IN RECENT months, The Irish Times has published a number of articles defending the â‚¬8.2 billion science budget in the current National Development Plan, but its striking that the practitioners of the hard sciences present few hard facts in its defence. Dreams of finding a new Nokia are fine but critics question the over-reliance of a small country like Ireland, on university-driven basic research.
The Oireachtas has given little attention to reviewing the planned expenditure of â‚¬8.2 billion over the period 2007-2013, and last June, Taoiseach Brian Cowen announced a 28-strong innovation taskforce, packed with insider members from the universities and State agencies.
US venture capital-backed businesses use different people and procedures than the typical laboratory high-level research: they employ a much smaller proportion of PhDs in their technical staff, and their overall workforces contain a larger proportion of managers and sales and marketing staff â€“ people who are close to users.
It would be foolish for Ireland to bank its future on a university lab or unquestionably accept the position of the various vested interests involved.
The first question I had while reading this was “Where’s our innovation task force?
Over the last months, I have toyed with the idea that Northern Ireland needs some strong, non-aligned leadership in a future digital economy and that should come in the form of a technocrat-think-tank. This is the independent body that our Ministers should be talking to when talking about the future of the Northern Ireland economy. They should come from all walks of life – biotech, greentech, digital content, software.
(And yes, I’d love to be part of that but I’m humble enough to know that my technical smarts are probably not up to scratch for this kind of thing.)
We do have the HORIZON panels – but since the report was published what’s happened. And if grassroots initiatives like NISW are going to find any traction with government, surely it’s going to need to include buy-in from groups like the HORIZON panel on ICT.
So…where do we go from here?
We start lighting fires.