Seanad debates

Wednesday, 20 March 2024

Research and Innovation Bill 2024: Second Stage


Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

12:00 pm

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick County, Fianna Fail)
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I am grateful for the opportunity to address the House and present the Research and Innovation Bill 2024 here today. As Members are aware, this Bill is vital legislation which will provide for the establishment of a new research and innovation agency, Taighde Éireann. The purpose of this Bill is to create an agency with the capacity to address the very real issues society faces, in particular climate change and the digital transition, and to enable us to better engage and compete internationally in terms of the huge opportunities ahead of us in research and innovation.

The new agency is a vital step towards achieving the core objective of Impact 2030 - Ireland's Research and Innovation Strategy. This seeks to ensure Ireland's collective research and innovation investments and activities make as big a difference as possible to as many people as possible.

Before we begin today's examination of the Bill, I acknowledge and thank all those here, especially Senators Higgins, Flynn, O'Loughlin and O'Reilly who have engaged with the Department and who have provided us with continued support and feedback at each stage of the development of the Bill, in particular during the highly constructive and valuable pre-legislative scrutiny process. This engagement has been essential to developing robust and considered legislation and to ensuring we give the new agency the strongest possible foundation.

In brief, the purpose of the legislation is to establish Taighde Éireann, a new research and innovation funding agency. The Bill also provides for the dissolution of Science Foundation Ireland, SFI, and the transfer of all staff, liabilities and assets to the new agency. The staff of the Irish Research Council, IRC, as well as associated liabilities and assets will also be transferred from the Higher Education Authority, HEA, to the new agency.

I am proposing a couple of minor technical amendments to the Bill on Committee Stage, which I have indicated in the other House. These will not in any way change the policy intention of the published Bill. There has been substantial development of this legislation since the heads of the Bill were published last year and a more robust and substantial appeals provision has been inserted, both in terms of offering recipients of funding an indisputably impartial appeal and in the interests of offering the agency protection from any possible legal challenge.

The published heads of the Bill also referred to a specific arts, humanities and social sciences, AHSS, council. It became clear during stakeholder engagement and the scrutiny of the Bill that the provision was not welcome and it has been removed in the course of the drafting process. We have also done substantial work on ensuring the drafting work on the definitions, objectives and functions of the Bill have been guided by the principle of ensuring parity of esteem throughout and this is now very clear in the published text.

I want to move now to the text of the Bill. The Bill will enable the creation of the new research and innovation funding agency, Taighde Éireann.The agency will contribute to the realisation of programme for Government, national development plan and Impact 2030 policy aims of creating a cohesive and efficient national research and innovation system, with the capacity to address national challenges and embrace new opportunities. The Bill provides a legal basis for the functions of Taighde Éireann and the role of the Minister. The agency will be responsible for securing the achievement of Government objectives for the research and innovation system, and for ensuring accountability and securing value for money in the use of public funds. The Bill repeals Part 2 of the Industrial Development (Science Foundation Ireland) Act 2003, sections 3, 4, 5 and 6 of the Industrial Development (Science Foundation Ireland) (Amendment) Act 2013, and sections 11, 12 and 13 of the Industrial Development (Forfás Dissolution) Act 2014. The Bill revokes the Science Foundation Ireland superannuation scheme 2016 - SI 594 of 2016.

The objectives or high-level principles of the agency are to promote the attainment and maintenance of excellence in the standard and quality of research and innovation undertaken; to support the undertaking of research and innovation in all fields of activity and disciplines by researchers with different levels of knowledge, experience and specialist skills in such fields or disciplines; to promote and support the contribution made by research and innovation to economic, social, cultural and environmental development and sustainability within the State; to strengthen the engagement of the research innovation system with the Government, Ministers of the Government, and bodies, whether statutory or otherwise, which are funded wholly or partly by public moneys, and enterprise, non-governmental organisations, cultural institutions and society generally; to promote and develop the reputation of the State internationally as a location that is favourable for undertaking research and innovation; to enhance the principles of equality, diversity and inclusion with regard to opportunities to undertake research and innovation; and in the undertaking of that research and innovation.

I now outline the specific parts of the key sections of the Bill. Sections 1 to 5, inclusive, are standard provisions relating to the Short Title and commencement, interpretation, regulations and orders, expenses, repeals and revocation. Sections 6 and 7 deal with the establishment day and the establishment of the agency. Section 8 lists the objectives, or key principles, that apply to Taighde Éireann when undertaking its functions, which we have already looked at. Section 9 lists the functions of Taighde Éireann. They are to promote the objectives of the agency to promote and develop research and innovation in the State by designing and administering funding schemes in accordance with international good practice for the award and disbursement of funding for research and innovation in accordance with Part 3; support the development and maintenance of a national system of research and innovation in co-operation and collaboration with An tÚdarás um Ard-Oideachais, Enterprise Ireland and the other bodies to which section 48 applies and such other persons and bodies in the higher education and research system or the research and innovation system as the agency considers appropriate; to promote research and innovation which supports the development and competitiveness of enterprise and employment in the State - nationally and regionally - and to do so in co-operation and collaboration with Enterprise Ireland and the other bodies to which section 48 applies; to promote the engagement, retention and development of the skills and capacity of researchers of an excellent standard in the national system of research and innovation and, as may be appropriate, to do so in co-operation with An tÚdarás um Ard-Oideachais and other bodies to which section 48 applies; and to promote the attracting to the State of research and innovation teams of an excellent standard and individuals with an interest in research and innovation of an excellent standard with a view to their carrying out research and innovation in the State.

In co-operation with An tÚdarás um Ard-Oideachais it will promote and support the undertaking of research and innovation in the higher education and research system and in the research and innovation system; to contribute to the development, assessment and evaluation of research and innovation to ensure that a standard and quality of excellence is consistently adhered to by those in the research and innovation system; to promote the links and mutual benefits between research and innovation undertaken and teaching and learning activities in the higher education system; to promote the success of research and innovation undertaken in the State, which is supported by awards of funding made by an international or European Union body, institution or organisation; to promote co-operation and collaboration with regard to research and innovation between those who fund or undertake research and innovation in the State and those who do so in Northern Ireland; to assess and evaluate the outcomes and, where appropriate, the impact on economic, social, cultural and environmental development and sustainability grounds of research and innovation undertaken, for which funding is awarded by the agency; to promote and support awareness and understanding of the value of research and innovation to society and facilitate engagements of members of the public with those engaged in research and innovation activities; to support the undertaking of research and innovation that informs the development of public policy and encourages and facilitates the collation and sharing of findings of research and innovation for that purpose; and to enter into funding partnerships and advise the Minister in relation to national policy on research and innovation in accordance with section 14.Section 10 provides standard provisions for the appointment of consultants, advisers and assessors.

Sections 11 to 14, inclusive, provide that the Minister may give directions and issue guidelines in writing to the agency; that the agency shall provide reports and information to the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science on any matter related to the performance of the functions of the new agency; and that the agency may provide advice to the Minister on any matter related to the performance of its functions.

Sections 15 to 2, inclusive, relate to the board of the new agency. These are standard provisions that the agency shall have a board established under this legislation to perform the functions of the agency. Board appointments will be made by the Minister. The board will have 12 members comprising a chairperson and 11 ordinary members with gender balance, including at least one Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment nominated member. The board is to be recruited through an open and transparent competency-based Public Appointments Service process. The board may establish committees, to be known as councils, to advise in relation to the performance of any of its functions. As outlined earlier, the provision requiring one of these to be an arts, humanities and social sciences council has been removed.

Sections 22 to 27, inclusive, provide for: a grant to the agency each year from funds provided by the Oireachtas; the preparation and adoption by the agency of a corporate plan every five years; an annual plan to be prepared by the agency; the keeping of accounts by the agency; the audit of these accounts by the Comptroller and Auditor General; the laying of the accounts and report on the accounts before each House of the Oireachtas; and the preparation of an annual report by the agency by 30 June each year and the laying of that report before the Houses of the Oireachtas and gifts to the agency from any other sources.

Sections 28 to 31, inclusive, are standard provisions in relation to the role of the chief executive officer of the agency.

Sections 32 to 34, inclusive, are standard provisions in relation to the staff of the agency including superannuation and prohibition of unauthorised disclosure by members of staff of the agency of confidential information except where required by law or as a protected disclosure.

Part 3 deals with arrangements for the funding of research and innovation. Sections 35 to 48, inclusive, outline requirements around funding partnerships engaged in by the agency and arrangements with Ministers concerning collaboration on research and innovation. Section 48 deals with administrative co-operation with other bodies. The agency shall prepare and establish a framework, with the approval of the Minister, for the allocation of funding. Funding to bodies shall be made in accordance with such conditions of funding as specified by the chief executive officer of the agency. The chief executive officer of the agency may request the use of information provided by other bodies to establish whether a research programme meets the criteria, terms and conditions of the funding framework and to ensure a funded body is compliant on an ongoing basis with the conditions of funding. The chief executive officer may request a review of compliance with conditions of funding by a funded body and may issue appropriate directions in writing regarding continued compliance with the conditions of funding. The chief executive officer may impose remedial or other measures on the funded body for non-compliance with the agreed conditions of funding. An appeal provision has also been included in sections 44 to 46.

Part 4 consists of sections 49 and 50, which provide for the collection and sharing of personal and non-personal data from funded bodies subject to the data protection regulation, the Data Protection Act 2018 and the Data Sharing and Governance Act 2019. Part 5 deals with transitional, consequential and miscellaneous considerations. Sections 51 to 60, inclusive, outline the processes and obligations around the dissolution of Science Foundation Ireland, including the transfer of staff, property, contracts, records, rights and liabilities of the dissolved body and arrangements for its final accounts and final annual report. References in enactments or instruments to the dissolved body are also dealt with here.

Sections 64 to 68, inclusive, deal with the transfer of staff, records, rights and liabilities from an t-údarás to the new agency. Section 69 provides for necessary amendments of the Higher Education Authority Act 2022 to include references to the new agency and facilitate co-operation between an t-údarás and Taighde Éireann. Section 70 amends Schedule 5 to the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005 to include Taighde Éireann in the list of specified bodies. Section 71 details the process for the service of notices from the agency.

Today's discussion is a chance to further make certain the provisions we are putting in place will build the foundation for an agency with the capacity to develop the research and innovation system we need and provide scope to support the development of the research and innovation system required by future generations. I welcome Senators' input today and as we work together towards Committee Stage of the Bill. Officials in my Department will be available to discuss any aspects of the Bill requiring further information or clarification.

Photo of Eugene MurphyEugene Murphy (Fianna Fail)
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I apologise for cutting across the Minister of State. I was not trying to interrupt him but wanted to ensure we keep within time. I call Senator Crowe. He has ten minutes.

Photo of Ollie CroweOllie Crowe (Fianna Fail)
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I am standing in for Senator Malcolm Byrne, who cannot be here this afternoon and who asked me to convey his apologies. I thank the Minister of State for joining us to discuss this important legislation. All Members recognise that the expansion and development of Ireland's education system in recent decades has been crucial to the country's development and growth. We all share a desire to see that continue.

The new agency, Taighde Éireann, has the potential to ensure we remain on that path. As the Minister of Sate outlined, it will amalgamate the functions and activities of Science Foundation Ireland and the Irish Research Council. There certainly is logic to bringing the two bodies together and having a single agency responsible for research and for the funding of that research. However, both of those bodies have established strong reputations and brand recognition. It is crucial that the new agency retains that goodwill. Will the Minister of State advise how his Department intends to ensure Taighde Éireann will quickly establish similar brand recognition?

I welcome the enhanced funding provided for in the legislation for arts, humanities and social science research. This is the first time such funding will be put on a statutory footing. It will ensure parity of esteem for the IRC's critical mission of supporting researchers at all career stages and funding research in the arts, humanities and social science in particular. It will significantly enhance opportunities for researchers in those fields, enabling them to lead multidisciplinary teams on projects that would previously have required a science, technology, engineering and mathematics, STEM, leader to avail of statutory competitive funding opportunities. That broadening of access for researchers will be welcomed by all. It is an overdue and very positive change.

Significant progress has been made in recent years on the availability of funding for research. That continued in budget 2024 but we still have a way to go. It is essential that we continue to enhance available funding and aim to match the leading countries in Europe, such as Germany, in terms of the percentage of our GDP invested in research and innovation. I hope the new agency will give that goal renewed importance.

As the Minister of State noted, the new agency will develop a national capacity to respond to challenges using integrated approaches from scientific, behavioural, economic and cultural perspectives. That is particularly important because we must ensure that our research base is both comprehensive and flexible enough to be capable of making a significant impact on both the tests and opportunities Ireland will face in the years and decades ahead.In terms of the next steps, there is work such as ongoing consultation, which needs to be concluded before the launch of this new agency. Could the Minister of State advise what sort of timeline his Department has in mind? Is it expected that the agency will be launched sometime later this year, or is it more likely to be in 2025?

To conclude, I welcome the legislation and have no doubt that Taighde Éireann has the potential to be a very positive force in the further enhancement of our research and innovation. I would be grateful if the Minister of State had his officials could advise on issues, such as ensuring the brand goodwill both Science Foundation Ireland and the Irish Research Council have developed is not lost. What are the Minister of State’s views on the need to further enhance funding and the general timeline for the launching of the agency? I will leave it at that for now.

Photo of Aisling DolanAisling Dolan (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Niall Collins, today to speak on this. It has been a day of much change, and this is a major change as well. Taighde Éireann is going to be the brand-new funding agency for research and innovation at third level. It brings together funding agencies we already have, such as Science Foundation Ireland and the Irish Research Council, which are statutory funding agencies. It is important that this new landmark funding agency funds all activities and disciplines across all fields of research. It is crucial, as has been said here, that this agency delivers excellence across all of these fields, that it supports excellence and drives excellence through funding. I refer to Exchequer funding, but also to funding from Europe, international funding and industry co-funding. It is a matter of getting all those pots together so that people invest in Irish research and so scientists come to Ireland because of our excellent research. We must get PhD and master's students from all across the world to decide to come here because they want to be the top in immunology, photonics, behavioural sciences and psychology, and because we do it here and we do it the best here.

It is crucial that this agency drives that level of engagement in the international fields of research across all fields. That may be in arts, science and technology and across so many areas. Most recently, when it came to our vaccines, we saw how crucial it is for medicine to drive invention and innovation in a very fast turnaround time.

This is a day of big change because I previously worked in Science Foundation Ireland, so I have a very personal experience with that agency, which is now 20 years old. I remember when that agency started in 2004. I remember Forfás, which was an agency in its own right, which had much experience and expertise in driving policy. Many economists drove a lot of the policies we see here today in terms of the success of Ireland as a country across so many areas. It is crucial to see how education and the ways we have been able to deliver third-level education have had such an impact in this country to attract foreign direct investment here, but also on ourselves, our society, our engagement in our local society and local communities. It drives entrepreneurship here as well. That confidence in this country has come from education and that belief in ourselves. It has driven much of the success that we see today across many of our third-level institutions, universities and young people both here in Ireland and outside the country.

We talk about a diaspora. It is amazing that there are so many people from Ireland who are performing in senior, important roles all across the world, in many different agencies and many different countries. This is in many ways thanks to their education, what they have learned here in Ireland and the confidence that came with that as well.

This new agency will drive that as well. One of the things I saw from working in Science Foundation Ireland - and I know this is also relevant to the Irish Research Council and many other funding agencies - was how it brought in innovation through international peer review. That was crucial. When we looked at driving excellence, the funding of excellence and the competitive nature around that, there was very much an understanding that we would bring an international understanding of that as well. That will probably be part of what this agency will look at through reviewing applications for funding, etc. It is a matter of how we drive that international acknowledgement.This agency will be looking at certain areas and building on the excellence that is there already. I would like to see what has been successful in those funding agencies brought forward into the operations of Taighde Éireann. A key element in these agencies is the quality and skill set of the staff employed. Each of these funding agencies has incredible staff that engage with the universities and other actors in the third level landscape. They have an understanding of the landscape in Ireland and of how to access funding to support groups and promote excellence in different fields and this must continue. The people working as programme advisers in different fields within Taighde Éireann are absolutely crucial in terms of engagement with our researchers across the country, as well as in Northern Ireland.

I have worked in Science Foundation Ireland and also had the opportunity to work in the research office in the University of Galway. I worked with research teams in the university itself. Research is one part of this as well as driving engagement and fighting for Exchequer funding. I would invite the Minister of State to comment on how we drive more engagement around Horizon Europe funding and other European funding. What opportunities does he see for us in the time ahead, across the various disciplines? We need more engagement from Taighde Éireann in promoting, encouraging and securing funding to put people in place in the research offices in all of the universities and institutes across the country.

Having worked on a Horizon 2020 funding application, I understand the importance of a multidisciplinary approach. European funding is incredible for showcasing the multidisciplinary approach and the strength of bringing different disciplines together. There could be seven or eight countries working together, with people from very different backgrounds. It also brought companies into the mix, often smaller companies or those focused on a particular niche area. It brought researchers together at a practical level with the aim of producing research with a practical outcome from which there could be spin-outs and which could be used straight away. That engagement between research innovation and venture capital is crucial in terms of driving forward and rolling out research achievements into the real world.

In the context of innovation, Ireland ranks very highly in terms of further education, with over 60% of students up to the age of 24 having a third-level degree. That is one of the highest levels in Europe and in global terms, we also rank very well. There is a lot of engagement with researchers but there are a number of challenges. I worked as a contract researcher in the research office of the University of Galway. Our universities have a lot of contract researchers who face challenges in developing long-term careers. What are the opportunities for people coming through with PhDs and post-doctoral qualifications? Many have worked as part of research teams. What mechanisms are in place to provide support for career development for these teams? That is something we need to do and Taighde Éireann must engage more to support the universities in that regard. We need to look at how we support students by way of PhD stipends and how we support our universities in ensuring that PhD students have clear career structures. That must be part of the work of Taighde Éireann.

I am delighted that we have a Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science and with the changes that are emanating from it. Taighde Éireann is one important agency and another is the Higher Education Authority, which is also undergoing welcome change. This agency is really going to drive change. It is going to be a standard bearer for Ireland. Senator Crowe asked how we are going to maintain our hard-earned reputation but we have excellence here in Ireland. We are starting from a really high base and will be able to fly high.Taighde Éireann, Research Ireland, will be a flag bearer of what Ireland does in the world. That is something we will see more ourselves.

I again welcome the Bill which brings this new agency, Taighde Éireann, into being. There is the research side and the researchers, but I would also welcome the Minister of State's comments on innovation and how we work with Enterprise Ireland and how those mechanisms will operate. Previously, Science Foundation Ireland was a sister agency of the IDA and Enterprise Ireland and changes were meant to bring it into a different relationship. The Department is now the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science. How do we maintain our engagement with the likes of Enterprise Ireland and the IDA when it comes to innovation? I speak specifically of innovation in this context and pieces of research that are looking to spin out from university, venture capital, and how we support entrepreneurship and innovation in universities. Ireland ranks 22nd among 132 economies in the global innovation index. Taighde Éireann has a job ahead of it to ensure we go up the rankings.

Photo of Annie HoeyAnnie Hoey (Labour)
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I welcome the Minister of State to the House. We welcome the Research and Innovation Bill, which will be a strong foundation for promoting and advancing research in Ireland and ensuring that research bodies and individuals get easy and equal access to funding and opportunities. There are, however, certain points that require a more detailed approach to ensure the Bill will function as intended and I will briefly address them today.

First and foremost, the Bill promises to place arts, humanities and social sciences on an equal status to the STEM disciplines and to provide equal funding opportunities for all fields. It is not just because I am an arts graduate myself and therefore I feel somewhat sympathetic to the cohort that studies these subjects, but I do think it is very important that a balance is found. I am excited to see this at the core of the Bill, alongside the encouragement and comfort it offers to researchers in applied humanities but I would like to see more action on the matter.

Along with my colleagues in the Labour Party in the Lower House who have debated the Bill, I would like to see more clarity on whether the board of the agency will have a voice and representation for non-applied research for social sciences and humanities. While both the legislation and the statements by Professor Philip Nolan, who has been appointed to the body even before its establishment, ensure the promotion of diversity and inclusion to fit international competitive research strategy, I would like to see equality and diversity put into action on the board across all of the disciplines. Reaffirming the equal funding to access to social sciences and humanities is instrumental for the Bill to function successfully and elevate Ireland's research to an internationally applicable or recognised level.

Furthermore, while the Bill and Taighde Éireann are great innovations for the research field of the State, they lie in the same context as budget failures in various higher education institutions across Ireland. Earlier in the year we witnessed this is in UCC and we also saw it when the Higher Education Authority announced that the country's second largest university, TUD, faces serious concerns about the management of its €8.6 million budget deficit. This deficit is attributed to rising costs and falling student enrolment in the college, causing reduced Exchequer funding. The reality that we are witnessing is alarming but the consequences of it raise even more concerns. Such budget deficits not only affect community involvement within academia but also cause more and more work to fall on the shoulders of fewer people. If the Bill is aiming to lift Irish research to a global standard, then we need to ensure that it is able to handle the societal and economic challenges that those and other academic institutions in Ireland face.

We must also ensure that the Bill takes into account the unique individual experiences of researchers themselves. This is especially urgent as we know that PhD researchers face some of the hardest challenges in academia. It is no secret that PhD researchers across this country are struggling to make ends meet when it comes to basic human needs such as housing and everyday expenses. On average, PhD researchers are paid well below the minimum wage and have no workers' rights. This means they have no sick leave and no parental leave. They have no leave of any meaningfulness unless they have a kindly supervisor who will allow them take the leave. They have nothing of that nature. How are we expecting the agency to reach a globally competitive and internationally applicable research and innovation standard if those who are responsible for it are underpaid and overworked? The Postgraduate Workers' Organisation has sensed the urgency and is seeking to apply an employment model for the postgraduate researchers. It wants to further improve its benefits by showing the advantages of having PhD students as employees in various EU member states. Only very recently it launched its report, which examined the state of PhD researchers across the European Union; how much money they get; what sort of stipends they get; and what kind of contracts they are on. That is a really important piece of research because it highlights the state of play for PhD researchers within the European context, within which the organisation set up by the Bill will be very much entangled.

Postgraduate researchers are workers in all but name, pay and conditions. They have just the work and unfortunately nothing else. I am afraid that the Bill and Taighde Éireann will not reach the desired outcomes if the difficulties of PhD researchers are not properly addressed by the Government. The Minister, Deputy Harris, has said he would publish the second report on support for PhD students to provide clarity on the status of PhD researchers, in terms of whether they are workers or students. We need that clarity as soon as possible. I echo the calls of the Postgraduate Workers' Organisation for the report to be released as soon as possible. We need the situation for PhD researchers to improve. We cannot claim to be a nation of excellent research - the land of saints and scholars - if our researchers who are the core target audience for this Bill are so poorly treated.

Only when the representation of social science and humanities, the budget deficits across HEIs and the individual well-being of Irish researchers are addressed can we be confident about the prosperous application of the Research and Innovation Bill.

Photo of Fintan WarfieldFintan Warfield (Sinn Fein)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak briefly to the Bill. In the coming weeks I look forward to reviewing it in more detail with colleagues and, possibly, to tabling amendments as well. I hope this Bill is not merely the coming together of two existing research funding bodies but is a new departure for promoting research and development in Ireland.

Ireland has underinvested in research and development. The White Paper on enterprise states that research, development and innovation are the best ways to generate sustainable, long-term productivity and growth. Analysis of European and global indicators show us going in the wrong direction on innovation scorecards and on international competitiveness in areas of research and development. In fairness, we have moved in the right direction on the European innovation scorecard where we are classed as a strong innovator. However, we are not yet an innovation leader similar to Belgium, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, and Sweden. We do not perform that well when it comes to the creation of new patents, which is often used as an indicator of successful STEM research, so Ireland needs to become an innovation leader. Our tax-based policy means that intellectual property is relocated here rather than the research itself having been conducted here. It is paramount for us to examine State investment and policy support in addition to tax-based policy.

A green future will depend on a combination of policy choices that are sufficiently urgent and ambitious and central to that is research and innovation. Ireland needs a workforce that is adequately prepared and resourced to deliver energy security and independence and to achieve our targets. The Government must prioritise the building of that workforce. To secure Ireland's just transition it is absolutely crucial that we have the right people and enough of them doing the right jobs. People's talent, skills, education and expertise will power a renewable energy transformation to the next level. Without them, Ireland's energy revolution will remain out of reach. These are areas where there are huge opportunities for Ireland. Two examples are hydrogen and floating offshore wind. We hear repeatedly that the State is taking a cautious wait-and-see approach rather being an early adopter. Other countries like Norway, Japan, Portugal and Scotland are taking a different approach and will realise the benefits of that. There are risks and challenges in doing so, but there are also immense opportunities to secure a pipeline to develop the technologies that can push pioneering research, innovation and science. That does not happen by chance. The Government and State agencies must lead by example.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the Bill. I wholly support my colleague, Senator Hoey's, contribution on postgraduate researchers and PhD students. I look forward to the next Stages of this Bill. It will be important that the coming together of these two agencies is matched by efforts by all of us – both the Government and the Parliament - to address our performance in funding, research and development when compared to EU standards.

Photo of Eugene MurphyEugene Murphy (Fianna Fail)
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Níl aon Seanadóir eile ag iarraidh focail a rá ar an ábhar seo. Mar sin, tá deich nóiméad ag an Aire Stáit.

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick County, Fianna Fail)
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I would once again like to thank the Senators for their engagement here today, for their careful consideration and for the work they have undertaken throughout the process of developing the legislation and bringing this Bill towards enactment. We have great ambitions for Taighde Éireann. This Bill is the foundation of a new agency that will be built upon. I value this process, which ensures that the legislation is as robust and fit for purpose as it can possibly be.

I would like to address some of the comments made by Senators here during the course of the debate. Senator Crowe referred to some concerns in relation to losing the brand recognition of Science Foundation Ireland and the Irish Research Council. The excellent international reputation of both SFI and the IRC, as well as the relationships built up by these agencies, is something we are very conscious of preserving going forward into the new agency. This aim is supported by a number of policies and sister strategies to Impact 2030, namely, Ireland's new talent and innovation strategy and the Global Citizens 2030 policy, which was launched by the Department last January. We also intend for the new agency to be established later this year, with a timetable to be confirmed when the legislation is enacted.

As Senator Dolan has correctly said, the two existing agencies drive excellence to an international standard, and she expects the new agency to build on that. The new agency will also have a role in promoting access to Horizon and other international sources of funding. I can also assure the Senator that the management and development of talent are central to the new agency. While Taighde Éireann is within our Department’s aegis, the legislation signals the close engagement with enterprise agencies, as well as with other stakeholder groups.

Senator Dolan also raised the issue of researchers and I will comment on that. Last summer, the first report of the independent national review of State supports for PhD researchers focused on the issue of stipend levels and recommended an increase towards an optimum level of €25,000, subject to funding availability. Funding was secured under budget 2024 to increase the stipends awarded by the two competitive research funders on the remit of the Department, the Irish Research Council and Science Foundation Ireland, from €19,000 to €22,000 per annum. That is a 15.8% increase. It also builds on the additional funding secured under budget 2023. Our Department will continue to engage with the budgetary process to continue the progression of this issue.

The co-chairs’ final report will be published this month and includes their consideration of PhD status. As with all other elements of their work, they are taking into account the perspectives of the 35 stakeholder organisations with whom they met, as well as a variety of international practices in operation across Europe. Senator Hoey also referenced the PhD review, which I have just covered.

I also want to make a point about the composition of the board we are enacting. We are anticipating a close collaborative relationship between our Department and the Department for Enterprise, Trade and Employment and our respective agencies, as they are two key funding Departments in the sector. This is why there is a provision for the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to nominate one member to the new board. All the board appointments, including the enterprise nominee, will be made through an open, transparent and competitive Public Appointments Service, PAS, process. We are moving away from representative boards and into a competency-based board appointments processes. The new agency will need board members with proven skills and experience in corporate governance as well as expertise and experience in research and innovation, so that there can be a balanced representation. The booklet for the competition, which has already been run, outlines requirements for board members and the research experience is a core competency for prospective board members. The board will be appointed well in advance of the establishment of the new agency. The requirements of an open, transparent and competitive Public Appointment Service process will ensure a highly competent board with an array of the strengths and skills the agency will require.

In conclusion, we are working towards the second week of April for Committee Stage of the Bill in the Seanad, schedule permitting. This will be confirmed when the Houses return in April. I thank colleagues for taking the time to consider the Bill. I reassure them that in the meantime officials in my Department are available and are very willing to engage on and discuss these matters further, if any aspects require further information or clarification. I look forward to working with Senators on Committee Stage and taking on board the useful and considered feedback from colleagues here today.

Photo of Eugene MurphyEugene Murphy (Fianna Fail)
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Maith thú, a Aire Stáit, agus maith sibh a Sheanadóirí. I thank the Minister of State, his officials, the Seanadóirí, and the people who are working in the House, including Bridget Doody and the ushers.

Question put and agreed to.

Photo of Eugene MurphyEugene Murphy (Fianna Fail)
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When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Photo of Ollie CroweOllie Crowe (Fianna Fail)
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Next Tuesday.

Photo of Eugene MurphyEugene Murphy (Fianna Fail)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 26 March 2024.

Photo of Eugene MurphyEugene Murphy (Fianna Fail)
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When is it proposed to sit again?

Photo of Ollie CroweOllie Crowe (Fianna Fail)
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Tomorrow morning at 9.30 a.m.

Photo of Eugene MurphyEugene Murphy (Fianna Fail)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Cuireadh an Seanad ar athló ar 5.07 p.m. go dtí 9.30 a.m., Déardaoin, an 21 Márta 2024.

The Seanad adjourned at 5.07 p.m. until 9.30 a.m. on Thursday, 21 March 2024.