Seanad Éireann - Volume 171 - 05 February, 2003
Industrial Development (Science Foundation Ireland) Bill 2002: Second Stage.
Question proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”
Ms O'Rourke Ms O'Rourke
Ms O'Rourke: I welcome the Tánaiste and her officials to the House.
Ms Harney Ms Harney
Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Ms Harney): I thank the Leader of the House for her warm welcome. It is always a pleasure to come to the Seanad because it is where I cut my political teeth in 1977. The Seanad meets more often now than it did when it was very much a part-time exercise and one could come here for an hour or two a week. The new Leader in particular has insisted on longer hours and more effective work, which I welcome. I welcome also the fact that the Seanad has facilitated this early Second Stage debate on the Industrial Development (Science Foundation Ireland) Bill 2002.
This Bill provides for the establishment on a statutory basis of a body to be known as Science Foundation Ireland (SFI). The new body will be an agency of Forfás. The establishment of this new agency is central to an overall strategy which would see Ireland as a leader in the global knowledge-based economy.
Ireland's emergence as Europe's high-growth economy has been a feature of the last decade. This transformation has arisen as a result of many factors, including a dynamic and youthful population, the pursuit of pragmatic and innovative Government policies, openness to trade, not only in goods and services, but also in new ideas, and an emphasis on education and technological innovation.
There are many new threats which we now face. The less favourable external environment will test our competitiveness. Other pressures are arising from changes to the ways in which industry operates. We have seen a strong trend towards the movement of manufacturing towards lower cost economies. This reflects the fact that Ireland is no longer a low wage economy and must make that transition to higher added value products and services that allow us to sustain and grow incomes. A key part of this process is to recognise the importance of knowledge creation and innovation in sustaining and enhancing competitiveness.
Ireland's sustained economic growth and prosperity will depend on establishing a culture of scientific and technological innovation, a high level of research and development and a globally competitive knowledge-based economy. Such re-positioning is essential to provide sustainable, high-quality, well-paid jobs in the future.
The past decade might be described as revolutionary in growing and transforming our economy, in making it competitive and in providing employment. The next decade must be equally revolutionary. We must take the next step and move from the rhetoric to the reality of building a knowledge-based economy because this is where our future lies. Science, technology, research and innovation are the key words of the future. We must build the structures which support research excellence. We must enhance our ability to compete at the pinnacle of knowledge and produce the people through our educational system who will take on the new challenges. A cornerstone of this future is building our research capability in our universities, institutes and enterprises – in essence, the research infrastructure which will make it possible.
The process leading to the establishment of Science Foundation Ireland started in 1998 when a major Technology Foresight Initiative was carried out by the Irish Council for Science, Technology and Innovation. Foresight is about preparing for the future. It is about deploying our resources the best way possible, for competitive advantage, enhanced quality of life and for sustainable development. It is about identifying the opportunities and challenges in the future, and what Government, scientists and engineers should be doing to meet them. The Technology Foresight Initiative sought to identify emerging technologies that will be the key to national economic development in future years and to present a plan of action to address the opportunities and challenges associated with these technologies. In carrying out this analysis, ICSTI consulted widely with scientists, industrialists, Government officials and others to achieve a high degree of consensus on the public policy actions Ireland needs to take in order to invest in the research and technologies required to underpin future economic growth and living standards.
The Technology Foresight Report contained a specific recommendation that a fund should be established to invest in research in those key areas of technology that can best assist in upgrading the future competitiveness of the traded goods and services sector. The report recognised that in order to achieve this outcome, a qualitative shift of industrial policy would be required. This would also have to be accompanied by a significant increase in the level of resources allocated to investment in research which would achieve the excellence and critical mass needed to give our country an international reputation in specified technological sectors.
In February 2000, the Government approved the establishment of the Technology Foresight Fund, from which €646 million is being used to support research excellence in strategic technologies, particularly the development of world-class capabilities in the niche areas of information and communication technologies and biotechnology. The Government also approved the establishment of a national strategic research foundation, Science Foundation Ireland, as a mechanism for the management, allocation, disbursal and evaluation of this expenditure from the fund. To allow the foundation to commence operations almost immediately, the Government agreed that it could be established under the existing Industrial Development Acts as a sub-board of Forfás. The purpose of the Bill is to establish the foundation as a separate legal entity.
Science Foundation Ireland will invest in funding research that is of intrinsic excellence and acknowledged internationally, is of a sufficient scale and critical mass to have real significance in Ireland and internationally, and strengthens the scientific foundations on which to develop high-productivity, high-technology, market-driven, knowledge-intensive investments, including start-ups, in Ireland's industrial and services sector.
In line with the technology foresight report, the foundation will concentrate on the fields underpinning the industrial sectors of biotechnology and information and communications technology with a view to promoting and supporting basic research of world class stature in these fields. A world class research capability in selected segments of these two enabling technologies will become an essential foundation for future growth in our economy. Information and communications technology involves all disciplines that underpin the study of physical components, systems, networks, storage, transmission, software, and applications as well as the underlying fields of mathematics, computer science, physics, chemistry, materials science, and electrical engineering. Information and communications technology is at the core of the knowledge society, as scientific and engineering research today requires the use of systems and processes that information and communications technology research has produced.
For example, microelectronic devices, based on conventional silicon technology, continue to decrease in size each year, resulting in the production of ever more powerful computers and processors. Within the next two decades this technology will approach theoretical limits as the device dimensions approach the atomic scale. New breakthrough technologies such as molecular electronics based on new materials and fabrication techniques with new device concepts will be required to continue the progress in electronics technology experienced in the 50 years since the invention of the transistor. These advances will be of profound significance to the microelectronics and semiconductor industries, industries which have had a profound impact on our economic fortunes in recent times. Without the efforts of an institution such as Science Foundation Ireland, this country and its economy may well fall behind in the global race for advancement.
Agencies such as IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland have helped to give Ireland a global reputation as a major competitor for ICT industrial investment. By building a globally renowned research base focusing on the fields that underpin ICT, the economy can build on the relationship it has already formed with this industry. We can play a competitive role in defining and shaping economic activity and technological advancements worldwide. This represents an enormous opportunity but also a threat, as if we miss it, we will face the possibility of being left behind as the 21st century progresses. Ireland's research institutions are involved in most of the key research areas in ICT, including some engaged in globally distinguished research. Ireland must focus on developing ICT research programmes in areas that can compete on a global scale. This will require the formation of outstanding research centres, as well as the recruitment and development of critical masses of research talent.
Biotechnology includes areas such as gene expression, protein synthesis and characterisation, DNA chips, genomics, biosensors, drug delivery and bioremediation. This research will affect health care, pharmaceuticals, environmental management, agriculture, marine science, medical devices, consumer products and food and drink businesses. The technology foresight report notes that by 2005 the worldwide market for biotechnology industries is expected to rise to €250 billion and will support 3 million jobs in Europe. Beyond such specific financial expectations lies the widely accepted view that research and technologies in these areas will be key drivers of global and national economies. Research in biotechnology promises to play as pivotal a role in social and industrial development over the next few decades as physics and chemistry did following the Second World War.
The extensive sectors already influenced by research in biotechnology suggest the importance that strength in such areas could have for Ireland. Similar industries have played a significant part in the economic growth of the past 20 years. Ireland is home to the operational bases of nine of the world's ten largest pharmaceutical companies, linking it closely to an industrial culture among the leaders of the knowledge revolution. Combined with the recent emergence of indigenous biotechnology start-up companies, such relationships give Ireland a crucial opportunity to prove itself a successful innovator and knowledge generator. An example of the possibilities of world class research in one area within the biotechnology area is the new techniques for studying incredibly small-scale phenomena being developed at present. Efforts in this area will provide detailed understanding of the structure and behaviour of biological systems such as cell membranes. Innovative research could provide new insights into how cells respond to their structural and chemical environments and may lead, for instance, to the development of new drug delivery systems that could advance the treatment of numerous diseases. The advances that will be made will be of profound significance to the biotechnology industry which is already heavily involved in Ireland.
Progress in genomics, bioinformatics and structural biology will create major research and economic opportunities over the next 20 years. Such developments support the assertion in the technology foresight report that strategic research advantages in biotechnology will bring the State highly important long-term benefits. In the initial period from its creation to 2007, the SFI will concentrate on the research segments which have the greatest likelihood of producing significant results for Irish research and development. The potential for biotechnology related researchers in Ireland is particularly exciting given the chance they have to ally themselves uniquely with leading corporate research centres which have been the basis for strong manufacturing developments in the country. Such prospects and the likely global value of discoveries in these fields suggest how important research in fields underpinning biotechnology could be to Ireland's future. The SFI will review its focus in biotechnology and ICT regularly to seek the most promising opportunities. The SFI offers, through investments in these areas, the possibility of significantly enhancing Irish science, engineering and economic growth and becoming a vital partner in building a research system recognised and distinguished around the world for its excellence.
As I said, sustained economic growth and prosperity depends on establishing a culture of scientific and technological innovation, a high level of research and development and a globally competitive knowledge-based economy. Such repositioning is essential to provide sustainable, high quality, well paid jobs in the future. The greatest challenge facing Ireland's research and development goals is building its most important resource: the human talent that drives discovery, innovation and prosperity. Meeting this challenge will require Ireland to make science and engineering careers attractive to students. We must provide incentives to encourage graduate students, post-doctoral researchers and non-tenured researchers to stay active in research and engineering in Ireland and recruit and retain outstanding researchers from abroad.
In its specific role within the research and development system in the target areas, the SFI will improve the development of human capital by generating and supporting initiatives focused on individuals with the capacity to significantly advance Ireland's research excellence and using international peer merit review to assess research proposals and the track record of applicants. This review process provides a recognised measure of excellence and valuable feedback for the research community. The SFI will work with Irish universities and institutes of technology to seek out and bring to Ireland researchers and research teams in science and engineering who are acknowledged as world leaders in their fields. It will also work with its fellow Irish research funding agencies to invest in national and regional facilities, laboratories and equipment that ensure productive and globally competitive research environments. Such capital infrastructure will not only advance Ireland's science and engineering capacities it will also help to develop, retain and attract highly skilled researchers.
Ireland is a relatively small country with a small population which has used its best talents to achieve huge amounts in the past ten years. It has used its size to provide agility, flexibility and adaptability, qualities much valued in this post-industrial age. Ireland can compete globally when its Government Departments, agencies, universities, institutes of technology and researchers work together to support new collaborative opportunities focused on carefully chosen areas of research. The SFI will involve the academic community as it builds the new SFI awards and grants structure announced early in 2002. It will work with IDA Ireland to attract research and development from multinational companies based overseas and support Enterprise Ireland in encouraging start-up research and development oriented companies. The SFI will pursue all opportunities to work closely with the Higher Education Authority on biotechnology and ICT research investments. Such shared activities can be of great value to Ireland's research based competitiveness.
Since its establishment as a sub-board of Forfás in 2000, the SFI has shown itself to be an energetic organisation, filled with ambition and enthusiasm. It has introduced a range of policies and established five key programmes: SFI fellow awards, investigator programme grants, centres for science, engineering and technology grants, ETS Walton visitor awards and SFI workshop and conference grants. It has recruited and retained the expertise of approximately 80 research scientists and engineers and their teams for a total investment commitment of €152 million.
Science Foundation Ireland offers the prospect of acting as a catalyst for Ireland's future economic and social transformation into a knowledge-based economy in the same way that Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland helped to support the development of the economy to its current level. Establishing the foundation on a statutory basis is essential if we are to sustain this transformation, a transformation that, if attained and exploited, will yield untold benefits for future generations of Irish society.
As I indicated, the main purpose of the Bill is to provide for the establishment of Science Foundation Ireland as an agency of Forfás. The Bill also provides for amendments to the Industrial Development Acts 1986 to 1998 and the Shannon Free Airport Development Company (Amendment) Act 1986. These amendments arise from the establishment of the foundation as an agency of Forfás and also the necessity to update certain financial limits. Part 1 of the Bill contains standard provisions relating to the short title, collective citation, interpretations, establishment day, expenses and procedure for making regulations. Part 2 deals with the establishment of Science Foundation Ireland. Section 6 provides for the establishment of the foundation as a corporate body and an agency of Forfás. In that regard, the foundation will come within the policy and co-ordination remit of Forfás and its powers have been extended to allow for this in section 34.
Section 7 sets out the functions of the foundation. The foundation will promote, develop and assist the carrying out of oriented basic research in strategic areas of scientific endeavour that concern the future development and competitiveness of industry and enterprise in Ireland. These strategic areas include information and communication technologies and biotechnology.
Sections 8 to 12 provide for the board, its composition, chairperson and meeting arrangements. Sections 13 and 14 cover the appointment of the director general and include a provision requiring him or her to be accountable to the Committee of Public Accounts and other Oireachtas committees. Sections 15 to 18 contain standard provisions on disclosure of interests, disclosure of information, and provision of a seal. Sections 19 to 21 contain staffing provisions.
Under the terms of the Industrial Development Act 1993, as amended by the Industrial Development (Enterprise Ireland) Act 1998, Forfás is the overall employer of both its own staff and staff of Enterprise Ireland and the IDA. It is proposed to retain this approach for Science Foundation Ireland: staff will be employed by Forfás and seconded to Science Foundation Ireland. However, provision is also being made to allow the foundation to assume the role of employer should this prove necessary at some future date.
Section 22 allows the foundation to engage consultants and advisers while section 23 obliges it to prepare strategy statements and work programmes. Section 24 provides for an annual report and also requires that accounts are submitted to the Comptroller and Auditor General for audit. Section 25 provides that the foundation shall provide the Minister and Forfás with any information they may require while section 26 provides that it may build, purchase or lease land or buildings required for its functions.
Part 3 of the Bill amends the Industrial Development Acts 1986 to 1998 and the Shannon Free Airport Development Company (Amendment) Act 1986. Provision is made in sections 33, 34(e) and 35 for the raising of existing legislative thresholds of the aggregate amounts of grants to Forfás and its agencies – Enterprise Ireland, the IDA and, on the enactment of this Bill, Science Foundation Ireland – Shannon Development and the county enterprise boards for use in discharging their obligations and liabilities. The increase is necessary because the bodies in question are now nearing the existing statutory limit in respect of the total amount of moneys which may be granted to the bodies for the exercise of their functions.
Provision is made for the raising of threshold levels in the 1986 Act – most recently set in section 34 of the 1998 Act – in respect of various industrial incentive instruments, above which Government approval is required for the agency concerned to proceed with payments to individual industrial projects. The existing thresholds were set in 1998 and, taking inflation into account, this has resulted in a significant increase in the number of projects which require Government approval. The threshold for capital grants is raised in section 34(f), that for employment grants is raised in section 28, that for equity provision is raised in section 31, the aggregate threshold for all investment aid is revised and raised in section 32, the threshold for training grants is raised in section 29 and the threshold for research and development grants is raised in section 30. The existing provisions on employment grants and research and development grants are redrafted to take account of current practice in using these instruments – employment grants are dealt with in sections 27 and 28, and research and development grants in section 30.
The establishment of Science Foundation Ireland is highly significant, both for the advancement of science in Ireland and ensuring Ireland develops a reputation for excellence in basic research which is among the highest in the world. I commend the Bill to the House.
Mr. Coghlan Mr. Coghlan
Mr. Coghlan: I welcome the Tánaiste and the Bill. The Tánaiste has outlined the background to the establishment of the SFI from its small beginnings as a sub-division of Forfás in 2000. Establishing Science Foundation Ireland on a statutory basis is a radical but very welcome departure as the country seeks to build a global knowledge-based economy. It is obvious, as the Tánaiste has pointed out, that the reason for the establishment of the SFI is that if Ireland is to maintain its recent economic success, it must continue to raise the level of excellence and quality of the industries located here. This is because Ireland can no longer compete on a cost basis with other, cheaper economies around the world. We can only compete on skills and quality. The SFI will contribute to improving standards in both areas by attracting first-class researchers to live and work in Ireland. These researchers will also support the development of a thriving ecosystem of world-class research in Ireland that will lead to new discoveries and innovations and also be attractive to industries which need these scarce skills.
In using the budget allocated to the SFI to attract a critical mass of excellent researchers to research laboratories and third level education institutions in Ireland, the SFI offers Ireland the prospect of competing and winning in the global race for knowledge in both biotechnology and information and communications technology. In recruiting these leading researchers the SFI also aids efforts to continuously raise skill levels and competencies in Ireland. This is a critical requirement if we are to have the personnel and skills required to meet the demands of the next phase of our country's development. The establishment of the SFI complements similar departures in successively legislating for the establishment of the IDA and Enterprise Ireland, organisations which have played a major role in recent times in the development of the economy and, in turn, our society. SFI activities will be complementary to the work of the IDA and Enterprise Ireland in their efforts to move Irish companies up the value chain.
The funding allocated to the SFI is a vital component of the €2.54 billion investment in research, technological development and innovation in the National Development Plan 2000-2006. The overall allocation to Science Foundation Ireland is €635 million. Most knowledge-based economies and societies, such as Finland, which has a history and population similar to our own, are built around world-class research institutions, skills and abilities. Correctly exploited and utilised, innovation and world-class research can be harnessed to the benefit of future generations in Ireland. Accordingly, the establishment of the SFI and the funding allocated to it are an investment in the future growth of the economy. If we do not follow through on these investment requirements, we may well fall behind in our efforts to establish Ireland as a leading player in the global knowledge-based economy.
 I am very impressed with the progress made so far by the SFI, which is still in its infancy, and understand it will make financial investments amounting to around €200 million by the end of March this year. One has to be impressed by Dr. William Harris, director general of Science Foundation Ireland, whose speech to the Irish Management Institute's national management conference in Killarney, entitled “The New Business Environment – Navigating In Uncharted Waters”, I read with interest. He realises that we are in a race to take a prominent position on the scientific map of the world. With a budget of €635 million to make this happen and a compass in his hand, he is working out the co-ordinates and has been doing so for some time. He believes that Ireland's sustained economic growth and prosperity will depend on establishing a knowledge-based economy, a high level of research and development and a culture of scientific and technological innovation.
It is obvious that Dr. Harris realises our position and the competition with which we must deal. If we fail to attain the next level, our ability to compete will be greatly diminished. It is obvious that Dr. Harris has thought a great deal about economic and social change and takes the view that things evolve and change over time and few of them remain static for long. He believes that “a country's greatest asset is its people and its educational system”.
In the past, people worried about coal, steam and big factories and never thought about people being more than machines. Ireland is a well-educated nation and an economy which recognises that it is stuck between the US and Europe, an ideal position from which to compete. It has positioned itself through good relationships between the Government and the industrial sectors and has identified successful revenue and riches that will ultimately benefit the social structure.
Dr. Harris has rightly asserted that this century will be driven by the ability to have well-educated people who can use information and knowledge. This is tempered by his own experiences with the National Science Foundation in the US. He believes that the creation of an engine room or power source pumping out new talent and identifying new scientific, technological and industrial fields is absolutely critical for economic survival.
This century is going to see an era that will create an empire of the mind as opposed to one built of copper and steel. All our systems have to work well. Government has to work well and cannot be centrally driven. Dr. Harris believes that we need a Government that is agile, a private sector that is entrepreneurial and a university system that is flexible and entrepreneurial. All of these have to work together in the construction of the new empire of the mind. Ireland, he believes, has the potential to compete at that level if it can get these piers to connect.
Members must forgive my reading. I have an eye problem and I beg the indulgence of the House. I think our scriptwriters were talking to one another.
An Cathaoirleach An Cathaoirleach
An Cathaoirleach: It would be wise not to refer to scripts given the comments that have already been made.
Mr. Coghlan Mr. Coghlan
Mr. Coghlan: Until I obtain a ruling from the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, and given my current predicament, I intend to continue to operate as I am doing now.
Significantly, Dr. Harris has stated:
Our role at SFI is to be a catalyst and make those things happen. In the US the National Science Foundation was established and was one of the principal Government tools that helped shape the colleges and universities to create the research processes that are now the best in the world. It is that research system that has helped to fuel the industrial enterprise that still exists.
It is good to know that Dr. Harris believes the universities in this country are well prepared and that there are individuals here willing to promote things with a passion. Speaking at the IMI in Killarney in April last he said:
Allow me first to give you the brief on the Science Foundation Ireland. SFI has been charged by the Government to invest in the scientific and engineering fields underpinning bio-technology and information and communications technology. It is predicted that the market for bio-technology industries will rise to £250 billion by the year 2005 and support three million jobs in Europe. Research in bio-technology will affect health-care, pharmaceuticals, environmental management, agriculture, green science, economic goods, and food and drink businesses. It includes fields such as DNA chips, genomics, bio-sensors, drug delivery and bio-remediation.
The other area of SFI's investment is information and communications technology or ICT. This includes broadband, wireless and mobile transmission. It includes parallel processing systems, engineering for reliability of data transfer and wearable sensors. It also includes computer modelling, distributed networking, computer-based training, nano-scale assembly and human language understanding.
He further pointed out:
Thanks to satellites and fibre optic cables, ideas leap among people almost like lightning. Nowadays, through a terminal, a satellite and a decent battery or a plug in the wall, ideas can jump from an island to anywhere and likewise attract. The only limit now is the worth of the idea, the intelligence that uses it and the innovation that it creates.
We all believe that this country is well positioned to succeed in a knowledge-driven economy and again Dr. Harris believes that we have nurtured the wealth of talent available in our young population. It is good to know he believes we have taken advantage of having an English-speaking population at a time when English is used to run world markets. We have also leveraged our free market democratic system, which promotes innovation and initiative. EU membership has been vitally important as well as the tax incentives that have helped to attract a decade's worth of multinational investment and encourage the development of a unique relationship with US companies. Equally important are the innovative State policies spearheaded by the Tánaiste's Department and Forfás. Successful industrial investment marketing efforts have been led by Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland.
Dr. Harris argues that Ireland has another important advantage in terms of its size. Other sources of competitive advantage are rapidly drying up. Include here is geographical position, which has been weakened by electronic commerce, reduced tariffs and lower barriers to foreign direct investment. The new technologies of the late 20th and early 21st centuries have shrunk the advantages that accrue to mere size. Ireland's small size should allow for efficiencies, partnerships and synergies not possible in larger countries.
Dr. Harris correctly points out that what we do now will set the way in which we develop for at least a generation. Complacency, slow decision-making and failure to keep pace with change have cost nations before. We must not let that happen. Due to the fact that we cannot afford to do everything at once, we need a national strategy. We should apply every possible resource at our disposal to build our education, research and technology base for speed, knowledge and competitiveness. The entire education system from primary level through postgraduate level is important as it is a systemic issue.
In section 12 of the Bill, I notice something to which Members have referred in respect of previous legislation. I refer to the way that members – elected people – have strictures placed upon them. Perhaps the Tánaiste could outline the rationale behind this.
I echo what the Tánaiste said in recognising the importance of Science Foundation Ireland. I am delighted it is now, by means of the Bill, being established on a formal statutory basis.
Mr. Leyden Mr. Leyden
Mr. Leyden: I welcome the Tánaiste and her staff to the House for the debate on this important Bill. Dr. Harris will be delightfully embarrassed by the compliments rightly paid to him by Senator Coghlan. We are lucky to have a man of his eminence, as well as the other members of the board, involved with Science Foundation Ireland.
No one can deny that the Irish economy has been an incredible success during the past ten years. Although that success has only been felt recently, the foundation of the Celtic tiger was laid a number of decades ago. For years, Ireland invested in education and research and, in this way, the wealth of talent available in the young population was nurtured.
The role of the Government, spearheaded by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, was vital in the introduction of innovative policies. Forfás, Enterprise Ireland and the IDA have led the way in their successful industrial investment and marketing efforts. As a former Minister of State with special responsibility for trade and marketing, I realise it was vital to have new products in the market and that Ireland had to be at the forefront in this regard to maintain our level of trade.
Ireland has taken advantage of having an English-speaking population at a time when English is used to run world markets. It is also the language of the Internet. It has leveraged its free market democratic system which promotes innovation and initiative. EU membership has also been vitally important, as are the tax incentives that have helped to attract at least a decade's worth of multinational investment and foster our unique relationship with US companies.
In spite of how well Ireland has done in the past ten years, the transformational demands of our time mean the challenge has only now begun. Without doubt, other nations will eat our lunch and leave us in the dust if we do not act immediately, quickly and with focus. Since the power of knowledge and human capital is so great today, Ireland now needs a national strategy to ensure its investments will produce the kinds of results that today's society demands, expects and needs. We are at the forefront in respect of the Internet and have to retain that level of excellence in designing and producing software, now synonymous with the growth and development of the economy.
In February 2000 the Government approved the establishment of a national strategic research foundation, now known as Science Foundation Ireland, as a mechanism for the management, allocation, disbursal and evaluation of expenditure from the technology foresight fund. This fund was established with the very important aim of supporting research excellence in strategic technologies, particularly the development of world-class capabilities in the niche areas of information and communication technologies and biotechnology.
The establishment of the fund and Science Foundation Ireland emanated from a number of studies carried out in the 1990s. These studies highlighted the fact that firms in the modern high-tech sectors of business, including IT, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, were more production-oriented than research and development-oriented and, therefore, more vulnerable to global market changes. It was recognised that as the global economy became more knowledge-based and more driven by research and development, the key to Ireland's continued success would be to reposition Irish industry higher up the economic value chain. With this in mind, Science Foundation Ireland, with the IDA and Enterprise Ireland, placed this goal at the core of all policies.
For the foundation to commence operations immediately, the Government agreed wisely that it could be established under the existing development Acts as a sub-board of Forfás. The bringing forward of this innovation represented a highly sensitive message by the Government. In 2001 Dr. William B. Harris was appointed director general of the foundation and a board of 12 members was established. I am thankful that people of Dr. Harris's ability came forward to provide their services for the board. The background of Dr. Harris, which I discovered on the Internet today, is quite spectacular and I know he will be very innovative in his position. I am delighted that he is present in the House today and I welcome him.
To date, the board has met five times and I congratulate it on its work. Within the past 18 months the SFI has managed to establish a number of programmes with the overall goal of placing Ireland at the heart of global research and development. The last meeting of the board was held on 27 January. It does not meet very often because its members are spread throughout the world. I compliment the Minister and her Department on attracting such eminent and qualified specialists to serve Ireland in a very positive way.
The members of the SFI work hard to ensure Ireland will act as a magnet for new industrial development in the future. It helps to strengthen the foundations and prospects of existing firms in the area of research and development. Its programme seeks to upgrade the quality of faculty, student intake and graduate output of Irish universities to the benefit of the entire industrial development and promotion efforts of the Government and the development agencies.
The purpose of the Industrial Development (Science Foundation Ireland) Bill 2002 is to finally establish the foundation as a separate legal entity. It will ensure the foundation will continue as an agency of Forfás, while at the same time having the necessary autonomy and dynamism to proactively decide on and direct its programmes. The foundation has the responsibility of managing, allocating, monitoring and evaluating expenditure of the technology foresight fund. The board of the foundation will continue to have 12 members and will include the director general who will be appointed for a period of five years and may be repappointed for a second term. The board may establish committees to assist and advise it on the performance of any of its functions.
The usual provisions regarding disclosure of interests and information are contained in the Bill. It is intended to bring the foundation within the scope of the Freedom of Information Act 1997. The Bill obliges the foundation to prepare strategy statements every five years and a work programme each year. An annual report must be prepared and submitted to the Minister at the end of each financial year and all accounts submitted to the Comptroller and Auditor General for audit.
I welcome and support the Bill wholeheartedly. The establishment of Science Foundation Ireland as a separate entity will ensure Ireland is at the forefront of scientific developments in information and communications technology and biotechnology. It has already attracted some of the world's most eminent scientists, proving our ability to attract the best from around the world. These scientists are without doubt the future of Irish innovation and research. Through them we will continue to build our greatest resource of all – human talent.
Ireland has had very inventive people and we are responsible for great developments in science and technology. One example is the great telescope at Birr Castle, which was the largest telescope of its era and indicates how innovative we have been. We missed the industrial revolution that occurred in Great Britain but we have, through education, taken part in the most modern developments that have taken place in the world. Furthermore, the publication of this legislation marks a milestone in the ongoing development and growth of first-rate scientific research in Ireland. In setting up the SFI the Government has committed itself to building an ecosystem of world-class research. By establishing the foundation on a statutory basis through this Bill the Government is providing the SFI with a solid foundation to ensure this commitment is achieved.
I congratulate the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment for brining the Bill to the Seanad and allowing the SFI to be established on a statutory basis. I compliment her on her excellent work promoting Irish industry and trade throughout the world. She has certainly put considerable effort into her portfolio and the SFI will be of tremendous assistance to the Government in promoting research and development. I commend the Bill to the House.
Dr. Henry Dr. Henry
Dr. Henry: I welcome the Minister. The words of Dr. William Harris of Science Foundation Ireland have been quoted so frequently that it is appropriate that he is present in the Visitors Gallery with some of his colleagues in order that he can hear—
An Cathaoirleach An Cathaoirleach
An Cathaoirleach: It is not proper to refer to people in the Visitors Gallery.
Dr. Henry Dr. Henry
Dr. Henry: This Bill is most welcome. The initiative the Minister took some years ago regarding science and technology and the need to maintain and promote research and development has been magnificent. She is to be congratulated warmly on having managed to ring-fence the funding for research, which is deemed to be of great importance economically and industrially, and for the manner in which she has dealt with the matter in her Department. The efforts made during the last round of what are described as “adjustments” must have been ferocious because in every other area of research the most appalling things have happened.
I was interested to hear Senator Coghlan say that Dr. Harris claims the universities are well prepared. They were well prepared, but that is no longer the case since the programme for research in third level institutions has been decimated. The Minister must look at what is happening in some of the other departments if she wants to ensure that Science Foundation Ireland is a success. We have recruited magnificent people to the foundation. The Minister and I attended the opening, which she performed, of Trinity's nanoscience technology unit where she saw the international calibre of its recruits. Science Foundation Ireland will be like a beached whale if people are not available to feed into it. The universities were encouraged to involve academic staff in research, but as soon as they did so huge amounts of capital funding for third level institutions was cut back. There have been serious cutbacks in the research programmes of virtually every department.
I am delighted that Senator O'Rourke is here, though I am sure she will not remember one of the first debates in which I was involved in this House. She was at the Department of Enterprise and Employment when Digital collapsed in Galway. I told her in this House that she should try to hold on to the research and development element of the operation. Such units take a long time to build up and one is bound to find other firms which recognise their value. In the case of Digital, Boston Scientific had taken over the research and development unit after about six weeks. I am sure the Leader remembers that important event.
I am dismayed to see what is happening in other areas in which excellence should be aimed at as it is from these areas that people should be moving to Science Foundation Ireland. We are coasting along on the idea that we have done well in the past, which we feel means a huge effort does not have to be put in again. In science and research one must realise every day that one are in direct competition with people in different parts of the world. We cannot have an on-off scenario whereby the funding is stopped and recommenced after three years.
I disagree completely with Senator Lydon's comments on the Internet. We have fallen terribly far behind with regard to broadband. I am no expert, but I am constantly told we are at a serious disadvantage due to the fact that more investment in broadband was not made over the last five years. I could spend the afternoon listing areas in which there has been a reduction in funding. The higher education authorities have parked their research programmes, as have the research councils and the Department of Education and Science. Teagasc funding has been cut back, as has the Department of Agriculture and Food's food research measure. Nothing is an island unto itself and these programmes feed into each other. The funding for research and development at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources has been cut. The Health Research Bureau, which is very close to my heart, has seen its funding go down. On Second Stage of the Protection of the Environment Bill this morning, we all agreed that we needed to put effort into research, yet the EPA which produced a splendid report on drinking water in 2001 has had its funding cut.
It is fine to talk about the wonderful Science Foundation Ireland. The credentials of its scientists are amazing and the Minister is quite right to say that international firms will feed money and projects to it. However, we will encounter a serious personnel problem if people within our universities and other research institutions have to live with an on-off funding policy. Sometimes the amounts in question are not very great, but research is a soft target and some do not understand how difficult it is to recommence programmes which have been suspended.
I implore the Minister to take a tough line on this at Cabinet. She was right in saying that our sustained economic growth and prosperity will depend upon establishing a culture of scientific and technological innovation, a high level of research and development and a globally competitive knowledge-based economy. The Minister further stated that this repositioning is essential if we are to provide sustainable, high-quality, well-paid jobs in the future. I could not agree more. She said we must strengthen the scientific foundations on which we develop high productivity, high technology and market driven, knowledge-intensive investment, including start-ups in the industrial and services sectors. This is right, but it will not happen simply through Science Foundation Ireland. We must protect the other areas which are extremely important.
The Minister spoke about the fact that biotechnology will play a pivotal role in social and industrial development, as physics and chemistry did following the Second World War. However, physics and chemistry are very important in the education of those who enter the biotechnology field. The Minister said we must meet the challenge of making science and engineering careers attractive to students. Engineering has been seriously under-subscribed for many years, but lowering maths requirements will do no good. Maths must be got up to standard within schools, not by providing for a complementary year. We must find ways to encourage people to stay with physics and chemistry as undergraduates. There is a significant drop-off rate in the numbers taking those subjects when they come to make choices in scientific courses in the third or fourth years of study. At the opening of the nanoscience technology unit, I noted that the backgrounds of the scientists involved included primary degrees in physics or chemistry. These subjects were not just important after the Second World War, they are very important still.
 Last year, Trinity ran a very innovative programme. We had lost a lot of chemistry students after senior freshman year, prior to the third year of study. Dr. Sylvia Draper came up with the idea of having a competition whereby students would be divided into groups which would create television promotions explaining to the public the basis of scientific ideas and the need for environmental conservation. I was kindly asked to be one of the judges of the competition and I saw that initiatives of this sort work. Last year was the first time that chemistry in junior sophister year was over-subscribed. We have to be imaginative in our efforts to get people to stay with these disciplines, even if such efforts seem small and simple. The lack of emphasis on basic science in the Minister's speech is worrying. Physics and chemistry are the basic disciplines to which we must attract people before we can promote them to advanced science such as biotechnology.
The Minister said that we must provide incentives that encourage graduate students, post-doctoral researchers and non-tenured researchers to remain active in research and engineering within Ireland while recruiting and retaining outstanding researchers from abroad. It is an important point. Last year a student obtained a first in physics, but to my dismay he went to South Korea to make computer games. He said it would be very interesting.
Ms Harney Ms Harney
Ms Harney: He will be paid a large salary. I hope he will return home as the head of a large company.
Dr. Henry Dr. Henry
Dr. Henry: It is terrific to embark on such a career after graduating, but I hope he will return to the country.
Ms Harney Ms Harney
Ms Harney: At least he went to South Korea, not North Korea.
Dr. Henry Dr. Henry
Dr. Henry: Apart from the nuclear industry, I do not believe there is much industry in North Korea.
We give serious consideration to giving encouragement teachers of mathematics, applied mathematics, physics and chemistry because, unfortunately, a considerable number of those who teach these subjects do not possess a primary degree in the relevant discipline. These are difficult subjects to teach at the best of times and, particularly in light of the requirements of the modern curriculum, it must be very difficult for those who hold primary degrees in other subjects, such as English or history, to do so. The teachers' unions do not agree with teachers of difficult subjects being paid more, which is one of the reasons it is difficult to retain them. Perhaps the Minister will discuss the position with the Minister for Education and Science.
If students are to pursue these disciplines, they must be well taught. We all remember from our schooldays that we enjoyed courses taught by teachers with an enthusiasm for and knowledge of the subject. However, it was uninspiring if teachers confined themselves to reading from manuals, etc.
I strongly support the Minister in her endeavours because this issue is of enormous importance to industry in this country and to our development on the world stage. We have managed to secure an important niche in these areas. It is why pharmaceutical industries locate here. While they are attracted by the tax breaks and incentives, they would not be here in the absence of a good workforce and we must ensure that it the members of that workforce remain here.
Universities made major efforts to try to get people involved in research, but they now consider that the rug has been pulled from under them. Organisation such as Teagasc, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Health Research Bureau have done excellent work. People had expectations, but the so-called spending adjustments have removed them. This is a major blow and it will not be easy to secure the return of the many good people who became involved. It is necessary to ensure that they are given some idea regarding their tenure, be it five or ten years.
The idea that research does not take long must be challenged. A period of 20 years for a programme can be very short. Fortunately, Science Foundation Ireland realises that some projects will take a long time to complete and it is addressing this aspect.
I applaud the Minister for what she has achieved. However, I implore her to urge the Government to do something or she will otherwise have secured a loan for Science Foundation Ireland which will be unable to attract the ideas and people it needs.
Many years ago I read an article in the Lancet about the value of coffee breaks. The article in question referred to people from different disciplines in hospitals meeting to complain about what they were trying and failing to do and indicated that the cross-fertilisation of ideas at such gatherings frequently brought about solutions. We have come much further since then in that we now realise the importance of teamwork, ideas from other disciplines and national and international conferences. I would hate to see a regression in this area and I rely on the Minister to tell the Government that the spending adjustments must be re-visited in order to ensure that something is done to restore some of the research projects that have been cancelled.
Mr. Minihan Mr. Minihan
Mr. Minihan: I thank the Minister for giving me the privilege to be in a position to welcome her to the House.
Mr. Coghlan Mr. Coghlan
Mr. Coghlan: It is always good to retain one's manners.
Ms O'Rourke Ms O'Rourke
Ms O'Rourke: The Senator was well reared.
Mr. Coghlan Mr. Coghlan
Mr. Coghlan: Was it in Montenotte or Mayfair?
Mr. Ryan Mr. Ryan
 Mr. Ryan: Senator Coghlan should leave Montenotte alone. More than one Senator lives there.
Mr. Minihan Mr. Minihan
Mr. Minihan: A recent European study on innovation showed that 78% of sales in the information technology sector were based on products that were less than two years old. Companies such as Siemens state that over 50% of their sales are based on products that are less than five years old. This rate of change is a result of five main external pressures, including technology, economic development, legislation, the environmental concerns of citizens and social change.
The ability of a company to respond to change and compete in the international marketplace is today seen as the life blood of modern economies. In its studies, the OECD has shown that over 50% of economic growth can be attributed to developments in technology. It also shows that the sectors which contribute most to this economic growth and job creation are those in which high technology is developed and applied in products and services and where there is a presence of a strong scientific base.
In this modern era, most technologies are associated with various fields of science. Electronics are related to the physical sciences, pharmaceutical technologies to the biological sciences and software to mathematics, etc. Future advances in technology and our economic development and job creation will rely on a detailed understanding of these sciences and of the techniques used in the advancement of science. This is where Science Foundation Ireland comes into play.
There are five areas where scientific development will play a critical role in the future of this country. First, it will help companies compete in the international marketplace. In future, increasing globalisation of trade and European Union restrictions on fiscal and monetary policy will intensify competition from other countries seeking to outperform Ireland as a competitive location for doing business. The companies who will compete on the international market will be those with the best knowledge, best technologies and the best business networks. We must be realistic and recognise that despite our present economic success, a small economy such as Ireland's cannot invest without limit in all areas of research, technology and innovation. Spending must, therefore, be focused on those areas that can contribute most to the country's long-term economic development.
Industry and related international investment are becoming increasingly knowledge based as new research and technologies translate into global, marketable products and services. The key to Ireland's continued success will be to ensure that our development agencies, including IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland, successfully promote the location and development of firms whose competitive advantage is based on knowledge, innovation, technology and related skills.
 There is a need to focus on building new sources of competitive advantage for indigenous companies and ensuring that Ireland becomes one of Europe's most attractive locations for knowledge based enterprise, both Irish and foreign owned. The outcome of this would be to achieve the greatest economic and social benefit and to sustain industrial competitiveness in the long term. The skills of the labour force can be developed by investing in personnel with world-class research excellence at the critical mass required to give Ireland an international reputation in selected technological niches and, in particular, in information and communication technologies and biotechnology.
Scientific development will play a role in the future of the country by the provision of information for policy and legislation. Good policies require good information. The topics which come before us in this House more and more require expert scientific opinions. Winston Churchill said scientists should be on tap, not on top. In Ireland we have no problem with scientists being on tap to provide us with the information we need for our policies and on top in their own scientific fields. This would be the ideal scenario.
What of the role of Science Foundation Ireland? Enabling this to happen in future years will require a significant upgrading of the sources of such knowledge, innovation and technology by investing in related research and development personnel and activities. The funding put in place is necessary to develop a world class research capability in strategic technological advances, to underpin the future development and competitiveness of Irish owned industry, to facilitate the undertaking of research and development in this country by multinational companies in order to support the further development of the sector in Ireland, to attract more high technology companies to Ireland and to enhance the environment for the creation of more Irish owned high-tech start-ups.
The establishment of the foundation will send a strong signal to the international community and international investors that the Government is intent on sustaining and improving the conditions to maintain recent economic progress and enhance future growth prospects. Science, technology, research and innovation are the key words of the future. We must build the structures which supprt research excellence, enhance our ability to compete at the pinnacle of knowledge and produce the people through our education system who will take on the new challenges.
A cornerstone of this future is building our research capability in our universities, institutes and enterprises. This is the research infrastructure which will make it possible. The Government has been committed to getting the environment for business right and, I am confident, will continue with that commitment. There is a strong trend towards the movement of manufacturing to lower cost economies. This reflects the fact that Ireland is no longer a low wage economy and must make the transition to higher added value products and services that allow us to sustain and grow incomes. A key part of this process is to recognise the importance of innovation in helping enterprise to move up the value chain and to create a flow of technology based firms capable of competing on export markets.
Central to this vision of Ireland as a country driving technological change is Science Foundation Ireland. The foundation will support projects in key technologies strategic to long-term national development and is a vital element in the Government's strategy to move Irish industry higher up the value chain.
It is difficult to predict the future. How to select or orientate the scientific fields is a difficult decision for any nation. Given Ireland's size, it is important that we focus our science in a number of selected fields. Forfás has identified these fields as biotechnology and information and communication technologies. This is wise. At the same time we should not neglect the other scientific fields. It is important that Irish scientists establish links with the best scientific teams internationally. This should be encouraged through programmes such as the European Union research and development programmes. For example, the new EU research and development programme, the Sixth Framework Programme, announced its first call for proposals in December 2002. I hope the Irish scientific community is responding to this important opportunity.
The path from today's science to tomorrow's economic growth and jobs is a complex one. It involves universities, research and development institutions, Government agencies, financiers and so on. Science is an important first step. It is important that all the links in the chain are considered. Funding of science plus the knowledge flow to the applied sciences and engineers is as important as the funding of science itself.
Last week the European Commission's Directorate General Enterprise published an innovation policy study. The report states:
Innovation in a knowledge based economy is diverse and pervasive. It is not just based on research or science and technology or enterprise and ingenuity. Innovation also depends on organisational, social, economic, marketing and other knowledge.
Basic science produces new knowledge which must be protected. It is our most important asset for the future. The protection of intellectual property must be a critical part of new science.
It will be clear from what I have said that we are placing new pressures on the scientific community. In the past being a good scientist meant producing new knowledge, publishing this work and presenting research results to the scientific community. The scientists of the future will continue in this vein. However, they will also have to be more politically aware of the future impact of their research and more commercially and socially aware of the road from science to economic growth and from science to job creation. Science Foundation Ireland can play a major role in selecting the scientific priorities for Ireland through foresight studies, funding of basic sciences and providing the scientific community with the support it needs in its future challenges and adventures.
I congratulate the Tánaiste on bringing forward the Bill. She has shown a clear vision of where this economy has to go and set in train a process that will secure the future of the economy and our greatest natural asset, the people. In the future we will look back and realise that this initiative was a cornerstone of our economic development. I urge all those concerned to embrace this new challenge enthusiastically.
I conclude by quoting the conclusion of the EU innovation study published last week: “There will be a need for leadership, education, examples, guidance and co-ordination of services”. This is a good slogan for Science Foundation Ireland. I have no hesitation is fully supporting the Bill and encourage Members to support also.
Mr. Ryan Mr. Ryan
Mr. Ryan: We welcome the Bill and the idea of Science Foundation Ireland. Anything I say is to be seen in the context of an enthusiastic welcome for the concept. My motivation in speaking is to be constructive and add to a debate which is a little detached from the world of politics. There are issues to be debated concerning science, technology, innovation, invention, research and development. Because I know the Tánaiste has a long interest in this area I am quite certain these issues have been talked about, even though they may not surface.
We must be careful not to tie ourselves too firmly to the concept of national competitiveness. The best economist currently writing about international trade, Paul Krugman, is on record as saying he does not believe in the idea of nations having comparative advantage. He believes in companies within nations having comparative advantage and that to focus on a collective view of competitiveness, based on the only indices that can be measured collectively, such as, wage cost increases or inflation, is to distort what real competitiveness is about.
People in Ireland have a habit of choosing indices that are easiest to measure – usually wage growth and perhaps inflation and a couple of other things – and using them to make a statement of some sort. Nobody would dispute that continuing high inflation or continuing unrealistic wage increases will have an overall effect. However, that is not the same as looking at competitiveness.
The idea of establishing a well-funded, world quality research facility here is extremely good. The only thing that I, as an academic, could say is that it is a bit late to do so. That is not the Tánaiste's fault, it is the consequence of inaction on the part of successive Governments and a shortage of money.
 In terms of the proportion of our GDP, we are at the lower end of developed countries. Given that we have the resources and as we develop our capacity – I accept that we cannot merely throw money at it – and a critical mass, I would like us to expand, as a proportion of GDP, our commitment to research and development. We are discussing two words, “research” and “development”, and there is an issue to be debated in terms of how one becomes the other. This is an important concern to which I will return.
If we are to develop an ability for world-class research, we must remember that world-class research and development is the apex of the pyramid that begins in education. The noisy protest outside the House today is another part of that pyramid, as is the problem of inadequate buildings in primary schools, etc. World-class research and development cannot be developed in isolation from our education facilities. Those facilities are, as the logicians would say, a necessary but not sufficient condition for world-class research. Nevertheless, they are necessary.
I work in third level education, which is meant to be the area of science and technology. If a bright young student looks at the physical environment, the extra-curricular facilities, etc., in traditional universities and those in institutes of technology, it is difficult argue that these institutions are equal in terms of status, merit and quality. There continues to be a view that students who attend to ITs do not need the same range of supports and services. The careers service and the support services tend to be less developed. The medical services are also often less developed. I would not dispute the position vis-à-vis sports facilities, though they tend to fall behind.
In the case of institution at which I teach, Senator Minihan will be aware that the buildings are not exactly of the quality that would induce bright young students to think about careers in science and technology. There is a need – I do not want to make a special plea about this matter – to make maximum use of all the facilities and skills available to us. There is a need to persuade bright and imaginative young people that careers in science and technology provide just as much – I believe more – stimulation, challenge and capacity for both financial reward and personal satisfaction as many other careers.
I am somewhat taken aback by the number of young people who want to go into business, but who are not keen to produce goods that will be saleable in the marketplace. The latter is the point to which science and technology ought to bring one. We have to encourage people to see that if they are interested in the area of the commercial market, science and technology is every bit as valid an option as some mainstream or business or marketing course. Science and technology, properly integrated in a modern society, is as much a part of the business world as training in accountancy or marketing. One cannot be done without the other.
 In the context of schools and science and technology, it is worth looking at the tables produced in The Irish Times recently regarding which schools sent people in the largest numbers to particular universities. I note that the ITs were not asked to participate. I presume readers of The Irish Times would not be as interested in information relating these institutions. On the other hand, the schools at the top of the list for sending people to university are almost universally absent from the lists of those that produce prize winners at the Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition. Which schools provide the better education in the long term to encourage young people to see science and technology as useful, entertaining and fulfilling?
We have to consider that issue and persuade our young people that the sort of education which focuses on imagination and creativity is as important and valuable as the so-called education which focuses exclusively on gaining maximum points in the six easiest subjects – some of which are a long way from science and technology – in which it is possible to obtain points. I do not want to dwell on the comparative ease with which one can obtain As in science subjects, because science is not one of the areas which is identified as comparatively easy. This issue is worthy of a great deal more study by the Minister's Department and the Department of Education and Science in terms of looking at the degree to which the perceived ease of obtaining high points is actually pushing young people away from science and technology. This is extremely important because it is from among this pool of people that the Irish contribution to a successful endeavour will be drawn.
With regard to development in the area of science and technology, I am reminded of a wonderful phrase used by the person who took my place in the Seanad for a number of years and filled it with considerable distinction. I refer to Joe Lee, who contrasted the performance principle with the possession principle as they apply to Ireland. He stated that we tend to operate on the basis of the principle that “What we have we hold”, rather than on rewarding performance.
I am venturing into difficult territory because I work in a sector of third level education which, rightly or otherwise, believes itself to be rhetorically equal but which, practically speaking, is seen as the poor relation of the third level education sector. Let me provide examples. The previous Government set up foresight panels which were important and useful. I went through the membership of those panels and counted only two academics from the entire institute of technology sector. They were dominated by university academics, all of whom I am sure were people of considerable ability, and by people from industry. The principle behind these panels was fine. However, the idea seemed quite wrong that, in the sector of education which concentrates and specialises in science and technology, there should be such a small number of people who would have any contribution to make in terms of considering how the world will evolve. If one looks at the composition of the Irish Council for Science, Technology and Innovation, one will find that the same applies.
Let us consider the position of the foresight panel on pharmaceuticals, to which Tánaiste referred. There are two stages to research and development: first, the identification of a new idea or invention that will do something not done heretofore; and, second, turning the latter into a commercial product. One of the problems Britain, for example, has had for the past 30 years is that it has done well in discovering new things which have then been promptly commercialised on the other side of the Atlantic. The intermediary role of taking something from the initial discovery to commercial product involves more than scientists, it involves the profession – engineering – in which I, to a certain extent, am involved.
It is astonishing that there was not a single engineer on the pharmaceutical foresight panel. The development of pharmaceuticals involves two things: first, the obvious basic research; and, second, how one makes a product in a way which is capable of meeting modern quality standards and which is commercially attractive. I find the omission of an entire sector of third level education and, in many cases, the omission of a major profession in the productive sector astonishing. I think it is a reflection of what I just described as Joe Lee's categorisation of the possession principle over the performance principle.
I suggest that Tánaiste give consideration to this matter. In terms of the composition of the board she is about to establish, people who have performed rather than those with particular titles should be appointed because we need to move away from the type of distinctions which were wrong 20 years ago and which are now meaningless.
Nobody would dispute the two areas to which the Tánaiste referred in respect of the SFI, namely, biotechnology and information and communications technology. I am, however, surprised that neither the foresight panels nor the Bill have focused on the area of the environment and sustainability. I know the Tánaiste referred to environmental protection, but one of the most fundamental transformations in all areas of economic activity over the next 40 or 50 years will be not only treating things at the end of the pipe, which is one way, but totally reconsidering the way we do things, make things and organise our transport system. This is so fundamental that it appears there is considerable room for innovation and for world class research. It is an area of great uncertainty and, therefore, one at which to look.
Nicholas Ashford, who works in MIT, makes a distinction between invention and innovation. A world class research centre will, I hope, be successful at invention. Innovation is the commercial application of invention. There are two kinds innovation, there is the stepwise form and there is the kind of quantum leap made when something new appears. One could look at the development of personal computers since the first model came on the market as stepwise innovation, whereas the first PC was a fundamental innovation.
Our job is to move from just finding out and discovering new things to making sure that they are made here in the future. I agree with one of the points Senator Minihan raised, that is, the protection of intellectual property rights. Perhaps the patent laws need to be looked at in terms of timescale. However, giving software copyright protection for 70 years is one of the single biggest inhibitions to real innovation. It was illogical at the time and it is more illogical now. To treat software as if it was creative writing is nothing more than a protection for the dominant corporation which dominates the world software market. It was the wrong decision to make and it should be reviewed.
A 20 year patent is more than adequate. I believe in patent law, but do not believe copyright law should have been effectively subverted largely to protect the dominance of one big company.
Mr. Hanafin Mr. Hanafin
Mr. Hanafin: I welcome the Tánaiste and I support the Industrial Development (Science Foundation Ireland) Bill 2002. Senator Ryan reminded me of my history class at school when we looked at ancient copyright. I do not remember which Ard Rí issued the decree to the effect, “To every cow its calf and to every book its copy.” That is how they decided copyright in times past. Naturally, we have to amend for future generations and do not want to see monopolies hold copyrights indefinitely, particularly when it is for the good of the public.
Notwithstanding that, the Bill provides for the establishment of Science Foundation Ireland. The new body will be an agency of Forfás. The Bill also provides for the amendment of the Industrial Development Acts 1986 to 1998 and the Shannon Free Airport Development Company (Amendment) Act 1986. These amendments are mainly concerned with the updating of certain grant instruments and related financial limits.
The main function of the foundation is to promote and develop the best research capability in strategic areas of scientific endeavour which concern economic and social benefit and long-term competitiveness. These areas include information and communications technology and biotechnology. It is intended that the foundation will attract research teams and individual researchers of the highest standard to carry out research in Ireland. The Government established Science Foundation Ireland to help to retain outstanding research scientists and engineers in the information and communications technology and biotechnology industrial sectors in Ireland and to recruit leading international researchers to academic positions here.
 Following the technology foresight process, which was completed in 1999, the Government, as part of the national development plan, allocated €635 million to SFI in February 2000. The Government gave SFI responsibility to invest this money consistently and substantially in those individuals most likely to generate new knowledge, leading edge technologies and competitive enterprises. The aim of this investment is to help Ireland to diversify and expand its economy through recruiting and retaining creative individuals with advanced research experience in areas critical to the development of a knowledge based economy.
The future competitiveness of the Irish economy will increasingly be based on the quality of the intellectual capital available to stimulate innovation, excellence and entrepreneurship. In strengthening the country's intellectual capital, we want to use the resulting capability to create a reservoir of ideas, skills and talent which will profit Ireland in the future. To meet this goal, SFI will work in partnership with all third level institutions to augment both the quality and the amount of research carried out on a competitive basis. The best way to do this is by investing in creative and successful teachers and scholars based in these institutions.
By the end of 2002, SFI committed approximately €200 million to information and communications technology and biotechnology projects and teams in Ireland. Since its establishment, SFI has instituted five research programmes and invested in almost 60 scientists and their associated teams. These teams will be based throughout the country.
By 2006, Ireland will have invested €2 billion in the 21st century in science and research development. To obtain maximum return on this investment, Ireland should develop a coherent national research strategy. This is imperative at a time when nations which do not develop knowledge are doomed to package it as manufacturers and to pay for it with their standard of living. Thanks to the hard work already done, Ireland has become a knowledge driven nation. It must now become a knowledge driving nation.
Mr. Quinn Mr. Quinn
Mr. Quinn: I welcome the Tánaiste and the Bill. It is quite likely that there will be a great deal of discussion about many past Irish scientists, but Ireland has never been a scientific country. I attended Newbridge College at which Fr. Casey was my science teacher and which had one of the best laboratories of any school in the 1950s. Fr. Casey was later appointed professor of science at Maynooth. Woe betide anybody at Newbridge College who did not know about Boyle's law which was formulated by Sir Robert Boyle, a famous Irish scientist. I accept that there have been famous Irish scientists in the past, but they were few and far between.
I wish to focus on the underlying aims of the legislation and the way we may test our seriousness in regard to them. The starting point for Ireland is that it is trying to change because it has never been a country noted for its noted for its scientists. That is despite the catalogue of notable Irish scientists over the centuries who tend to be dusted down and brought into the open for debates such as this. We are flying in the face of reality if we try to persuade ourselves and others that Ireland has a strong scientific tradition.
The English novelist C. P. Snow wrote about the division of Britain into two cultures: one that was science-based; and the other that was based on the humanities. He saw this division as being a real problem for Britain in the area of science. We also have this problem, but in a more extreme sense because we do not have twin cultures. We have a single humanities-based culture and science has never obtained a proper role in the Irish academic tradition. This has become a serious problem because of the kind of economy we have built within the last generation. We see the future of our country as a knowledge-based economy, which actually means science and technology.
When my eldest son, Eamonn, finished school he decided to pursue commerce and economics studies in Trinity College. I remember telling Tom Hardiman, who at the time was chairman of the science and technology board, what my son was going to study and inquired angrily “Do you not realise the future is in science and technology? Why would anybody waste their time doing anything else?” It was great to have people like Tom Hardiman arguing the case for science and technology 20 years ago.
The dilemma facing us is that if we are to prosper in future we must become involved in the business of creating science instead of passively talking about obtaining science and technology from others. We have reached our current position being takers in the science and technology sector, but, unfortunately, that is a dead end for the future.
It has long been the objective of IDA Ireland and of industrial policy generally to move up through the value chain with regard to our export industries. For over a decade, IDA Ireland has engaged in a great deal of pushing and shoving to encourage multinationals to establish research facilities here as a springboard for future growth. For the most part, however, that campaign failed, although I know there were some exceptions to which the Tánaiste referred. The reason it failed is the main reason underpinning the Bill. The multinationals who are at the leading edge of science want to establish their research laboratories in an environment that will nurture them. They want to plant units like that in a science-friendly place, rather than putting them on barren ground where they will receive no support from the surrounding environment. When they looked at Ireland, they noted not only that we lacked a scientific tradition and culture but also that we failed in the past to support new scientific research.
For many years, all our support for third level education went into the business of turning out undergraduates. The State refused to become involved in supporting research, which is the second essential pillar of university activity. I must admit that many of us were just as much at fault as others in not recognising the benefits of research which, by and large, was left to fend for itself when it came to financial support. That has had predictable consequences.
It is to the great credit of the Tánaiste and the Government that they eventually realised that this could not continue and that, by failing to invest in science, we were putting the future growth of our economy at risk. From that realisation came the commitment to invest over €700 million in scientific research over the period of the current national economic plan. Scientific Foundation Ireland is the vehicle through which that money will be disbursed. The sum of €700 million may seem enormous, but it is not that large when one considers the task we face. In a few short years we will have to convince a sceptical world that we can become a world-class centre for scientific research. We will have succeeded if people come to regard Ireland as a leading international scientific centre.
In a real sense we are engaged in a credibility campaign and to succeed we will have to do much more than just catch up with the pack. Instead, we will have to establish a leadership position in a number of specialised fields that we carefully select as having the greatest potential for the country. We want to make Ireland a leader to the extent that it will attract leading scientists in specific fields. They will come here not because of our lifestyle, which many people have done in the past, but because this is the centre of their particular scientific world. It is a bold and highly ambitious plan and, as such, I applaud it and wish it every success.
In welcoming the Bill, however, I want to sound a note of warning. The structures created by the legislation, important as they are, will not ensure the success of the project itself. The structures on their own will prove utterly useless if they are not fully backed up by the necessary resources. At a minimum, it should be a five year programme and those who buy into it must be convinced that it will be supported for the full length of the Government's term of office and beyond. The credibility of the entire project will be fatally undermined if the Government does not deliver the promised funds. I realise that we can only make certain promises and I know the Tánaiste will do her best, but that credibility is important because the entire project depends upon it. I would like the Tánaiste to provide an assurance that such support will be guaranteed for the duration and that this ambitious project will not be allowed to fall foul of the cost-cutters in the Department of Finance.
When the Book of Estimates was published, I remember hearing that the amounts being set aside for supporting scientific research were to be put on hold for this year. Perhaps the Tánaiste might correct me on that point. If that is so, however, we may as well throw our hats at the project here and now. There is no point passing legislation such as that before us if we are not prepared to put our money where our mouths are. What is involved here is a credibility campaign in which we are trying to convince a sceptical world with promises of our best intentions. That campaign will be fatally undermined if any doubts arise about our determination to carry through fully all we have said we will do.
The Tánaiste's heart is behind the project and I know she can only make a certain number of promises. However, given her enthusiasm and dedication, she will be anxious to make it succeed. I hope the Tánaiste will be able to put my mind at rest on this crucial point.
Dr. Mansergh Dr. Mansergh
Dr. Mansergh: I welcome the legislation the Tánaiste has brought before the House. I have been convinced for a long time of the importance, as well as the previous neglect, of scientific research and development. I listened to Senator Quinn with interest and I agree with some of his points, in particular that we cannot be purely takers. However, I would take issue with his view of history. He is accurate in what he said about independent Ireland, but – and this is perhaps one of the costs of independence – from the 17th century to the early 20th century many Irish people made considerable contributions to science. For example, the Parsons' turbine and the telescope were invented during the period in question, Boyle's law was formulated and an interesting group, the Dublin Philosophical Society, was formed and eventually became the Royal Dublin Society. Post-independence Ireland was cut off from that tradition and it is now a question of moving up the field and getting among the leaders.
I must declare an interest in that two members of my family are involved in basic research. My sister is involved in the area of mathematics and has benefited from the Forfás grants which enabled her to attend mathematical conferences in, for example, Poland and my daughter is involved in the area of genetics and biotechnology. It is interesting that the Trinity genetics department was originally founded by the Irish Sugar Company. That application has established a considerable reputation.
I take issue with Senator Ryan who stated that the schools which were near the top of the list in the Irish Farmers Journal, with all the reservations one might have about that. I am on the council of Alexandra College, a school which is high on that list and which won the Young Scientist of the Year award in 1981 and 1991.
The final interest I must declare is that in the late 1970s I worked for three years as an official in the area of science policy at the Department of Foreign Affairs. During that period I had the opportunity to get to know people in the scientific community, understand some of what was happening and gain an insight into the peculiar difficulties involved in decision-making in that area.
If we are discussing penalty points, rates or agricultural grants, most of us who have done some study can understand what is happening. However, there are areas of science that are much more impenetrable to the politicians, civil servants and, dare I say it, State agencies. That could lead one to the fatal mistake of believing that it is, therefore, less important or an optional extra when, in fact, the opposite is true.
One initiative from the period to which I refer that became a great success in the applied area is the national microelectronics centre in Cork. Difficult though it is, one must try to select and back winners. When winners emerge, they may need support. It would be wrong to think, particularly when one considers what has happened in the past ten years, that this has been solely an initiative put in place by previous Governments or the State itself.
I could not let this debate continue without paying a warm tribute to Mr. Chuck Feeney – his name is now public knowledge but for a long period he was anonymous – an Irish American who played a considerable supportive role in the peace process. He made an enormous contribution to building up the scientific and research capacity of practically every university in the country. I cannot think of one third level institution I have visited at which he did not make a big difference. We should be enormously grateful for that. Having had the bar raised to a new level, we must now take on the responsibility and ensure further progress. We cannot necessarily expect future benevolence, but Mr. Feeney had a vision for this country which, I am glad to say, Governments bought into. His role must be acknowledged.
At the risk of being thought mischievous, I must say that I am somewhat surprised that such an important Bill is being introduced by the Tanáiste as opposed to the Minister for Education and Science. For as long as I can remember, responsibility for science has moved around from Department to Department. There is a slight anomaly in having a Minister for Education and Science and yet having this important initiative introduced by the Tánaiste. I am not criticising that attribution of responsibility. It may be, with one caveat, the most sensible thing to do in the circumstances.
Many people call me an academic. I have never been an academic, apart from obtaining a PhD at one stage.
Ms Harney Ms Harney
Ms Harney: That is because the Senator is so smart.
Dr. Mansergh Dr. Mansergh
Dr. Mansergh: I thank the Tánaiste. Does she want me to cringe beneath the desk?
Ms Harney Ms Harney
Ms Harney: I want the Senator to forget about who is responsible.
Dr. Mansergh Dr. Mansergh
 Dr. Mansergh: I have one reservation. I have given some examples – the areas of genetics and microelectronics – where making the connection between basic science and a utilitarian application has worked. When Benjamin Franklin carried out his electricity experiments in the 1750s or the first balloon flight was made at Versailles, did people realise that the world would be totally transformed as a result?
I know the Tánaiste does not favour the concept of a planned economy and the type of thinking that previously held sway in certain countries in eastern Europe. However, there is a danger in believing that one can select all the winners in the area we are discussing. Science is universal, it is not national. We must focus on areas of significance and importance to us and on developments which might produce things of relevance. However, we should not ignore areas of excellence which may be developing at random and in which we can make a real contribution and build up a strength.
I appeal to those involved in administering this area not to be 100% utilitarian. I am not sure the latter is possible where basic research is concerned because, in a sense, the people carrying out that research are different from those who carry out the application. One can never exactly be sure to what basic research will lead.
This is an important initiative. I appeal to the Tánaiste – like other Members I am concerned about the health of the economy and the fact that nothing is possible without the necessary finance – to maintain the priority in this area. Many of those involved in scientific researches have careers that span several different countries and systems. If people are moving to Canada or elsewhere, they tend to compare facilities in different countries. There is more work to be done in improving the facilities. I know it costs money, but we need the facilities in the areas on which we are focusing in order to be at the cutting edge. The Government will have my support in achieving that.
Ms O'Rourke Ms O'Rourke
Ms O'Rourke: I welcome the Tanáiste. It is appropriate that she should bring this important legislation to this House. Our distinguished audience in the Visitors Gallery and anyone else listening to proceedings could not fail to be impressed at the level of debate and the wide-ranging depth of knowledge displayed. The debate was held in an remarkable atmosphere, notable for the absence of rancour. There was unanimity regarding the thrust of the Bill.
The Tánaiste will recall that I was a member of the Cabinet when the distinguished chairman voiced his ideas at a Cabinet meeting and we fully discussed the matter. I was very struck by the imagination and “go where no man has gone before” attitude which led to this idea. No doubt that type of boldness has been characteristic of the membership of the committee, the council and this legislation.
 I commend the Government and the Tánaiste, who has followed the matter through, for the breadth of experience she has garnered in the make-up of the council, which is very important. We all think our own country is wonderful – it is a good attribute to think well of one's countrymen and women – but for a bold endeavour such as this, it is necessary to broaden one's horizon. The Tánaiste has done this in the make-up of the council. My colleague, Senator Leyden, a former Minister of State, has done much research in this regard. The qualifications and experience of members of the council, including the qualifications and experience of our people, will give the board a huge boost. Much of this work is of a voluntary nature. Many members of the board have very busy lives and they bring their valuable experience to the council.
I do not like the division between science and the humanities, which is an entirely wrong educational concept in relation to how one leads one's life. Surely one cannot be a broad based scientist or researcher if one does not have a good basic education and a dream to enable one to envisage, read and reflect on literature while turning one's mind to other aspects. During the debate it struck me that this note was coming across, notably in the contributions of Senators Ryan and Mansergh. To be a scientist, it is necessary to be educated, not just in the pure art of science. One must have a broad vision, otherwise one would come to a very rough end.
It is remarkable that we have taken this very bold step. Throughout the centuries, learning in the purest academic sense has been the keystone of our development as a nation. For many centuries we travelled or our ancestors spent what pittance they had in ensuring their young people got a decent education. Therefore, our knowledge spread throughout the world. It is the basis for what we are doing here today and we must continue with the dream. One needs to have a sense of adventure and daring – the Tánaiste has it in spades – and a determination to carry out this work.
We should not be content to take in just the firms that will give the best return – we all want that – and supply them with our knowledge. We must keep moving on because an individual, company, farm, council or body that remains static will be finished and will not be open to what is available to them. This remarkable Bill indicates that we are at a very important juncture in Irish economic life. There is now a fusion of knowledge and scientific endeavour, linked to a dream and a vision of where we can go.
I am very pleased the Tánaiste has come to the House today and stayed throughout the whole debate. Some Ministers disappear after approximately half an hour. It has been a very worthwhile afternoon for the Seanad, the Department, the Tánaiste and the distinguished board who are here this afternoon and are most welcome.
Ms Harney Ms Harney
 Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Ms Harney): I thank the Senators who contributed to this very important legislation. Some Members acknowledged the presence in the House of Dr. Harris, Mr. Brian Sweeney and Mr. John Travers, who are very closely associated with the establishment of Science Foundation Ireland. However, as it is a rule of the House not to mention people in the gallery, I did not want to break the rule. I am deeply indebted, as is the country, to these people for what they have sought to do and for the vision Dr. Harris has brought to the task since coming here approximately 18 months ago. It is true we have put together an excellent board from around the world, including people who are prepared to give so much to the interests of this country. Many of these people are Irish but others have no particular interest in Ireland, nor do they work here. However, they care so much about what we are doing that they are prepared to lend their experience and expertise. I think the country will be a great beneficiary from all of that.
On the question of funding raised by Senator Quinn, the funding for Science Foundation Ireland for 2003 will be double that for 2002. This is done in the context of spending for the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment being reduced by more than 5%. I make the point simply to emphasise that it is a priority. This is the direction in which we are going and we will stay on that course. It would not make sense to have a stop and start approach in this area. As others said, one cannot turn the tap on and off quickly in regard to research. Therefore, it is important to build up our capacity.
We need to do this at several levels, not just in regard to Science Foundation Ireland but within the universities, third level places of learning, in companies, the public service and in society generally. We need to embrace science in all its aspects because sometimes people do not see the connection between their everyday life and scientific innovation and technological advancement. When moving an old rotary dial phone in my house, which was only about ten years old, my niece asked how old it was and was astonished that we had phones like that as recently as ten years ago. I suppose that brought home to me how quickly the environment changes.
We have a long and distinguished list of Irish scientists of the past who were probably never really recognised, and many of whom were women. Women were perhaps more prominent in science in Ireland in the past than they are today and I hope that will be the case in the future.
Senator Henry mentioned the nanoscience laboratory which was opened in Trinity College approximately two weeks ago, funded by Science Foundation Ireland. What I found extraordinary from that experience was not just the individuals who were absolutely outstanding, but two pieces of equipment, one of which was one of four of its kind and the other one of three of its kind in the world. When we are capable of supporting that kind of investment, we are really at the cutting-edge, and we need to be.
We need to spend the money wisely because we have a long way to go to catch up with even the OECD average, which is approximately 2.2%, and we are at approximately 1.2%. The EU has set an expenditure target of 3% of GDP, so we will have to almost treble our current levels to meet the target.
Ireland does not often do well in international tenders for funding, such as the Sixth Framework Programme which was mentioned during the debate. We have put in a huge amount of effort and thought to facilitate the necessary collaboration between Ireland, its EU partners and other countries. We have to ensure that we get more funding in future than we have been able to avail of in the past, when many of our systems were not in place.
Reference was made to intellectual property and patenting. There have been efforts at EU level in the last two years to agree a Community patent. Such a patent has not yet been agreed, however, because of particular interests such as language and location. If we want the EU to be the most dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world by 2010, which is the target set at the Lisbon Summit, something as basic as a Community patent is essential. I hope that great advances in relation to this matter can be made during Ireland's presidency of the European Competitiveness Council early next year. While it is a basic issue on one level, it is vitally important if we want the EU to compete with others in this area.
Senator Henry and others referred to the decline in the study of physics and chemistry, which is a concern of the Government. It is not just an Irish phenomenon, however, as it has been observed in other countries. A recent Forfás survey indicated that students do not pursue physics and chemistry, not because they find them difficult but because they do not enjoy them. We have to find different ways of educating children in the science subjects. We do not have a national science centre, but it is an ambition of mine to assist such a venture. Many members of the Government share this ambition, but it has not been possible to pursue it because of the state of the public finances. We need to find new ways of making children enthusiastic about science and acquiring scientific knowledge.
With the exception of The Irish Times, the national media do not tend to employ science correspondents. When the Government agreed to the recent increase in the RTE licence fee, it specified that RTE should appoint a science correspondent and I was glad to see the post advertised in the newspapers in recent weeks. If public service broadcasting means anything, it means that such subjects should be highlighted. RTE's increased focus on science should help to heighten awareness of the importance of science and the issues of concern to the scientific community.
 I note that this House intends to debate this Bill on Committee Stage next week and perhaps I will take that opportunity to deal with certain detailed observations that have been made today. I did not realise that I would have to respond to the Second Stage debate in this House, even though I have been here on many occasions. It is strange that one's memory can become rusty.
Senator Ryan spoke about Paul Krugman and asked whether companies and countries are competitive. Although I do not run a company, Ireland is a company from my perspective. A country can do many things to make itself competitive. Ireland's competitiveness is not just about low rates of taxation, as tax does not matter if one cannot make a profit. Competitiveness depends on things like skilled and flexible employees, efficient public services, political stability and scientific innovation. I am engaged in close co-operation with the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Noel Dempsey, in relation to this area. It was easy to reach agreement about certain matters in a small country like Ireland when there was no money here for science and innovation. Turf wars can break out when money becomes available, however, and people fail to see the big picture.
Ms O'Rourke Ms O'Rourke
Ms O'Rourke: Yes.
Ms Harney Ms Harney
Ms Harney: The Government is determined to see the big picture. The Taoiseach takes an interest in science and will make some comments in relation to its importance soon. It is important that the Taoiseach, as head of the Government, shows an interest in it, as well as the Ministers who are directly responsible. It is fantastic that the Taoiseach is determined to pursue his interest in science.
I recently met some of the many people who have come to Ireland to avail of SFI funding and to pursue a research career here. They are not all young, although some of them are very young, but they are all dynamic. Some of them are foreign and others are Irish people who have returned here and are delighted to be back. It is fantastic that the opportunity exists for people to develop their skills, particularly those who left Ireland in a previous era when there were no opportunities for serious research. The fact that people from some of the world's leading research institutes are prepared to conduct research in Ireland is even more important than the return of the people I have mentioned. Ireland has gained enormous credibility from the fact that many people believe that it is among the leading countries for these activities.
Although the amount of money being invested in the technology foresight fund is quite large at €646 million, other companies such as Intel, Microsoft, Hewlett Packard and Siemens spend up to $4 billion dollars on research each year. The Government is investing a great deal of public money, but it must be borne in mind that 72% of the research and development carried out in the world is conducted on behalf of corporations. We should not get too carried away with our investment, even though it represents an important change in the direction of our economic and industrial development. It is as important as the change from agriculture to manufacturing. It is a central part of Ireland's activities in the areas of science and innovation.
I am glad this Bill has the unanimous support of all Members of the Seanad. It augurs well for what we are trying to do. Although only eight or ten Senators contributed to this debate, we may not have even had that many a number of years ago. An informal group of Members of the Oireachtas, including Senators, who are interested in science has been set up and any Member who is interested in scientific matters should join it. I hope a full Oireachtas committee on science, innovation and technology will be established soon, as interest in these issues builds in the political system. When I met some researchers recently, I encouraged them to get to know their local politicians, as the world of research can often be disconnected from the political system. It would be a good development for politics and for the research community. Similarly, it is important that politicians attempt to get to know what is happening in the research world. The scientific details of that world are beyond the understanding of those without particular scientific expertise, but we can try to understand the significance of science and its role in society.
I am grateful to Senators for approving Second Stage of the Industrial Development (Science Foundation Ireland) Bill 2002 so speedily and with such warm support. I look forward to returning for Committee Stage next week, if that is what the House decides.
Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 11 February 2003.
Sitting suspended at 4.50 p.m. and resumed at 6 p.m.
Seanad Éireann 171 Industrial Development (Science Foundation Ireland) Bill 2002: Second Stage.