I propose to take Questions Nos. 84, 186 and 190 together.
Over the past ten years Ireland has built up a strong science base and has significantly improved its international standing for scientific output. In parallel, the Government has identified a programme of actions, such as those outlined in "Building Ireland's Smart Economy", that place particular emphasis on the role of knowledge and innovation in driving economic productivity. The work of three agencies, operating under the auspices of my Department, IDA Ireland, Enterprise Ireland and Science Foundation Ireland, has been focused on delivering supports to enterprise — both directly and indirectly — that will ensure that trade, exports and investment are positioned to retain sustainability and to ensure that emerging opportunities can be maximised as the global economy recovers.
The future for Irish companies and the Irish economy will be significantly determined by the ability to take advantage of global opportunities. Because export led growth is identified as the spearhead of economic recovery, the nurturing of high-quality, innovative and internationally competitive Irish companies is clearly fundamental to Ireland's future prosperity. The Irish economy will need to have sharp and adaptable business activity in a wide variety of sectors so as to be in a position to compete effectively in the European and global markets and win export sales in order to create sustainable jobs in Ireland.
The competitive advantage created by innovation will be a key driver in achieving Irish economic recovery. Companies that undertake Research and Development have shown a level of growth in trade and exports during the downturn that demonstrates the value of productive, high calibre research and innovation activity. Every day, Irish companies are winning and servicing global sales contracts across a range of modern growth industries and both IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland work with Irish based companies to support this effort. The supports include driving innovation and new product development, in addition to identifying, targeting and delivering on export sales throughout the world; addressing competitiveness issues and helping to raise finance. All these supports are ultimately geared towards driving growth, sustainability, exports and job creation.
Examples of specific measures and initiatives that ensure that the knowledge-based economy has contributed to assisting Irish enterprise to participate in the drive for economic recovery include:
R&D Funding through Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland
Supports for new start-up companies with the potential to achieve significant exports;
Competence Centres established in strategically important sectoral areas like nanotechnology and bioenergy. These €5m centres are designed to allow groups of multinational and indigenous firms to work together with academics to undertake cutting edge, industry led research. Additional funding has been provided to increase the number of Competence Centres to 16 by 2015.
524 Innovation Vouchers were redeemed in 2010 worth over €2.5m, bringing the total number of Innovation Vouchers redeemed since the scheme opened to over 1,000.
In 2010, over 50 pieces of commercially relevant technology were transferred from State Funded Research into industry.
In addition over 20 new start-up enterprises were "spun out" of the third level system.
Over 40 companies were also supported to undertake significant collaborative projects with colleges in 2010.
Collaboration between SFI funded researchers and industry has also increased significantly in recent years largely through the SFI Centres for Science Engineering Technology (CSETs), Strategic Research Clusters (SRCs) and the Principal Investigator (PI) teams. At present SFI is supporting 29 top-class research centres (9 CSETs and 20 SRCs) and SFI funded researchers are collaborating with over 400 industry partners, both multinational and indigenous.
Both in 2009 and 2010, close to half IDA investments were in research, development and innovation, and these investments are central to productivity and new business development in the multi-national sector.
In addition to an innovative portfolio of export ready products and services, many companies also benefit from "on the ground" intelligence and contacts within prospective markets in order to help them win sales and obtain opportunities to showcase their innovative capabilities to key global influencers and buyers. Enterprise Ireland's offices in 31 cities throughout the world provide one-to-one support to Irish companies. These international offices also organise group events such as trade missions, trade fairs and visits from international buyers to Ireland. In 2010 more than 165 events were organised, including international trade missions led by An Taoiseach and Government Ministers to strategic overseas markets including Russia, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Brazil, USA and Australia.
As part of a suite of policy initiatives to position Ireland as a Global Innovation Hub, Innovation Fund Ireland was established to build on existing enterprise policies. The objective of the Fund is to increase the availability of capital for enterprise and to transform the venture capital market by attracting top tier Fund managers to Ireland. Over the lifetime of the Funds, the State expects real economic growth as a result of investments in Irish start-up, scaling companies or other companies with operations in Ireland. This will deliver an increase in employment, an increase in the number of high potential start-up companies and the attraction of such companies spun out from European technology to Ireland. There will also be an increase in funding for commercialisation of the R&D coming out of the Universities and Institutes of Technology.
In order to ensure that sectors, including the manufacturing and services sectors, of the economy continue to compete effectively in European and global markets and to assist in economic recovery, numerous measures have been taken to help companies to achieve internationally high levels of innovation. Manufacturing is a vitally important sector for Ireland and increased competitiveness is an ongoing objective for Irish companies. Recognising the need to achieve substantially reduced costs, an innovation initiative known as the ‘lean agenda' has been developed by Enterprise Ireland to increase productivity and drive down costs. To date 71 companies have been approved funding, mostly in cleantech, electronics and lifesciences. Already, improvements in lead times, unit costs and profitability in the order of 10-15% have been achieved by participating companies and Enterprise Ireland will continue this drive in 2011.
The recovery of the food sector, Ireland's biggest indigenous industry, was a significant priority in 2010. Enterprise Ireland introduced special lean programmes for the food sector in conjunction with the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, which has resulted in companies increasing productivity.
The impact of Ireland's export orientated initiatives is best demonstrated by the growth in export in the face of the current difficult economic climate. Enterprise Ireland estimates that its client companies grew export sales in 2010, recovering in the region of 70% of the losses made in 2009. These companies also reported an expansion in new export orders in every month in 2010 and this trend looks set to continue. It is expected that new export sales from Enterprise Ireland clients in the order of €1 billion in 2010.
The Irish economy has also seen strong activity at start up and expansion levels in lifesciences, bio-tech, medical technology, internet services, telecommunications, food, and other niche areas. Green technology is a key target area for development. These are sectors in which Irish firms can and do create a sustainable competitive advantage and build international market share.
There is a vibrant enterprise sector in Ireland that is world-class in its capacity and performance. There is a dynamic export sector, which is underpinned by our rapidly evolving scientific, technological and innovation base. Our competitiveness is based on merging these attributes with a commitment to sustained innovation that is unmatched in the markets in which we compete. Behind Ireland's export-led economy are the right enterprise infrastructure; sustained investment in innovation and entrepreneurship; and a Government commitment to supporting Innovation as a key driver to future recovery.