FeaturedTechnology and Innovation report

The importance of Irish innovation

Innovation is a cornerstone of Ireland’s overall economic development policy. Minister of State at the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation and the Department of Education and Skills, John Halligan TD, writes.

As a small country, we know that innovation is key to maintaining competitiveness for Ireland in global markets, and for providing jobs and sustainable growth in our economy.

Innovation 2020, led by the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, is our cross-government strategy for research and innovation, science and technology. Launched in 2015, it contains a large number of initiatives to support broad-based innovation, focusing on delivering excellence, talent and impact to deliver on our vision to become a global innovation leader, driving a strong, sustainable economy and a better society.

Ireland is currently the 10th most innovative country in the world, a significant jump from 21st place just 10 years ago. In terms of the quality and impact of our scientific capacity, we have rapidly climbed the rankings to 11th place globally. We rank first in the world for Knowledge Diffusion, and fifth in the world for Knowledge Impact. Our global rankings for individual subject areas further demonstrate that we continue to play an important role in global RDI. Ireland is now first in animal and dairy, first in immunology, second in nanotechnology and agricultural sciences.

In the 2018 European Innovation Scoreboard, Ireland is a ‘Strong Innovator’, ranked ninth most innovative country in the EU, and first for innovative SMEs, employment in knowledge-intensive activities and in sales impacts. Our vision is to become an Innovation Leader, sitting alongside the best in Europe.

A real measure of success of our commitment to research, development and innovation is the impact that such commitment and investment has on our economy and the lives of our citizens. The societal benefits of investment in research are wide-ranging. It can address grand challenges in areas such as improving health and increasing longevity, creating advances in medicine and healthcare, ensuring the sustainability of food and agriculture in meeting the demands of improving yields without compromising environmental integrity or public health.

Generating and using new knowledge for economic and social progress is a key priority for this government. By transforming the level and quality of interactions between our higher education research institutions and enterprise, we are developing a strong capacity to commercialise our public research and we are ranked first in the world for knowledge diffusion.

We recognise that innovation is crucial to creating and maintaining high-value jobs and attracting, developing and nurturing business, scientists and talented people.

A significant part of our public innovation policy is to support the innovation activity of our business base, which is particularly important for Irish based companies as a result of Brexit.

We are seeing increasing numbers of businesses living by the maxim ‘the best way to predict the future is to create it’. Our enterprise base is creating a future few of us can currently imagine. We are rapidly becoming a hub for artificial intelligence, Internet of Things, robotics and automation.

Ireland is now home to:

• all of the top 10 ‘Born on the Internet’ companies;
• all of the top 10 global pharmaceutical firms;
• nine of the top 10 global software companies with more than 500 software firms in Ireland overall; and
• 20 of the top 25 top financial services companies, Ireland being the fourth largest exporter of financial services in the EU.

“We recognise that innovation is crucial to creating and maintaining high-value jobs and attracting, developing and nurturing business, scientists and talented people.”

Technology continues to develop at an ever-increasing pace, bringing radical changes throughout almost every industry. Cutting edge research and innovation will ensure Ireland optimises the opportunities arising from new science and technology developments and disruptions.

Since the launch of Research Prioritisation in 2012, there have been a range of significant developments including the increased development of disruptive technologies, Brexit, and Ireland’s adoption of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The challenge for small open economies like Ireland is to remain agile and resilient. Enhancing the innovative capacity of Irish based firms along with their ability to diversify into new markets has become all the more critical.

Enterprise-relevant research is key to ensuring all our companies stay ahead of the curve. As a small, open economy, in Ireland we drive a policy of aligning the majority of competitively awarded public investment with areas of opportunity that exist for our companies in the international marketplace. The objective is to ensure that Ireland is favourably positioned to benefit from global opportunities now and into the future, by responding to worldwide megatrends and challenges that are shaping the global economy and Ireland’s place in it.

Earlier this year, I announced an update to the areas of focus which now include exciting emerging technologies such as robotics, artificial intelligence, augmented reality and virtual reality, advanced and smart manufacturing and the decarbonisation of the energy system.

We are developing our innovation ecosystem to ensure that enterprises can collaborate with researchers and to engage effectively in areas of impact to innovate and develop new products, services, solutions and new business models to underpin leadership positions in international markets and to meet global and societal challenges.

We have done well in securing competitive funding through the first phases of the European Horizon 2020 programme. I recently announced that from a target of €1.25 billion, Ireland has succeeding in drawing down over €630 million so far, surpassing our total from the previous programme. This success has been driven by world-class academic researchers and innovative companies. We are supporting our best researchers to continue to lead and succeed – and especially with a focus on winning impactful European research projects of scale.

We will continue to drive this important agenda, keeping innovation centre stage to drive a strong sustainable economy and a better society. But we cannot do this without continued investment. My Department is an important research funder. In 2017, we accounted for over 51 per cent of the public expenditure on research, development and innovation. Ireland’s gross expenditure on R&D has reached its highest level yet at an estimated €3.34 billion in 2017. This is an increase of €270 million since 2015.

Innovation 2020 recognises the importance of investment in RDI, and a key commitment is for government departments to continue to ensure that RDI funding is afforded a sufficiently high priority in their budgets to contribute to the R&D intensity rate target of 2.5 per cent of GNP by 2020 and to deliver on the whole-of-government vision of being a global innovation leader.

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