Industrial Development (Science Foundation Ireland) Bill 2002 [ Seanad ] : Report and Final Stages.

Acting Chairman

The first amendment in the name of Deputy Hogan arises from committee proceedings.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 6, line 25, after "possibilities" to insert ", including humanitarian based problems or possibilities".

The reason for the amendment, as pointed out by Deputy John Bruton in his speech on Second Stage, is that the functions of the science foundation, as set out in section 7, are unduly narrow. In many parts of the world, people are dying of curable diseases because the drugs necessary to save their lives cannot be afforded by health services in poor countries. I propose to amend the definition of "oriented basic research" to enable the foundation to concern itself with research and promotional activities which are not restricted to commercial gain.

I support this amendment. There is no reference in the legislation to its societal impact on civic science, to which the Tánaiste referred recently. That is very relevant, particularly in relation to developments that are constantly ongoing. The legislation refers to oriented basic research but does that exclude non-oriented basic research?

I do not propose to accept this amendment. The research being undertaken by the foundation is described as "oriented basic research". It is felt this term most accurately reflects the type of research being funded by the foundation. The definition is taken from the OECD's Frascati manual and it is recognised and understood internationally. For this reason I propose to retain the definition as it is.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 2 not moved.

Acting Chairman

Amendments Nos. 3 and 7 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 3:

In page 7, between lines 41 and 42, to insert the following:

"(c) keep under review, and make recommendations to the Minister on, the ethical implications of research in biotechnology and such other strategic areas of scientific endeavour as it considers appropriate,”.

A significant omission from the Bill is any reference to the ethical implications of the scientific developments that are inevitable, particularly in the bio-technological area but also in relation to information technology and to other science based areas that we may not even have foreseen or identified but which have the potential to be incorporated into the Bill. It is extremely important to insert a reference to the ethical aspects of the legislation. In recent times, for instance, there have been ongoing discussions about assisted human reproduction and legislation on cloning. What are the implications if we omit any reference to ethics? It is extremely important to incorporate such a reference.

My amendment No. 7 concurs with Deputy Upton's aim of outlining in the objectives of this legislation the ethical standards required as part of the foundation's work. Ethical issues in science are a real concern today. It is all very well for the scientific world to push out its boundaries to include new discoveries and abilities but there is a need to adhere to high ethical standards. It has never been more pressing to do so than at present. I hope the Minister of State will examine carefully what steps he may take in the context of these amendments to ensure we will have the highest possible ethical standards.

I do not propose to accept these amendments. Through the direction of its board, Science Foundation Ireland will be required to meet the highest ethical standards in corporate governance, the disbursement of public funds and in supporting scientific endeavours. As regards ethically sensitive research, the Minister for Health and Children established the Commission on Assisted Human Reproduction, in March 2000, to prepare a report on possible approaches to the regulation of all areas of assisted human reproduction and the social, ethical and legal factors to be taken into account when determining public policy in this area.

The issues that come within the terms of reference of the commission's examination are highly complex and sensitive, covering matters of medical, scientific, social, legal and ethical concern, such as cloning and research on embryos. The membership of the commission is drawn from a variety of relevant fields, including medicine, science, law and social science. The commission has sought the views of all concerned on this issue, including service providers, consumers, philosophical and theological experts and the public. This will ensure the deliberations of the commission will be informed by as comprehensive a consultation process as necessary, with a view to ensuring that the commission has the benefit of a wide range of perspectives in reaching its conclusions.

The approach of the Minister for Health and Children, in seeking to have all the issues that come within the ambit of assisted human reproduction, including human cloning, examined in the first instance by the Commission on Assisted Human Reproduction, with a view to producing a comprehensive set of recommendations, is the best one. Once the commission has produced its report later this year, I am assured there will be no undue delay in advancing the next stage of the process to bring forward policy proposals to regulate the area.

In addition, the Tánaiste has established an Irish Council for Bioethics, as an independent body under the auspices of the Royal Irish Academy, to consider the ethical issues raised by developments in biotechnology. The council will identify and interpret the ethical questions raised by biological and medical research in order to respond to and anticipate questions of substantive concern. It will also investigate and report on such questions in the interests of promoting public understanding, informed discussion and education. In addition, it will stimulate discussion through conferences, workshops, lectures and published reports. Where appropriate, it will suggest guidelines.

The work of both bodies will help to contribute towards the formulation of policy in the sensitive area of bioethics and, therefore, it would not be appropriate to deal with the issue in this legislation.

The ethical aspects are much wider than those related to bioethics. I mentioned other societal and ethical aspects previously that do not necessarily relate to biotechnology. Ethical issues relating to access to information technology could be compromised. There is a gap in the definition if is it narrowed to bioethics.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Acting Chairman

Amendment No. 9 is related to amendment No. 4 and both may be taken together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 4:

In page 7, between lines 41 and 42, to insert the following:

"(c) keep under review the implications of intellectual property law in so far as it affects strategic areas of scientific endeavour, and, where appropriate, make proposals to the Minister for the updating and amendment of intellectual property law in so far as it affects strategic areas of scientific endeavour,”.

I refer to the consequences of the outcomes in terms of intellectual property rights that might arise from scientific developments that would be made available commercially and whether ownership of them would be clearly identified.

I referred to the Copyright and Related Rights Act 2000 on Committee Stage and the implications of this legislation for industrial design and copyright. I seek clarification on the intellectual property rights associated with the establishment of Science Foundation Ireland. If the Minister clarifies those issues, we will be reasonably satisfied.

I do not propose to accept the amendments. Any review, updating or amendment of intellectual property is a matter for the intellectual property unit of my Department and any views the foundation might have on such issues would, of course, be considered by that unit. Science Foundation Ireland has developed detailed terms and conditions which attach to its grants and these outline the conditions that apply to the ownership and commercialisation of intellectual property. It would not be appropriate to copperfasten these terms and conditions in legislation, as that level of detail is more appropriately determined by the board of the foundation. Flexibility is also required to take advantage of new opportunities as they arise.

The terms and conditions that attach to the foundation's grants set out the criteria which applies to intellectual property. These include the following: that the intellectual property produced by the programme, where commercially appropriate, is exploited and commercialised; that, whenever possible, intellectual property shall be managed for the benefit of enterprise development in Ireland; that, as a result of commercialisation, attractive incentives and financial returns are provided to the principal investigator, the research team and the research body; and that a share of the returns from exploitation and commercialisation of intellectual property arising from research funded by the foundation shall be paid to the foundation to contribute towards the development of the foundation and the funding of further research in Ireland.

Ownership of intellectual property resulting from a research programme is vested in the host research body and if the research body does not move to exploit or commercialise IP, it can agree to appoint the foundation as its exclusive agent to exploit the IP on its behalf or to assign the IP rights to a third party nominated by the foundation. The overall provisions, therefore, provide a comprehensive approach to ensuring the research body moves to exploit IP.

I refer to the centres for science engineering and technology programme, in which specific industry participation is involved. Each intellectual property agreement will be analysed separately by the foundation's legal experts to ensure consistency with the overall terms and conditions and additional provisions will be attached if required to ensure that they are fair and balanced.

Commercialisation of intellectual property is an important issue. A working group, under the aegis of the Irish Council for Science, Technology and Innovation, has examined the issue and recently published a statement. The group concluded that a legislative approach was not necessary in Ireland at this time and recommended a code of best practice on the subject. This is being progressed.

Enterprise Ireland, together with IDA Ireland, SFI, Forfás, the Higher Education Authority and the Health Research Board, is also working on a system designed to strengthen the commercialisation structures in research performers, primarily, universities and institutes of technology. It would not be appropriate to vest all intellectual property in the foundation, as this would effectively eliminate the incentive to identify and create intellectual property and lead to considerable loss of commercial opportunities for Ireland. The challenge is to incentivise commercialisation of the outputs of research and secure a fair return for the foundation. This is achieved through the published terms and conditions of the foundation.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 5 not moved.

I move amendment No. 6:

In page 8, to delete lines 19 to 26 and substitute the following:

"(3) In this section ‘strategic areas of scientific endeavour' means such areas as in the opinion of the Foundation are strategic areas of scientific endeavour and in particular includes information and communication technologies, biotechnology and such other areas that concern economic and social benefit, long-term industrial competitiveness or environmentally sustainable development as may be prescribed from time to time by the Minister.".

The purpose of the amendment is to broaden the base of the scientific opportunities. Section 7(3)(a) and section 7(3)(b) are extremely specific in that they relate to information and communication technologies and biotechnology. While section 7(3)(c) is all-embracing and covers other areas, a wider and more general definition would be appropriate. It is a little invidious to over-emphasise the two areas that, happily, are important and productive commercially at this time, but that will undoubtedly change and a general definition would be more appropriate.

I support the amendment. A broadening of the definition is desperately needed for the sake of the foundation. A number of people involved in the foundation realise scientific endeavour and research works best when it is not limited to specific areas. We do not know what will be the scientific areas of greatest benefit to our society and the definition should not be this narrow. The legislation over-emphasises economic interests and minimises societal and environmental interests. While the Minister of State has made amendments in the Seanad and on Committee Stage to broaden it, the wording fails terribly to espouse a broad vision. There is a remarkable difference in the objectives and ambitions of other science foundation agencies, as they address issues such as climate change and development of human as well as economic capital.

I regret that the opportunity has been lost to set a broad vision. It may be self-defeating to set it on a narrow economic focus because the development of the economy moves in strange directions as a result of strange causes and effects. The best way to develop an economy is to allow people to conduct their own research, be creative and analyse areas where a return could be generated, even though it might not be expected, through their ingenuity, creativity and investigative instincts. The Bill is narrow in this regard and I support the amendment.

The ICSTl's technology foresight report recommended that spending should be focused on the areas that can contribute most to Ireland's long-term development. It stated that this could be achieved by investing in research and development personnel of world class research excellence at the critical mass required to give Ireland an international reputation in selected technological niches and, in particular, in the sciences underpinning information and communication technologies and biotechnology.

Section 7 provides for the Minister to prescribe other areas that concern economic and social benefit, long-term industrial competitiveness or environmentally sustainable development should this become necessary in the future. This is designed to allow future technology foresight exercises or evolving circumstances to alter or expand the key focus of the foundation.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 7 not moved.

Acting Chairman

Amendment No. 8 has already been discussed with amendment No. 3.

I move amendment No. 8:

In page 8, between lines 29 and 30, to insert the following:

"(5) A directive given undersubsection (4) shall be laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas as soon as may be after it is made and if a resolution of either such House is passed annulling the directive within 21 sitting days thereafter, it shall be annulled accordingly but without prejudice to anything previously done thereunder.”.

It is important that the definition here be broadened out in order that the Oireachtas inclusively can have a role regarding the development of Science Foundation Ireland. As it stands, this is very compartmentalised and is in the bailiwick of one Minister. It is very important that the Oireachtas as a whole has a proactive role and greater interest in science and technology, which I would welcome. As it stands, the impact of science is narrowed down to the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, excluding the Department of Education and Science. In that regard considerable concerns have arisen regarding the PRTLI funding. I and others have also raised questions about Higher Education Authority funding and PRTLI. This is the kind of area we need to examine – the roles of different Departments, not just that of a particular Minister, and the role of the Oireachtas when it comes to science and technology.

I do not propose to accept this amendment. Any major policy change to the functions of the foundation will require to be prescribed by the Minister under paragraph (3)(c) of this section. The directives mentioned here will normally relate to ongoing matters, therefore it would not be efficient or indeed practical for the Minister to have to bring every such directive before the Oireachtas.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 9 not moved.

Acting Chairman

Amendments Nos. 10 and 12 are related and are to be taken together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 10:

In page 8, to delete line 32.

The purpose of this amendment is to highlight the fact that sometimes it can be less useful to have a chief executive or director general as a member of a board. There are shades of opinion as to whether the director general should be a member of the board and I subscribe to the view that it is better on balance that he or she is not a member of the board.

The provision that the director general should be a member of the board is in line with other industrial development legislation setting up Forfás, Enterprise Ireland and the IDA. Should a conflict of interest arise relating to the topic to be discussed, the director general can absent himself or herself from that discussion.

The provision that the director general also becomes anex officio member of the board of Forfás is also in line with practice in the industrial development legislation. It is designed to ensure synergy and cohesion between all the agencies under the Forfás umbrella. I do not propose to accept these amendments.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Acting Chairman

Amendment No. 11 arises out of committee proceedings.

I move amendment No. 11:

In page 10, to delete lines 1 to 3 and substitute the following:

"(11) At least 5 of the members of the Board shall be women and at least 5 shall be men.".

This relates to the gender balance of the board. I make a strong case that it should be five men and five women. We must have reached a stage where it is possible to find five competent men as well as five competent women to ensure there is gender balance on the board. I urge the Minister of State to take account of this amendment.

It is a bit of a cop-out to use language like "as far as is practicable" and "having regard to relevant experience", as we have now reached a stage where it is beyond any shadow of doubt that we have a large number of competent men and women who capable of contributing substantially to State boards. This is particularly true of the science and technology area. There is no shortage of competent women scientists and women in other disciplines who could contribute significantly.

We are in an age of equality. It should not matter what gender one is if one is competent to do the business.

Appointment to the board will be made on the basis of the relevant experience and skills of the individuals concerned. It is not helpful to put a quota into the legislation. The Minister of the day will be bound by the provision to ensure an equitable balance between men and women on the board and I know the Tánaiste, in appointing the first board, will take the views expressed by the Deputy into account in selecting the best available individuals, both women and men, to serve on this board. There must be a degree of flexibility in such appointments.

I do not propose to accept this amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 12 not moved.

I move amendment No. 13:

In page 12, to delete lines 23 to 26.

The chief executive seems to be gagged in order that he or she cannot have an opinion on the merits of the policy of the Government or Minister. We are addressing the issue of science policy and it seems extraordinary that the chief executive is precluded from forming or offering an opinion on policy. In any case, perhaps the Minister of State will indulge us and tell us what is the Government's policy on science.

This is now a standard provision in this type of legislation. Ministers are answerable to Parliament for policy while the function of the director general is to carry out such policy. While the director general is responsible for the day-to-day management of the foundation, including accounts etc., it would not be appropriate for a director general to question or express an opinion on any policy of the Government or a Minister when appearing before an Oireachtas committee.

He or she can of course express an opinion on policy to the Minister.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 14:

In page 14, between lines 45 and 46, to insert the following:

"(5) The Third Schedule to the Freedom of Information Act 1997 is amended by inserting in Part I at the end thereof:

(a) in the second column of Industrial Development (Science Foundation Ireland) Act 2003, and

(b) in the third column of section 17(1).”.

I move this amendment to facilitate the application of the Freedom of Information Act to the foundation.

I do not propose to accept this amendment. As this provision can be effected by a statutory instrument under the Freedom of Information Act 1997, it is the view of the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel that it is undesirable in the interests of protecting the integrity of the Statute Book to apply the Freedom of Information Act by primary legislation when a mech anism by way of secondary legislation exists for doing so. I assure the Deputy that the relevant Department will be requested to make the necessary order as soon as this Bill is enacted.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Acting Chairman

Amendments Nos. 15 and 16 are related and are to be taken together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 15:

In page 17, line 33, after "activities" to insert ", not later than 3 months".

Three aspects of section 24 require amendment. First, it does not impose an explicit time limit on the foundation for the submission of an annual report. The section uses the phrase "after the end of the financial year" instead. That could be interpreted as meaning next week or next year. While I accept the six month deadline by which the report must be submitted to the Minister and the Oireachtas, in fairness to the foundation and the Minister it should be necessary to articulate the two stages inherent in this process.

The amendment proposes to oblige the foundation to submit its report to the Minister within three months of the end of the year. That is ample time and is consistent with comparable provisions in other legislation. The amendment also requires the Minister to lay the report before the Oireachtas within a further three months. I ask the Minister of State to consider the implications of the amendment.

l do not propose to accept this amendment. The annual report will be submitted as soon as possible after the end of each year. However, it must first be approved by the board. Copies will be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas immediately after submission. The maximum period of six months allowed is reasonable. Section 24 states that the Minister shall cause copies of the report to be laid before each House of the Oireachtas not later than six months after the end of the financial year. If the documentation and work are complete, the report can be submitted within one month or three months, for example. Six months is not specified but it cannot be done later than six months.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Acting Chairman

As it is now 1.30 p.m., I am required to put the following question in accordance with an order of the Dáil of this day.

The reason Fine Gael and other parties tabled amendments to improve this legislation was to take this opportunity to thank the Minister of State and the officials for the time they spent on this Bill. I wish the Industrial Development (Science Foundation Ireland) Bill well. It is landmark legislation which will auger well for the country in the future. I wish the direc tor general, Dr. Harris, his staff and the board every success in the implementation and the establishment of policy in relation Science Foundation Ireland.

I, too, would like to thank the Minister of State and his officials. I am delighted the Bill has passed through the House. Of course, I would have liked if our amendments had been taken on board. As Deputy Hogan said, our agenda was to improve the quality of the Bill. I welcome the Bill which is a landmark one. I am pleased that science has found its way into an Oireachtas Bill.

I thank all Members for their valuable contributions on Second and Committee Stages and again today. I thank the staff of my Department, the Attorney General's office and the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel for their assistance in drafting this legislation.

Acting Chairman

The question is: "That Fourth Stage is hereby completed and the Bill is hereby passed."

Question put and agreed to.

Acting Chairman

The Bill, which is considered by virtue of Article 20.2.2º of the Constitution as a Bill initiated in Seanad Éireann, will now be sent to the Seanad.