart, green and integrated transport present significant research and investment opportunities. Transport systems as we know them are probably unstable in the long term. We rely heavily on reducing stocks of oil, which makes us less energy secure. I hope that some of the projects that emerge from Horizon 2020's considerable investment will address issues of climate change, energy and raw materials. The era of never-ending cheap resources is coming to an end and access to raw materials and clean water can no longer be taken for granted. Biodiversity and ecosystems are also under pressure. The solution is to invest now in innovation and to support a green economy, one that is in sync with the natural environment. The Horizon 2020 investment will make a significant contribution to our society and the world.

I strongly support Senator Quinn's comments on North-South collaboration. During our recent visit to Stormont, we received fine presentations from InterTradeIreland on the level of co-operation between businesses and small industry on both sides of the Border. The fact that 89 North-South projects were mobilised under the previous programme and drew down €80 million in funding augurs well for the potential of this model.

I wish the Minister of State success in driving this innovative and necessary programme. Many companies have the potential to benefit from it and a significant number of SMEs have already drawn down up to €50,000 each. Like Senator Quinn, I am anxious to ensure that it is made easier for smaller companies to gain access to this funding. I look forward to having the Minister of State appear in the House regularly to provide updates on how matters are progressing, but he should take on board our request that information on the roll-out of Horizon 2020 to small businesses be provided in a timely and professional manner so that everyone has an opportunity to benefit from the significant resources that will be made available during the next six years.

I am also pleased to hear the Minister of State say that the money will be made available through the European Union and the programme will not reduce the Government's commitment to investing in research and development into the future. We need to keep in mind that some of the things that will be manufactured and used in our world in five to ten years' time have not even been thought about yet. All we need do is look at how information technology has changed in the past decade. We can only dream and imagine what the scientists and innovators of tomorrow will create. We live in exiting and challenging times for our world and environment and I hope Ireland will play a central role in solving some of the many difficult issues that confront the world today.

5:35 pm

Photo of Gerard CraughwellGerard Craughwell (Independent)
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I welcome the Minister of State. I hate to be the one to put a bit of a damper on things with my comments and hope I am wrong. For the first two years of Horizon 2020 I understand that €15 billion will be laid aside. The Seventh Framework Programme had nearly €11 billion in 2013 which did not include funding for a competitiveness and innovation framework but that is now included as part of Horizon 2020. Why was a more aggressive approach not taken when it came to deriving funding for this programme? What does that tell us about innovation as a driver of the economy in the European context? Funding seems to have been reduced which, to my mind, is an austerity approach.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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The Senator should look at the whole framework but I understand the point he has made.

Photo of Gerard CraughwellGerard Craughwell (Independent)
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My colleague, Senator Quinn, suggested there should be a one-stop-shop. One of the things that I have found about funding in this country is that there is a multiplicity of funding sources and sometimes it becomes so confusing that one loses track of where one is going. Therefore, I support the call for a simple one-stop framework to access funding.

Higher education institutes will be the key drivers of economic activity but I wonder how much will be invested in the initiative. The Minister of State's statement mentioned universities and the Higher Education Authority when he referred to Horizon 2020. Is there funding for the institutes of technology and further education sectors? Traditionally, the further education sector has not been involved in research. It should be included, particularly when deriving and developing programmes for second chance learners and the like. Has a specific body been named or mentioned to attract and match private sector funding for Horizon programmes? The regional spread is something that I am sure will cause many debates at many meetings around the country. What has been done about the matter?

With respect to STEM subjects in schools, we have seen the development of Coder Dojo which is now an international and probably global driving force at national school level and beyond. Computer programming is now just another language that children learn and the Minister of State will know the benefits of same. Is there funding available for innovation in this area? If we get children young and train them then the chances are the benefits will be felt right through the economy as those generations start to grow.

Those are just some of my concerns. I congratulate the Minister of State and welcome him to the House. I wish him well with the job that he has taken on.

Photo of Sean BarrettSean Barrett (Independent)
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I welcome the Minister of State and wish him well.

Some of the warning signs that Senator Craughwell has referred to came out of group think herd instincts in property which was a disaster. I see so little analysis of the research and innovation sector that I worry it could be the next herd instinct group think. I am afraid that we will all gallop in one direction that is without substance.

Over the years, and long before the Minister of State's time, this sector has shown a remarkable ability never to evaluate its performance, programme after programme. Economists were never let near them because people were afraid of what we would say. The insider guys gave themselves big grants and so on. They felt very good about doing so but they must be answerable to a stronger Department of Finance. We have spent an awful lot of money on this sector but I have seen remarkably little in the form of results. I see remarkable resistance by all the bodies concerned to ever being evaluated.

There has never been a response, that I can recall, to an bord snip nua's criticism of the level of bureaucracy involved in universities in administering research grants. I think 70 programmes, in both UCD and TCD, were paid far more than the lecturers and the people who carried out the research. I have confirmed those numbers but I could not get anybody to take an interest in the matter. This could be a kind of monster that the banking system proved to be in its time because nobody is asking questions. Nobody is saying "Where are the results? These are all huge inputs but when can we see the outputs?"

The report on innovation by the last Government was spectacularly short of any attempt to evaluate. Parliament cannot have people coming in with one wishlist after another. That is just bankers saying "Give me another €64 billion so I will feel richer and we will send the bill off later on." The time for results is long over as far as these programmes are concerned. I have mentioned an bord snip nua concerns about the matter. One does not want to divert market activities into subsidy seeking. Firms will be pretty skilful at transferring their research activities into some place that will be subsidised by the Minister of State which is great because the profits will look better. Some guy will give an after dinner speech totally in favour of research on condition that the Minister of State pays for it.

The success of the United States is due to a lot of the research being funded by firms that do not make after dinner speeches calling on the state to do so. We are looking now at the base being eroded by profit shifting - the new corporate tax mechanism. Part of the onus should be put on the members of the advocacy groups, including IBEC, to put in some money upfront and to stop saying we would like it all done for free. We have learned the lesson that we cannot give everything to everybody without borrowing vast amounts of money.

The Minister of State claimed that the EU aims to reduce red tape but that will be the day. The EU is built on red tape which has now been translated into 26 languages. I wish the EU well but I will not hold my breath.

Firms should not offload their research programmes. Mathematics is the basis of this issue. I have tried, in my education career and wider policy career, to interest people in improving mathematics in primary schools in Ireland but only a handful of people responded. The institutions are not interested and most mathematicians are not interested. The Hickman research from Harvard shows that studying maths in the early years is crucial. We have so many unqualified people teaching mathematics in Irish schools that it makes me wonder if this whole edifice is built on sand. The Minister of State, along with the Minister for Education and Skills, should make it their priority to address the problem.

When I was in primary school I was taught that úll agus úll eile equals dhá úll. A lot of primary teachers say they were not prepared during their teaching training even for that level of mathematics. That is to our disadvantage and means many IDA firms have to import staff. There is too much advocacy and too little analysis happening in this area which has occurred for a very long time.

In terms of research, I would go for flexible portfolio projects and maybe drop 20% of them ever year in order to keep the scheme moving. People get nailed into subsidies for research. They think it is their career but it is not because this is meant to be a dynamic sector.

One must also be concerned about the diversion of resources in universities away from lecturing which is what they are there to do.

The role of the universities is to produce the next crop of undergraduates. I have heard it said that one could use the money to buy out one's teaching. Why would I do that? My job is to train the next crop of students between 18 and 22. What I describe occurs a little too frequently. One person with whom I was debating this said he had not been teaching-centric in his career. The message has to go out to people like him that universities are teaching-centric. That is their job. This points to the hidden cost of the programme.

After what has happened to us, we really must be aware of the position of Europe, which led us into the currency. As Mr. Draghi said this morning, the equivalent of 85% of Irish GDP had to be given to keep the banks liquid. That policy came from Europe. This time around, we do not want another example of herd instinct where we gallop over a cliff.

May I say a word about my own subject? Economics departments in most Irish universities have been reduced in size. They were never more important. We need to evaluate policies, the single currency and every single item of public expenditure put to the Government for approval and appraisal. We do not have the relevant expertise. The Wright report showed that approximately 7% of the staff in the Department of Finance were qualified to Master's level, or above, in economics. The equivalent figure in Canada was 60%. We do not do project appraisal in banks either. There is insufficient economic expertise. Economists were used for PR purposes. We know the damage they did to the country.

The networks problem is solved. With the Internet, I can put a message through to San Francisco, to an individual on my campus or to the office next door in the same time. Therefore, stimulating networks may not be necessary given the changes in technology.

The Minister of State’s speech referred to a high-level group. Senator Reilly referred to mission creep, as did Senator Craughwell. The Minister of State referred to “A ... high-level group, chaired by my Department and comprising those Departments and Government agencies whose remit includes research and innovation”. The country is weighed down with high-level groups; that is the problem. We need the expertise to do the research and produce the results. The PR on the results is heavy. I recall the number of times, both North and South, that I have heard the cure for cancer announced on “Morning Ireland”. It is a regular event now. When will the product be in the shops, Mr. Researcher? The researcher would say he would need a bigger grant to tell me that. There is an industry that is diverting itself from producing the products the rest of us need.

The other point that worried me was the emphasis on large-scale projects in the Minister of State's speech. He said that if we do not get project appraisal right, we will have large-scale failures. The concept of being too big to fail could apply to research in addition to the banks, which are supposed to be too big to fail. The Minister said the strategic research proposals will focus exclusively on large-scale strategic projects. This results in a bigger risk.

Another point I am concerned about relates to the five new, large-scale, world-class research centres. My remarks are intended to be genuinely helpful and I would not want them to be made in a spirit that would undermine national purpose or morale. We heard about research centres before. There is hardly a plot of ground left on some university campuses as a result our having gone on a massive building campaign. Is this the dominance of scientific research or the result of the builder lobby, which had so much influence in bringing the country to the brink? What is the research? Where is it published and what does it do? Where is it commercialised?

One of my best students was the greatest innovator in European aviation. The Minister of State will know who he is. The individual in question, Mr. O’Leary, addressed three simple matters: price, product and productivity. He gave the lowest price by far of any of the airlines. He changed the nature of the product and achieved productivity numbers way in excess of those of competitors. He did so as part of a normal course. If we had set up an institution of aviation studies, it would now be costing the State millions or billions of euro. The Minister of State has to be wary of that.

We need evaluation in this area really badly. If we keep adding to programmes, nothing will ever get dropped and the country will never solve its public finances problem. We will just have incrementalism the whole time. If each new project has its PR agency and the budget goes up, nothing will ever get dropped and we will not be able to get out of the bind we are in.

The scientists and engineers have done remarkably well. It is time for them to produce some results for the rest of us and not fall into the previous pitfalls of an economy built on banking and building. There is a need for a more balanced portfolio. The lack of economic expertise in this area, many areas in the public sector and in banks has to be addressed as part of research programmes because the lack of it is one of reasons the country went on the rocks a number of years ago.

5:45 pm

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Seanad for the opportunity to discuss this subject. Senator Barrett outlined the main reason we should be here. We need to tease this out and discuss it a lot more. It is important and that is why I am delighted everybody involved in decision-making, be it in the Seanad, the committee or Dáil, can tease out the whole agenda pertaining to Horizon 2020. I have been asked by a few Senators to come back on this. I would have no problem coming back every week on it because it is of the utmost importance. It concerns the one area we are actually getting right as a country. I am not referring solely to activity of the current Government over the past three years as successive Governments over the past ten years have got this right. I will be happy to consider how we are progressing in three or four months but it is important that those who want to contribute familiarise themselves with the exact details and get stuck in. Then we can have a proper discussion on it.

I chaired the committee responsible for the enterprise, jobs and innovation agenda. I have said on many occasions since that we did not spend enough time on the innovation agenda. It is difficult to be fully informed about it. It is the one area we will have to become informed about, however. I, as Minister of State responsible for the agenda, am prepared to work, through the committee I chaired or a separate one, with those who are interested in this area. It is important that we know what we are spending our money on and why it is worth spending.

Senator Barrett is correct that it is important that we evaluate this. I am very impressed with the evaluation I have seen, and with the peer-to-peer evaluation. I refer to the international perception of the Irish success and to Irish investment and what is emerging from that. I will not revert to what happened in the past; I can only speak about what is happening now. I would be very happy to sign off on the system to evaluate the benefits accruing from our taxpayers' money. I am in this job for only three or four months but have spent a lot of time meeting the relevant players, particularly those in the business environment, who are best positioned to judge value for money and what they believe they are getting out of the system. They say many companies are choosing to locate in this country because they realise the benefits of and value that accrues from our research, development and innovation agenda. They say that is one of the main reasons they are locating here. While they may be motivated by the tax regime, etc., they believe the real agenda is innovation. The companies recognise the effort successive Irish Governments have made on the research agenda. Coming here involves a big decision.

An important point, to be discussed by the committee, concerns whether we are getting value for money from the research and development grants and tax incentives. The best way to judge is to examine the companies increasing the numbers they employ. These are the companies that are investing in research and development, and they are working with all our research centres and institutes on the research agenda. These are the companies that are expanding, innovating and increasing their employment. To me, that is proof enough of the value of grants and tax incentives.

On the overall research agenda, are we getting value for money through universities and institutes of technology? There will always be a question about this. However, where we have focused our money in the research centres and targeted key areas, we have been getting value for money, and this will increase. Our success with FP7 and Horizon 2020 has proven that. The spin-off benefits and the commercialisation of which Senator Barrett spoke prove it also.

The targets are now being set. Key performance indicators are being set in terms of what we want to achieve every year regarding the training of new researchers, spin-off effects and disclosures. I attended an event in Trinity College, Dublin, a few weeks ago because the college reached its 500th disclosure. That is proof that those concerned are getting the commercialisation agenda into their heads. This is the one significant benefit that will help in the evaluation of our expenditure here and prove it is worth spending money here.

I assure the House that it is difficult arguing with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to get money in this area. One does not get it for fun. Unless one can prove that it will result in value and have an impact, one will not get the resources. There has been an increased allocation from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, through my Department, for capital expenditure on research and development in the various centres. That proves we have won the argument in this regard. I would be happy at any stage to engage with concerned individuals and go through the figures. I encourage Senators to talk to Mr. Mark Ferguson, chairman of Science Foundation Ireland, which is driving the impact agenda. The impact must result in value for money. On the question of whether we are getting a return on our expenditure in this area, I believe we are. I ask Senators to engage with Mr. Ferguson on this and buy into the process.

If Members are not happy then let us change the strategy but I think they will be when they see the results because there is proof there and there is a system so they can track the money being spent. It may not have been there in the past - I will not speak for the past - but it is there now. It is important because this country has invested heavily in this agenda over the last ten years. It will serve us well, but we must keep it going and if there is any doubt in people's mind, I would urge them to get fully informed and check it out. I will make available any information they want on this issue and I suggest that they take time out to go and visit some of the research centres. This is not capital spend or building new buildings. It is bringing together all the best brains of all our institutions, including our institutes of technology, in the research centres with SMEs and companies to drive the spend and put money together. I am sorry if I gave the impression that it did not include institutes of technology. It includes all our higher education institutions - universities and institutes of technology.

The only way to prove one is spending taxpayers' money wisely is to see industry adding money to it. Most of these research centres have at least 30% matched funding from industry. That would not happen if industry did not believe in it. That is encouraging, but it is an area that we must all get more involved with and examine more, because it is not something that Deputies and Senators have enough time for. We must make time for it because it is a major agenda for this country and our recovery has been built on it.

A couple of issues were raised. If I miss any points because I run out of time I will provide answers in writing, but Senators should feel free to shout at me if I miss something as I am going along.

Senator Ó Domhnaill raised the issue of our participation being contingent on universities and SMEs and their funding. He is right, but we are very conscious of the need to maintain that level and we have increased the spend in this area to make sure of this. There is no point in us setting a target of Horizon 2020 and then pulling the rug from under it, so we are not doing that. We are putting the extra money in where it is needed. The high-level working group is not a talking shop. Its purpose is to ensure that we are on track every month with what we are doing here. If we see a gap, for example, that we cannot expect Trinity or UCD to be successful in a project without extra resources or money at the right place and time, we will ensure that we are providing enough resources to encourage a multinational or an SME to work with institutes of technology. Each area has been asked to coordinate plans. There is one coordinating plan for all institutes of technology. The universities generally have their own as well, but everyone has been asked to have their little plan in place so that we can monitor the situation and check on a regular basis that we are on track to achieve success. The institutes of education were the reason we won over half the money the last time and we need them to do the same again this time. They know that. They know their role in this and they know they must step up and do that. They are willing to do that and they all have plans in place for it, so we will monitor that too.

The Senator also referred to the fact that 75% of ERC money goes to larger countries. That is correct. Ireland has improved its position in relation to the drawdown of ERC money over the last couple of years and that is why the president of the European Research Council was here yesterday, complimenting Ireland's improvement in this area. He was brought here to engage with all our research communities to see how we can improve on that, because it is an area we want to improve on. I had a good chat with him yesterday and addressed the conference myself as well, but there is room for improvement in that respect. We have had over €51 million in funding from the ERC through 40 different research applications, so we must build on that and improve on it because it is not meant to be set aside for larger countries. We are trying to target each part of the research budget to see how we can win bigger. One must break it down and look at each one individually and we are doing that as well, so we are making progress.

Senator Naughton spoke about frontier research. This is also important. It goes back to the issue Senator Barrett mentioned about the money getting lost in the system. Over the past three or four years, we have driven a prioritisation agenda. The State, through taxpayers' money, is only funding major research in key areas. The scattergun approach does not work for us anymore. We cannot afford to spend money chasing every dream out there and supporting all blue skies research. We would like to but we cannot, so we are trying to target the money through more focused research for priority areas, namely, applied research. It is still important that we have some blue skies research and some basic research to keep the overall pot going and keep researchers developing that. That is probably best achieved through the frontier research, which allows for the combination of basic and applied research. In terms of value for money, as an economist will always look for, as I would coming from an accountancy background, applied research is where one will see the real impact, but we must have basic research to ensure we can have applied research in the future. I agree with having great participation in the ERC.

It is important to maintain support for SMEs. We want to have SME participation and we have had some good results in that area. A few Senators, including Senator Quinn, have asked how this happens and who drives that agenda. That is mainly done through Enterprise Ireland, the body that we have all decided is the best body to work with our SMEs and businesses for future growth and exports. Through Imelda Lambkin and Gerry, whose second name I forget, it is doing great work as an agency to drive this agenda and is working with SMEs as well to ensure they are in a position to work as part of research teams who can make the drawdown here. There are different opportunities for SMEs and larger companies to get into this system and to be part of the ecosystem as well. There are also reviews on a regular basis, to ensure we are attracting SMEs in a strong enough way.

How does one picture the research ecosystem? How does one see where one can fit in as a small company or a start-up? We are developing a directory on this, which will be published in December, to enable people to tap into the system and see where is the best place to go with an idea or a concept. We are trying to say that one must engage with the educational and research community through the research centres, through the universities and institutes of technology. That is the best way of doing this and one develops that collaboration - businesses and institutes of education draw down money together, putting the brains together with the innovator or the driver of an initiative through a business. That works quite well and that is how to develop that.

There are dedicated contact points for SMEs and regular information events for SMEs, North and South. The directory will help show that. On 2 December there will be a major showcase in the National Convention Centre which will set out the research ecosystems. I encourage people, including Senators, to come to that to engage and meet with all those involved in the research community to see what they are doing. It will be laid out in a good structure so one will be able to see the best area for a person with a particular background to engage. It will be a good place to display what is going on, because I accept that even for me coming in here, it is difficult to see everything. This is how one will see it - a showcase, with a directory following on from that as well. People will have a chance to see it and to find out how to get more involved. There are also grants to support travel for SMEs to get involved in this. Chasing Horizon 2020 money and chasing various funding requires one to go out there and look for it.

Senator Quinn mentioned foreign languages. One must go and win it and sell it and actually convince people, so international collaborations are necessary, but so are language competencies to enable one to argue a case and compete. There is a serious drive, cross-Border and throughout Europe, to work together. Most of our universities and institutes of technology are working on teams that include North-South collaboration, and collaboration with Scotland, the UK and further afield. I attended an event in Trinity in August and they were involved with Norway, Sweden, Spain, the UK, Denmark and Ireland in a drawdown. The research agenda is breaking down borders and bringing everyone together, which is what should happen at a European level if we are to get results for Europe, not just for Ireland. That is the whole idea behind Horizon 2020.

There was talk about having smaller versus larger grants. One needs both. To be able to achieve success in important areas, of which energy would be one, one must have large-scale grant opportunities and drawdown, but the system is designed in such a way that to achieve a big win or a large-scale grant one must have major participation from a number of players. It is not a case of one player stepping in and winning a big pot of money. It is only a collaboration. One does not get a big win unless one has a big number of people coming together across business and the academic community, working together to get that big win. That is what we are trying to do to drive scale. It is bringing a number of people together and it will also nearly always involve a number of countries to get that big win. Then the question is how to divvy up the money. It is apportioned in an agreed manner, so that one will know what each country won, but it will be a collaboration as well.

On the simplification of red tape, we all agree that there is too much red tape in our own system and certainly in the European system as well. The new Commission's agenda is to stop making new laws in Europe, but rather to start simplifying existing laws and cutting red tape. This was also said to us last January when we were there as a committee - and Members here attended with me - and we had three or four days of meetings with the various players in Europe. I hope that continues. As Deputies and Senators, we will be part of that, and we must drive that agenda as well. In the area of Horizon 2020, they have cut the red tape. They have cut the timescale and they have cut other areas as well, to make it easier to draw down money and to coordinate an application, so that if one goes in and fails on the first attempt, one may come back on the next attempt, meaning that there is much more encouragement to get involved in the system. It is probably still too cumbersome. From talking to multinational companies to get them involved, it seems it is too long for their timescale, because a businessperson makes a decision much quicker. They decide today what is going to happen and then move on the next day, but when one is applying for funding, that is taxpayers' money, co-ordinated at European level, and one will not be able to get the answer in a month. It does not work that way.

It will probably take about a year to put an application together and then win and draw down the funding and so on, but it is a lot quicker than it was before. It is in case of building on that as well. We have a lot of structures in place to facilitate that.

Senator Moran raised the issue of the proposed data protection legislation. We will need a balanced approach on that to protect privacy, which is also part of the agenda. We are ensuring our MEPs raise that constantly at European level in order to get the message across.

There was a reference to developing networks and a suggestion that we do not need networks as we are beside each other. It should be borne in mind that a lot of the funding and the research tenders aim to develop new networks to be able to cater for the demands of the future. In the Tyndall National Institute research centre they are working on the whole concept of the "internet of things". They have proven to me that we are only at about 10% capacity today compared to what is going to be going through the networks in years to come. We are not even at the races. We have to be constantly thinking of news ways to be able to avail of that and to be part of it. New networks get the information to join thinking together and bring IT equipment together. It is a big area, a whole big data agenda. Ireland can be major player in it but we need to get in there and be well informed about what is going on. It is not as simple as just developing a new network to be able to pass information to each other. We will have be able to carry the information that is going to come down the line in the future. We are only starting in this area. What I see going on is surprising me every day. The companies that are involved in innovation research, the projects they are developing and what they are doing with the future, is very interesting and we can get involved with it. Horizon 2020 is part of that agenda as well.

Senator Reilly raised the issue of cybersecurity. It falls slightly outside the remit of Horizon 2020 but there is some spin-off from the Horizon 2020 application. It will be part of it, although it is not technically there. We are working on it with a couple of colleagues. The Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Dara Murphy, will be part of this agenda with me. It is a very important issue. Cybersecurity and cyberbullying go back to the area of education. We have consultations with students on a regular basis where we ask them what issues are affecting and bothering them. Usually when I attend a class or an event with students the first issue they bring up is cyberbullying. They all put their hands up. Nobody really has the answer to that. I would advocate stretching the agenda to fit these issues. It is certainly something we have to address at European level as it is of major concern to young people. Some of the Senators are more involved in education than I am and they will know this. It is a new area for me to get involved in but all of us have a duty to do a bit of work on it. The question of what is going to happen in this area is the biggest fear I would have as a new parent. We have to protect ourselves and our children.

Senator Craughwell raised the issue of funding for institutes of technology. They are absolutely involved in this as well. It is probably fair to say that the universities have built up a greater capacity for research and development over the years but the institutes of technology are right in there because they are at the heart of business. They are at the front line within industry on a daily basis. They are very much part of what we are trying to do here. They have a co-ordinating unit among them to try to drive this agenda, and they have had a major role in drawing down the funding. I will be working very closely with them as they are essential to what we are trying to do, which is to bring all the players together.

The Senator also expressed a concern as to whether the funding had been cut. He would have to look at the framework over the six or seven years. When a new framework is started, there will not be a flood of applications in the first year. It generally happens in years two, three and four. In the overall budget and timeframe there is an increase of about 30% match for match, even allowing for the new area that we have taken in. This is a major increase in funding and it was hard fought for. The Department of Enterprise, Jobs and Innovation was a major player in that because it was sorted out during the Irish Presidency. There was a lot of work involved and it was not easy to get the money allocated. A lot of governments in Europe said we were under too much pressure in other areas and that we needed money spent elsewhere. It is a hard-won increase and it will be spent very well, with the greatest of scrutiny, because we do not get money out of Europe that easily.

This is one agenda we have to scrutinise and it will stand up to scrutiny. It is about impact, making sure we are getting value for our money and getting results. Impact is the word. If impact cannot be proven in the science agenda these days, it is very hard to get money. This goes back to the commercialisation agenda. Are we getting the results out of that? Are we going to get products and processes and new initiatives as well as jobs and solutions? I think we are, but we need to make it happen faster.

At a national level we now have a knowledge transfer office. Its job is to make it easier to turn the research into useful data and material that will be commercialised. If a company wants to tap in to research, it can find a way. In the past it was complicated; companies had to deal with each university, institute of technology or college differently. The job of the transfer offices at local and national level is to make it easier to engage with that information and with the research community in order to extract the information and get it commercialised into a solution, a job, a process or an initiative. Everyone now knows that in order to avail of taxpayers' money it is necessary to get into the agenda of commercialisation. It is a priority agenda. Not everyone likes it but we have to get value for money and with the competitive budgets in recent years we have had no choice but to focus our money in key areas.

Programme evaluation was also mentioned. There are different methods of evaluating it. Research funders are brought together from all over the world across the whole development to monitor and evaluate it. Even when it comes to picking the projects for success at a national level outside of Horizon 2020, for example, when we announced the five new research centres a few weeks ago, they were not picked by Irish people or decision makers in this Government but by outside players looking at all the projects and picking the ones that offered the best value for money, that could get results and have an impact. We are trying to put Ireland on the world map for certain areas, for example, the health agenda and software. I will pass the information on all these key areas to the Senator if he would like it. They are the areas in which we can make an impact on the world stage and drive and build on our reputation to win new funding, business and jobs.

I am sympathetic to the Senators' comments on red tape and impact. That is all there and we will be achieving that. I would ask everyone to get involved with this area because we have to be at the heart of innovation. I have no doubt that it has been driving our recovery so far. Companies are locating here and we have the health innovation centre as well. The large multinationals are beginning to do more research and development here because they recognise the talent that we have. Through our spend on these different research centres, colleges, universities and so on, we are growing the number of people in the research community. The target is for about 700 or 800 researchers to be turned out every year. If we do not keep producing these people we cannot keep on having a role in this agenda. That has been quite well channelled by various players in the sector as well.

I am happy to come back to this House on a regular basis to work with the Senators, because it is an area of utmost importance. Europe recognises that and so do we, although there are competing demands. I attended my first European Council meeting recently, and the agenda was to discuss whether governments can afford to spend money on research and development. Some countries want out of that. I think they are mad but they are under competing demands. We can see the benefits of it here so we can say that it is important to keep it going although reaching our target of 2.5% of GDP is not going to be easy. People who are making decisions need to be convinced that it is right to spend taxpayers' money on this. When I can see industry's money matching up with taxpayers' money I know we are on the right track.