New legislation to focus scientific research on turning good ideas into good jobs

The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Richard Bruton TD, and the Minister of State for Research and Innovation, Sean Sherlock TD, today (Wednesday) announced the publication of the Industrial Development (Science Foundation Ireland) (Amendment) Bill 2012, following agreement by Government.

The purpose of the Bill is to extend the remit of Science Foundation Ireland to enable it to fund applied research in addition to its existing remit to fund oriented basic research.

SFI provides grants to researchers and research groups based in higher education institutions on the basis of competitive calls for proposals and on the basis of international peer review. The extension of SFI’s remit to include applied research will take the outcome of oriented basic research funded by SFI closer to market which in turn increases the potential of research to yield commercial opportunities and jobs.

The Bill also includes a new function to enable SFI to promote and support awareness and understanding of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation transferred responsibility for delivery of the Discover Science and Engineering programme from Forfas to SFI on an administrative basis with effect from 1 March 2012.

The Bill also provides for certain amendments to existing legislation relating to Forfas, Shannon Development and Enterprise Ireland, as part of the Government’s plan for the creation of an international aviation centre of excellence in the Shannon region, previously announced (see Notes for Editors, below).

Minister Bruton stated: “A key part of the Government’s plans for jobs and growth is ensuring not only that we continue to develop good ideas through scientific research, but also crucially that we turn more of them into products, services and ultimately good jobs. This Bill is part of a series of changes the Government is putting in place to get more out of the State’s investment in this area, including a research prioritisation exercise, a one-stop shop for commercialising research and a new highly ambitious strategy from SFI which aims to become the best science funding agency in the world. This legislation will ensure that SFI has the mandate to carry out not only basic research but also applied research, filling a crucial gap in our research architecture and helping to turn good ideas into the good jobs we need”.

Sean Sherlock T.D., Minister for Research and Innovation said: “SFI has been successfully supporting research teams carrying out oriented basic research in higher education institutions, but this research is typically at an earlier stage than applied research which would involve companies carrying out research necessary to bring products or services to market.”

“There is a gap between funding for oriented basic research by SFI and supports from Enterprise Ireland and IDA to companies for applied research opportunities. This extension will fill the gap and provide better support to enable ideas generated by Irish research groups to be further developed and commercialised”.

“The Government’s Action Plan for Jobs stresses the importance of Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) in providing the skills necessary to create high quality jobs for this economy. Studies consistently show that the good jobs of the future will demand students with high-level science, engineering and maths skills. Now administered through SFI, the Discover Science and Engineering (DSE) programme promotes STEM subjects throughout its various supported actions such as Science Week”, Minister Sherlock concluded.

Notes for Editors

Science Foundation Ireland was established under the Industrial Development (Science Foundation Ireland) Act 2003 (No. 30). The main function of the Foundation under that Act is to promote, develop and assist the carrying out of oriented basic research in strategic areas of scientific endeavour that concerns the future development and competitiveness of industry and enterprise in the State. The 2003 Act specified the strategic areas of scientific endeavour as information and communications technologies and biotechnology. Subsequently by regulations, sustainable energy and energy-efficient technologies was specified as an additional strategic area of scientific endeavour. SFI’s funding programmes include support for research teams led by principal investigators, the clustering of research teams with industry engagement and larger scale grouping of research teams to address a more limited number of strategic thematic areas in collaboration with industry partners.

The Bill also provides for certain amendments to existing legislation relating to Forfas, Shannon Development and Enterprise Ireland. These are unrelated to the proposed changes to the remit of Science Foundation Ireland. The amendment relating to Shannon is a necessary amendment to the Industrial Development Acts to provide for new arrangements for the promotion of enterprise opportunities in the Mid-West region.

On 3 December Ministers Bruton and Varadker announced that the Government had confirmed its decision in principle of 8 May last to grant Shannon Airport full independence from the Dublin Airport Authority and to merge the airport with a restructured Shannon Development to form a new, publicly-owned, commercial entity in 2013. This new entity will act as a catalyst for the development of strategic sectoral opportunities, particularly within the aviation sector, including the creation of an international aviation centre of excellence centred on the airport. Legislation will now be drafted to establish this new, publicly-owned commercial entity.

In accordance with the Government decision of 8 May last, Shannon Development’s enterprise functions are being transferred to Enterprise Ireland and the IDA and a number of actions are being taken to bring about this transfer. The Industrial Development (Science Foundation Ireland) (Amendment) Bill 2012, which is now being published, will repeal the provision of the Industrial Development Act 1986 which prevents Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland from providing and administering grants and other financial facilities for industry in the Shannon Free Zone (SFZ).