Industrial Development (Science Foundation Ireland) (Amendment) Bill 2012 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed)

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

When we look at any organisation moving towards reform, as we are doing in the case of Science Foundation Ireland, we must start by looking back, considering where it has come from, and make an evaluation of the organisation and its remit to date, asking whether it has been fit for purpose, before we considering changing it. From a personal point of view, my first knowledge of Science Foundation Ireland came a number of years ago when I was a county councillor. A query was raised by a researcher in one of the universities who had noticed that funds which had been made available by SFI for a specific project were not being used for that project and the work being undertaken in the university was being done to advance the private interests or whim of other people and organisations that could benefit from it. At the time we challenged that situation and tried to get to the bottom of it, to discover why there was no adequate monitoring by SFI of the public moneys that had been given to this college for a specific purpose. My experience of the interaction with the organisation at the time was not a good one. We never got any answers or found any accountability as to where that money was being spent.

That may not have been the first time that controversy has attached to this organisation. There was much negative publicity and controversy on a number of fronts over the appointment of Mr. Mark Ferguson as director general more than a year ago. The first was-----

The Deputy should be careful about mentioning people's names in the Chamber.

I apologise, a Cheann Comhairle, but the filling of this post, with a salary scale that breached the cap, was not a good thing and caused much concern at the time. In addition, much concern was expressed about the person who was given that job, in terms of his record in the private sector. This organisation is in charge of a multi-billion funding pot which is being steered in the direction of commerciality, and that is what this Bill is about, in part. For that reason, those at the helm must be the best people. When the appointments were made, the Minister of State with responsibility in this area, Deputy Sean Sherlock, spoke about putting people at the helm who had extensive commercial experience and what a tremendous coup it was for Ireland that we had gained this type of expertise. However, when one examines some of the activities that were undertaken in the private sector in Britain by this individual and his company, one would not really be inspired to think that this type of experience would benefit SFI, or indeed the Irish economy.

In some ways that may set the scene here, and it is key. When we look to extending the commercial remit of SFI, we must start by asking what research there has been into SFI's own investment portfolio to date, what sort of returns have been delivered and who has benefited from them. Substantial sums of taxpayers' money have been invested in the organisation, and this really gets to the heart of this debate. We all agree there can be no economic recovery in this State without the creation of jobs. Developments in science and technology which are being spearheaded by the State are a key that could unlock and benefit the economy in that regard. Investment in research and development can and should be a crucial part of that recovery. I believe we have an opportunity to develop matters in that way. The last Government spoke a great deal about the smart and green economy, which was utter rot considering what it actually did and the direction in which it took the economy forward. It spoke of this direction but implemented the opposite.

We have to start from the point of what is in the best interest of the economy and our current position. We face an incredible situation where people have been educated in this State, have substantial talents which we can tap for the benefit of society at large, but they are not being utilised. More than 100,000 qualified people lie idle on the dole queues, and 4,000 post-doctoral researchers are out of work. That represents expertise and skills that are not being tapped. There are enormous opportunities to put these people to work and to benefit from their expertise, tapping into it for the benefit of the whole economy.

What are the safeguards in this Bill that will lead us to believe this and to ensure the benefits of the investment in research return to the citizens and the State, rather than to the profits of a few or being siphoned off as a slush fund for the benefit of private companies? The reason we need to explore this further is quite clear. The Minister of State, Deputy Sherlock, is on record as having stated the private sector does not fund research and development to an optimum level for economic and societal benefit. I completely agree with him. The private sector does not do so and if it refuses, as it has, to invest its profits in taking society forward and developing research and development, why should it profit in a partnership with the State from such research and development?

Why is the State not developing the valuable research it has commissioned? Why does it simply hand these ideas to private companies instead of taking a lead role in bringing them to fruition? The usual response is that we do not have the money but the European Investment Bank, EIB, exists precisely to solve that problem. There is no impediment to the State's ability to access the necessary funds. The EIB is prepared to match State funds on a 50:50 basis for strategic projects. We should explore the types of strategic project that could be developed and the talents and potential that can help turn around our economic situation.

This Bill will allow SFI to spend taxpayers' money outside the State for the first time. We will not provide employment for the nearly 500,000 people who are on the dole in Ireland by creating jobs in food factories in South America. If the State is in a position to take advantage of research and development opportunities why are we not using these opportunities to create tens of thousands of jobs? The reason I am concerned about what has been done thus far is precisely because of our experience to date with this organisation. What has been the return on the State's investment in research and development? When the knowledge base is patented, where is our guarantee that the State will recoup its investment? What level of commercial funding has been provided to date? The private sector has been engaging in an effective capital strike where investment in research and development is concerned.

The Bill permits SFI to move towards applied research but we need to know whether basic research will be funded as heretofore and how the benefits will accrue. I am not sure these questions have been answered or that the Government is strategically investigating the potential for investment. Instead, we have the ridiculous daily announcements of 20 jobs here, 30 jobs there and 100 jobs over the next 16 years. The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation appeared for the opening of a 24-hour McDonalds in my area. Is this the type of economy we are creating while good quality public sector jobs go unfilled and talented people linger on the dole? We need to be more creative and strategic. We might begin by following the example of this State in its early years, when it undertook a number of adventurous projects, such as the electrification schemes under the ESB and the development of Aer Lingus and transatlantic flights. It showed imagination in creating companies that provided quality employment and services over many decades. This is something the private sector has not managed to emulate.

There is great potential for using research and development in wind and wave energy to create employment in this State. Ireland has among the best conditions in the world for wave and wind energy. We should consider this potential against the backdrop of what has happened to date, however. The gains from Government funded research and scholarship have been syphoned off by private companies instead of benefiting the public. In the 1970s and 1980s wind energy research in Ireland, while limited, was in line with what was happened in similarly sized countries such as Denmark. The Irish Government of the time failed to tap into the potential for wind energy, whereas the Danish Government decided to focus on this area thereby allowing a country that started off from the same basis as Ireland to become a world leader in the production of wind towers and turbines. This has brought enormous benefits to the citizens of Denmark in terms of providing employment. Sadly, the Irish Government followed Mrs. Thatcher and the United States down the nuclear route and it abandoned the area of alternative energy.

We cannot afford to make that mistake again now that we are in the early stages of exploring the potential for wave power. I am not naive about this task. There is no doubt that the development of wave power will be a hugely expensive project requiring considerable investment but why should we lower our horizons of possibility? If people had taken that attitude to the electrification of Ireland and the early years of the ESB, this country would not have developed in the way it did. What made the difference was a State directed programme that was incredibly ambitious. Ireland was so far ahead of other countries that it was suggested we had lost the plot. It was a bold and daring initiative but it yielded results. There is no way on earth that wave power can be developed to its full potential if the job is left in private hands. Wavebob, the most promising private company working to harness wave energy, collapsed a couple of weeks ago despite an investment of €9 million. It was clearly too small to bring its plans to fruition. We will not exploit wave energy to its full potential through four or five small companies competing on projects worth a few million euro. In a context of approximately 4,000 post-doctoral researchers on the dole and students in our colleges studying sciences and engineering, why does the ESB not open up a research programme so that 500 engineers and scientists could be put to work in this area? The benefits are potentially enormous and there is no point in continuing to waste millions of euro on small private companies. We are being incredibly short-sighted in our current approach.

Wind power has given rise to considerable controversy in many rural communities. The way in which communities have been treated by these companies is disgraceful. There is no reason why they should alienate people in these communities or interfere with their quality of life. The harnessing of offshore wind energy is a viable and readily available alternative. There is no need to discommode people or destroy the landscape with wind turbines. Once again, we see State research being syphoned off to benefit the private sector and the Irish economy falling short of its job creation potential.

Companies involved in the wind power sector, for example, Airtricity, Mainstream Renewable Power and Element Power, are not engaged in any manufacturing or production. Their only function is to manage projects. If the State believes these private companies are so brilliant that we must have them managing our natural resources, which are owned by the people, it should allow them to manage the project, rather than handing over ownership of our natural resources to enable them to make profits while leaving the country and taxpayer with nothing.

It is critical that we invest in research and development. The current crisis provides an opportunity to tap into talent that is lying idle. Tinkering around at the edges will not suffice. What is required is vision and boldness and a realisation that jobs will not be created unless the State takes a lead in research and development. This is not propaganda or an ideological point but a fact based on many years' experience of austerity. Every week, 1,600 of our best, most talented and most creative young people are being driven from our shores by a lack of employment opportunities and a youth unemployment rate of more than 20%. Not only is this a criminal waste of their potential but it also robs the State and economy of the talent of these young people, which we should tap into by putting them to work.

It is fine to encourage research and development through Science Foundation Ireland but what the Bill proposes is to steer investment in the direction of the private sector, thus repeating the mistakes of the past. While it is appropriate to invest scarce taxpayers' money in research and development, it is not appropriate that this investment will be used to line the pockets of the few. We could instead benefit the many by pioneering investment in public works and other areas to create jobs.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy John Perry, to the House. Like my colleagues, I also welcome the opportunity to discuss the major role research and innovation services play in contributing to the knowledge economy. I am pleased to note that pupils from St. Mary's national school, Edgeworthstown, one of the largest schools in County Longford, along with their principal, Ms Helen O'Gorman, and Ms Anne Belton O'Reilly, are present in the Gallery. Ms O'Reilly's family has had associations with this House since the foundation of the State, including the period when semi-State companies such as Bord na Móna and the ESB were established. These companies did the country proud by helping to build the foundations of the State before we lost the run of ourselves during the Celtic tiger years.

Last year, the Government announced that it would redirect spending to 14 areas that would create the maximum number of jobs, with a strong focus on information technology and innovation in manufacturing services, business and life sciences. At the time, I expressed some concern about expenditure on stem cell research. However, we have since been given clarity on the issue, which is welcome.

This is an important Bill which, when enacted, will provide for the extension of the remit of Science Foundation Ireland to allow it to fund research which has the greatest potential to create and deliver jobs and growth and will reap maximum benefits from research funded projects by bringing them closer to the market. A powerful and well functioning research or innovation system has long been recognised as central to regional and county economic development and the foundations of a dynamic and diverse economy. It is, therefore, vital that the Shannon and midlands region, particularly counties Longford and Westmeath, maximise its research and innovation capacity and draws on the knowledge and research intensive services that will become available as a result of the legislation. This is especially needed in the current challenging economic climate.

In 2011, the knowledge intensive services, KIS, funded the development of the research and innovation project under the INTERREG Atlantic area programme through the BMW region where I live. This was to update the 2004 audit of innovation and extend the analysis to the knowledge intensive services sector comprising of research and development, information and communications technology and management support services. For the first time, knowledge intensive services innovation and technology and knowledge transfer providers from both the private and public sectors were surveyed in the BMW region. The project also gave the region new insights into the supply for knowledge intensive services and the current status of the innovation supports system as well as the impact of the innovation supports provided by the lead national agencies at regional and county levels.

A report produced as part of the project made a number of key findings on knowledge intensive services and innovation capacity in the region. While knowledge transfer and innovation support activities are a priority in the region, funding limitations pose challenges. Moreover, although knowledge transfer and innovation support activities, such as incubation centres, are emerging as strategic priorities for higher education institutions, the lack of core funding for these services is a major barrier and limits their capacity to sustain delivery of knowledge intensive services to business. Internal culture also remains a serious barrier to engaging in technology and research continues to prevail over industry linkages in terms of the priorities for higher educational institutions, as identified in the earlier 2004 audit.

The report also notes that there remain few and limited incentives for staff to engage and limited processes to facilitate engagement, in particular in the institutes of technology sector. Other problems encountered were barriers to accessing knowledge intensive service providers, a lack of awareness about available funding and difficulties in accessing appropriate sources of funding. The same barriers can no doubt be found at national level.

In discussions with stakeholders, including both businesses and the staff of higher education institutions, repeated calls were made for a one stop shop or an appropriate agency to act as an intermediary between business and knowledge intensive experts in academia. The agency should be staffed with qualified well experienced and appropriate people. I hope the Bill will go some way to highlighting and resolving this matter.

We urgently need innovative proposals to counteract the neglect of smaller counties such as Longford by State agencies, particularly the IDA, especially given the increasing number of people on the live register and the loss of economic stability in the region arising from the closure of several industries and businesses.

According to the most recent live register figures, the number of people signing on in County Longford stands at 5,064 or 1.8% of the total number of those who are unemployed. The corresponding figure for County Westmeath is 10,302 or 2.4% of the total number of individuals on the live register. This is the position in the aftermath of a number of closures that were massive blows to the economic viability of the midlands. I refer, for example, to the ill-thought out closure of Army barracks, small schools, rural Garda stations etc., which has given rise to the removal of a large number of full-time State-supported jobs from the local economy. The type of job losses to which I refer in the Longford-Westmeath area are equivalent to the loss of three major industries. They occurred at a time when the Midlands is receiving less than its fair share of job announcements. I hope this will change.

There is a history of Government neglect of the midlands which dates back over ten years. The Longford and Mullingar areas were shamefully disregarded in respect of the natural gas scheme and companies operating in the midlands have been left on the hind tit in respect of important facilities. Ten or 12 years ago when gas was being brought from the west coast to Dublin, there was a proposal that the route should run through Longford and Mullingar. However, following political intervention, the gas was brought via Athlone. While I have no difficulty with the latter, I am of the view that a spur line could have been put in place to Longford and Mullingar. The gas line was also run through a place called Clara in County Offaly, the home village of a former Taoiseach. That was political opportunism at its worst.

Science Foundation Ireland's current remit is to fund oriented research teams to carry out basic research in institutions and individual research teams which carry out high quality research. While the Bill includes a function for Science Foundation Ireland to promote the study of education in and awareness and understanding of science, technology, engineering and mathematics and to foster a greater public understanding of the physical sciences, engineering and mathematics and their value to society, its main focus must be about jobs, transforming Ireland and getting people back to work. In my opinion, most sections of the Bill have been prepared with a view to maximising growth, encouraging job creation and facilitating the transformation and modernisation of our systems. The Bill sets out further steps on how we plan to grow the economy and eliminate waste. The latter will enable us to adhere to our promise to keep income tax low. The Bill also flushes out the core elements of our policy platform which was set out in the programme for Government in February 2011 via the NewERA investment plan.

These are very difficult times for our people and the decisions taken in respect of recent budgets were very difficult. This Government has focused on budget cuts rather than job-destroying tax increases. We have favoured more savings as against fewer taxation measures. Specifically, we have not introduced any hikes in income tax or in taxes on jobs - for example, employers' PRSI - and we have protected the 12.5% rate of corporation tax. At the same time, we have protected old age State pensions and other social welfare care payments and set about tackling the massive levels of administrative costs and fraud.

There is an issue which I have raised on many previous occasions at various fora and which I am going to raise again now in the context of the Bill before the House. I am strongly of the view that we should, for several reasons, consider developing the computer technology and Internet skills of the unemployed by encouraging them to take after-school classes. This would greatly benefit them and their communities and would provide them with a sense of worth and of belonging to those communities. Both of the latter are extremely important for people who, through no fault of their own, have lost their jobs. I would like the Minister to take on board my suggestion in this regard. I am disappointed that the subject of computer skills is still not included on the leaving certificate examination curriculum. I would be delighted if the Minister of State could use his good offices to urge the Minister for Education and Skills to see to it that it is included. Perhaps this matter might be discussed by the Cabinet in the not too distant future.

We have a highly educated, highly skilled and highly trained work force in the midlands, the members of which are more than willing and able to meet the requirements of Science Foundation Ireland in order that it might fund research projects before proceeding with them on a wider geographical basis. People in the Longford-Westmeath area are keen to attract high-tech foreign manufacturers and foreign investment research projects, particularly as the level of unemployment in the midlands is at an unprecedented level. Thousands of those on the live register in Longford and Westmeath are crying out for urgently needed jobs. There are huge numbers of well-educated young people in the area who, like their parents, are frustrated at the thought that they will be obliged to emigrate as a result of a lack of job opportunities. I want the position in this regard to change quickly.

Section 5 of the Bill gives Science Foundation Ireland the legal power to extend its activities beyond the borders of the State. This will allow it to provide direct funding to institutions in Northern Ireland and beyond. I would appreciate some clarity in respect of the Minister's and the Government's intentions in this regard. While I do not want to place obstacles in the way of the Bill in the context of funding projects in Northern Ireland and elsewhere, I am of the view that we cannot ignore what is happening in this regard. It is essential that the Government does its homework with regard to its proposals for the midlands. My job, as a representative for the Longford-Westmeath constituency, is to ensure that any Bill relating to industrial development benefits both my constituency and the midlands in general.

In 2009 my party's economic team held a number of meetings with business leaders who work at the coalface in the midlands and outlined Fine Gael's policy approach to the economic crisis. The business people who were in attendance also shared their ideas and plans for economic recovery and job creation in the midlands. A crucial meeting was held in the town in which I live under the banner "Working Together". At that meeting, which was chaired by none other than former Deputy George Lee, we pooled ideas and aired our views in respect of the future economic viability and development of the midlands. I urge the Minister to get cracking on the plans and ideas for job creation Others present at the meeting - and at a similar meeting that was held in Athlone - were the Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Varadkar, and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney. All of these individuals are now in control of various areas of responsibility and they must seek to be the driving force in supporting job creation and business development in the midlands. I want to see a more visible presence on the international stage in the context of efforts to seek job contracts for the midlands, particularly the Longford-Westmeath area.

As I have done since it took up office, I demand that the Government and the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation prioritise the area for job creation and provide assistance to existing industries and companies, particularly in the Longford-Westmeath constituency, where my bedrock of support as a representative lies. The Department needs to set up an inter-agency group or task force, one with teeth, to develop the area. What was promised in 2009 must be delivered. I was shocked to learn that IDA Ireland had brought no foreign delegations to County Longford in the past eight years. Government members should exert more political clout and work together to address this problem.

Proposals have been made regarding wind energy in the midlands. It is a topical issue in many communities and poses a problem for the midlands. A number of companies are holding discussions with farmers. It is important that seminars be set up to inform people in the midlands of how wind energy is to be promoted and developed. People want their properties safeguarded. One solution is to provide turbines in cutaway bogs. It is important that there be proper guidelines to safeguard communities.

Deputy Clare Daly referred to wave energy, a sector that we have an opportunity to develop. When I spoke with the German energy Minister last year, he told me that if the Continent had Ireland's location, it would have developed wave energy a long time ago. We need to work on this area. I hope that the Bill will be broadened to incorporate the development of wave energy, our location for which is ideal. Not only could we supply Ireland with sufficient energy, thereby attracting industry, etc., but we could be the leading light in Europe and export our energy to the UK, France and other European countries in the same fashion that we export cattle and other products.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for my time. I am pleased my colleague from Sligo-North Leitrim, the Minister of State, Deputy Perry, is in the Chamber. A capable man, he will take note of my concerns regarding Longford-Westmeath. I hope that action will be taken sooner rather than later.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute on this legislation, which is probably one of the most important Bills that the House will debate during the lifetime of this Dáil. It probably does not receive the recognition it deserves. Decisions made on foot of it will decide the country's future for the next generation.

The Bill focuses on three aspects, those being allowing Science Foundation Ireland, SFI, to fund applied research; to promote public awareness of science, technology, engineering and maths, STEM; and to improve collaboration across the island of Ireland and Europe. Developing ties within the scientific community is important at European level in terms of drawing down funding and sharing expertise. At the international level, developing ties allows Irish researchers and the country as a whole to be recognised.

The legislation relates to a number of other issues, for example, the announcement regarding Shannon Development, but I wish to focus on the legislation itself. In terms of public awareness, the Bill is going down the wrong road because of the failure to date, mainly on the part of the scientific and technological community, to articulate to the public a greater understanding of what it does. Public awareness of research is vital if we as policy makers are to ensure that we make the right decisions about our focus in future. There is an onus on any researcher who is in receipt of public moneys to explain how those funds are being spent and how society benefits as a result.

My fundamental problem with the legislation is that it focuses on how to benefit the economy, full stop, rather than how to benefit society as a whole. The failure to recognise the nuanced differences could, in the long term, systemically damage the focus of the Bill on developing the economy. I will presently cite a clear example.

In fairness, SFI has rolled up its sleeves and engaged with Members of the Oireachtas and the public to try to improve awareness. Another organisation that is doing a good job in this regard is Enterprise Ireland, which is concerned with applied science. Recently, each Member was invited to Enterprise Ireland's high-potential start-up showcase in the Mansion House in Dublin. Anyone who attended could not but be impressed by the cutting edge new businesses that were based on research carried out in this country. It justified how our money was spent. When the showcase is held again next year, every Member should be obliged to attend to see exactly what is happening. A great deal of applied research is being conducted in Ireland. It is led by industry and small indigenous businesses, but they can only reach that level if the building blocks of basic research are in place. There is a significant weakness in communicating the importance of building a solid foundation of science and innovation for the types of enterprise that presented at the Mansion House.

There is an onus on the Oireachtas to establish a statutory committee that deals with the issues of science, technology and innovation specifically. It would provide a national platform for a debate on these issues. Consider the public's significant concerns about biotechnology, genetic engineering, wind turbines - the flavour of the month - and fracking. Two weeks ago, we attended a constructive debate in the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland on Dawson Street about the issue of fracking. A number of international experts provided us with detailed presentations. It is disappointing that such a debate could not be held at a committee of the national Parliament. It was the Government's failure not to establish a dedicated committee.

This recommendation was made in a report of the Joint Committee on Education and Science more than one decade ago. It was drafted by none other than the current Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton, and myself.

At that stage we believed we were one of the few parliaments in Europe that did not have a specific committee to deal with science, technology and innovation. We believed that was restricting debate on new technology and some of the issues I raised, but also that it was reducing the potential public profile of mathematics, chemistry and physics, which would impact on young people taking an interest in those subjects at second level and, hopefully, going on to study them at third level. Unless we have a significant increase in, first, the understanding of science, technology and innovation within society and, second, have more people getting third level qualifications in the area then it will be a significant limiting factor to bringing investment into this country in the medium term.

It is the sexy issues such as astronomy that get young people interested. It may not be the area that will create a huge number of jobs in the medium or long term in this country but if we can get young people interested in particular aspects of science and they start to study it they will become the researchers of the future, not necessarily in astrophysics, but because they are in that sector and they have the education and understanding it will make this country far more competitive and bring in investment.

I commend the focus of Science Foundation Ireland in terms of the key targets for investment where it wants to direct research in future. We all accept that we have finite resources and we cannot research everything and anything. We have some of the best wind resources in the world yet we are not putting substantial investment into the area. The silver bullet in terms of wind energy would be to find a mechanism to store it. If we could do that, then we would be at the cutting edge internationally. Proposals were made to the Minister’s predecessor on the conversion of wind energy to methane gas. Sadly, the individual concerned has left the country and gone to the United Kingdom where a far more sympathetic approach was taken to the research. The individual did not have a string of scientific degrees and he was dismissed in this country yet the research is being actively undertaken in the UK. That brings me to blue sky research, which I will address in due course. People are pigeon-holed and, sadly, that acts against us bringing investment into this country in the medium and long term.

One other weakness which limits research in this country that must be addressed by the Government is the flaw in the funding structure of Enterprise Ireland. I refer to agrichemicals and veterinary pharmaceuticals. We are an agricultural-based economy and yet we are not facilitating research in those areas. Such research is currently taking place in other countries because of specific legal restrictions we have put in place. The main reason lies in the way the funding streams are structured in that the vast majority of the research must take place in this country in order for it to access funding. Given that it is necessary to undertake environmental toxicity tests and eco-toxicity tests for both those areas, and no one carries them out in this country, the tests must be done abroad. One also needs to examine the impact in various climates both in the northern hemisphere and the southern hemisphere and in both northern Europe and southern Europe to get a European licence and then one must carry out the testing in those areas. Only one company in this country carries out clinical trials on large animals. The area is most restrictive in this country and, accordingly, most of the research takes place abroad. As the majority of the research must take place in this country and because field trials must be done outside of the jurisdiction – in practical terms animal trials have to be done abroad as well – that means veterinary pharmaceuticals and agrichemical research cannot take place in this country. The Minister must examine the issue and introduce a change in the legislation to deal with it to ensure that such research can take place. I accept that one cannot have it across the board but it is a niche area. We are at the leading edge in agriculture yet we are tying both hands behind our backs because of the nuances relating to the field trials that it is necessary to carry out.

The main reason I wished to speak on the Bill is that I have a major fear that we are taking the focus very much away from blue sky – fundamental – research and focusing far too much on applied research. When making the announcement the Minister said the objective is to focus scientific research on turning good ideas into good jobs. I commend him on that. We want to make sure that happens and we must have a seed fund in place to ensure that private investment is available so that we can upscale from the novel idea to a manufactured product that will create jobs in this country and sustain companies in the long term. I do not have any disagreement with the approach, but basic fundamental, blue sky research is of vital importance to create the new businesses of tomorrow and beyond and to come up with the novel ideas that will become the applied research of today. If we do not come up with the novel ideas tomorrow then we will not have the scientific innovation to apply to manufactured products or ideas in the future in order to create the new businesses. There is a fear among the scientific community that the Government and the Department are very much focused on short-term justification for scientific research rather than basic research. The reality is that we would not be discussing applied research and Science Foundation Ireland unless the investment was made in the past ten years into basic research that has upskilled researchers and created the novel solutions that could be developed into a new business idea tomorrow.

I wish to give an example of what I am talking about because it is difficult to look at it in the abstract. We all know that computers are getting faster by the day. If someone said 20 years ago that one would be able to carry around a television and a computer in one’s shirt pocket, one would have been locked up, yet that is the situation currently. That is all because we have been able to minimise computers by speeding up processing – micro-processing - through the use of computer chips. In this country today 4,500 people are directly employed in manufacturing computer chips for Intel, which is currently a big employer in this country.

There is a law in electronics called Moore's law, which holds that the size of micro-electronic components shrink every two years through a doubling of density. That process has been going on for many years at this stage but there are limitations to how far one can actually go. There are physical limitations to how far one can go in reducing the size of circuits on silicon chips. There are also financial limitations because the smaller the components get, the more expensive the process gets. I have been told that within the next five to ten years, this process will reach its conclusion and silicon chips will be as small as they can possibly be. What happens to the 4,500 employees of Intel then if another solution is not in place? What will happen if another type of design or material has not been developed which can bring the process forward? We will not have 4,500 people employed here.

In the future, scientists will not be working on the silicon chip because they have been working on that for the past ten or 12 years. An enormous amount of research is going into further developments of the silicon chip at the moment. The scientists of the future will be working on developing some new material that has not been even considered yet. That is what blue sky research is all about - coming up with brand new materials. In this country, we are relying on someone else to do that. We are relying on others to come up with that novel idea and then we will hope and pray that we can piggy back on that and save the 4,500 jobs that we have in this country. We are only focusing on the application of research, that is, on how we can reduce the size of the current microchip rather than coming up with something completely novel and different. That is why it is fundamental that we also put significant resources into basic research so that we come up with those new materials and new ideas. In that way, we will ensure that we can do far more with electronic devices into the future, using completely different materials.

I attended a presentation in Ballinasloe recently, which was also attended by the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science, Deputy Cannon. We were shown the next generation of tablet that will be used in schools. It was a paper-thin sheet of plastic, powered by a mobile telephone. It is an e-reader that one can dance on, roll up or crumple up and it will continue to function. That is where technology is going. It is moving away from the current materials being used for such devices and towards new materials, such as plastics.

We must look at what will happen in the future. We must encourage scientific innovation purely for its own sake and not just for some other objective further down the road. That is what will develop new, innovative scientists who will be listened to by the international scientific community. It will also lead to investors deciding to move to Ireland because we have the best researchers in the world here. Mixing such researchers with engineers and those who can apply the science will yield innovation, new ideas, new products and new jobs. That is why we need to support basic, fundamental research as well as applied research.

I wish to share time with Deputies O'Donovan and English, with the agreement of the House.

I very much agree with Deputy Naughten's points regarding the importance of science and innovation, of ensuring that new products are brought to the market and of supporting applied research. I welcome the publication of this Bill and congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Sherlock, on the good work he is doing in this area in the Department of Education and Science. The science sector contributes substantially to our economy. The role of research in our economy is extremely important and we must continue to invest in creation and innovation if we are to compete in the global marketplace.

I wish to take this opportunity to congratulate BT on its continuing support for the Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition, which gives schools throughout Ireland a wonderful opportunity to bring new sciences and ideas for improving people's day-to-day lives to the attention of various manufacturers and companies. There have been some excellent projects in that competition over the years.

This Bill provides for the extension of the remit of Science Foundation Ireland, SFI, to enable applied research to be funded. Applied research is carried out by companies to bring products and services to market and must be encouraged. Many companies have ideas to generate employment opportunities in this sector but they need financial support to get those ideas off the ground. That is why it is so important that the banks take risks and support companies that have new and innovative ideas.

The Bill makes provision for a new function to enable SFI to promote and support an awareness and understanding of science, technology, engineering and maths. The foundation will take over the delivery of the Discover Science and Engineering, DSE, programme from Forfás. Although it is important that the remit of SFI is extended to enable it to fund applied research, the provision of funding for orientated basic research should also continue. Some Deputies have expressed concerns that orientated basic research will be under-funded as a consequence of more money being spent on applied research. Orientated basic research is carried out with the expectation that it will produce a broad base of knowledge likely to form the basis of the solution to recognised or expected current or future problems or possibilities. However, I am confident that it is not the case that such research will be under-funded. In January of this year SFI announced a fund of €60 million to cover basic research and to ensure that talented scientists in this field remain in this country and contribute their vast knowledge to projects here. Emigration is an issue in this area and we must try to retain our best and brightest and SFI's commitment will enable us to do that.

Scientific research is extremely important as the knowledge gained in the area can be adopted for use in other fields, including enterprise and exports. This, in turn, will generate income for the country and improve standards of living nationally. Ireland is recognised internationally for its positive approach to investment in science and for its success in climbing the world rankings in the field so quickly. At present, the Government has a core research budget of €500 million, which is a sizeable amount of money given the economic constraints under which we are currently operating. Investment in science, technology and innovation has increased significantly since 2000. Before that time, there was little investment in these areas and Ireland was not competing globally. We are now ranked 20th in the world for our research capability, which represents a jump of 16 places since 2003. I am confident that this Bill will ensure that our world rankings improve even further.

A key part of the Government's action plan for jobs is to promote research and development in the sciences and to build an economy that is focused on innovation. It is clear that we will need engineering, science and mathematics graduates to take up the jobs that will be created in the future. That is why it is so important that career guidance teachers are aware of the emerging trends and of where their students are likely to find employment after graduating. They must encourage and promote science, maths and engineering and ensure that students study relevant subjects at third level so that they can fill the vacancies that will arise in the future.

Ireland has built up a reputation in recent years for world-class scientific research. There is significant potential to build on this and to expand further in this area. Our real aim must be to increase employment in these areas and to ensure that there is a future work force in the sciences to help Ireland become a hub for scientific research.

A number of priority areas for research have been identified by Science Foundation Ireland, SFI, including remote health care, smart energy grids, manufacturing and business service and sustainable food production. The main research areas in which Irish researchers excel currently are nanotechnology and material science, and Deputy Naughten spoke about the great developments in the computer and microchip area. Intel Ireland is a massive employer, with 4,500 people working for the company, and there has been great progress made through the years in reducing the size of chips for computers and even for telephones. Equipment is certainly getting smaller and better, which is crucial.

We need to build on our strengths and target future investment in areas that benefit our current and future economic needs. I am confident that the Government is aware of this and following that plan. I am very encouraged by the recognition that Ireland should see itself as a global player in the sector and we should strive to be in the top ten countries for scientific research in the world. Scientific research provides significant opportunity to generate further employment for the country and ensure greater foreign direct investment into Ireland. During these difficult economic times, the Government recognises the importance of delivering a return on scientific investment and is striving to turn this investment into employment opportunities. We know value for money is crucial and we must achieve that, and by investing in research we are ensuring a bright future for the country.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this very important legislation. I have spoken before in the House on science, technology and innovation, and particularly the State structures in place for the science sector, as I have a major interest in the area. I worked in the area before coming to the House. I often think that the industry supports so many elements of employment and direct contributions to the economy across all communities, and one will always find somebody either directly or indirectly connected to the science, technology and engineering fields, whether it is in light engineering or nanotechnology.

It is a Cinderella in terms of public administration. If one considers how science, innovation, engineering, research and technology have been treated, they are scattered among a clatter of different agencies and a range of different Departments. Based on the number of people working in the area and who derive their employment directly from it, I make no bones about stating that it should have a full Department. I watched the debate in my office before coming to the Chamber and many Deputies spoke about foreign direct investment in their own communities, as well as the indigenous industry available in the science and technology sectors. If there was any other contribution to the economy in every county that is as big as the science, technology, innovation and engineering sectors, it would warrant a separate Department. I have held that firm view for a long time.

The Bill is welcome as it gives us an opportunity to talk about how science and innovation is structured in a range of areas, and I will focus on education. I have raised the matter umpteen times. It is frightening to consider the take-up of physics, chemistry, biology and higher level or applied maths at second level and the numbers dropping out of courses involving physics, chemistry and applied maths at higher levels. We are not producing enough people to take up those subjects to leaving certificate level who will be able to continue to third level courses at a degree level and through institutes of technology. We are storing up a major problem as the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation has people going around the world through State agencies such as IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland trying to attract people into the country but we do not have the educational infrastructure in place to encourage people to get into science at a much earlier stage. We should be doing this at primary level and we should encourage people at junior and senior cycle at second level to take on those subjects.

I can provide a case in point. A person can get into a third level science degree course in any university in the country with ordinary level maths and biology. The general degree in first year might entail physics, chemistry and biology, with higher level maths. People might wonder after first year in UCC, UCD or elsewhere why so many people drop out. To be fair, students are encouraged by the Central Applications Office, CAO, to fill out a form for a course they might like to do without realising the requirements to be able to sustain that course. If we are honest about improving the way we produce science graduates at third, fourth and post-doctoral level, we should address the CAO entry system and how people are encouraged into the area.

There has been much talk over the past number of months about restructuring the local authorities in Limerick and amalgamating the two existing authorities. There is fantastic educational infrastructure in the form of the University of Limerick and the Limerick Institute of Technology. Part of this Bill relates to the major land bank owned by Shannon Development. I have said it before but I will say again how I have major concerns about the future use of the land bank in the mid-west. This Bill takes in science, innovation, engineering, etc., but the educational infrastructure, local authorities, Science Foundation Ireland, the IDA and Enterprise Ireland must put a proper structure in place to allow graduates from institutes of technology and our universities to have proper incubation facilities where they can start up businesses.

The development of the science and innovation sector is not all about jobs arriving in Dublin Airport or announcements from the foreign direct investment sector. Many Irish companies at the micro level need basic assistance like incubation units and when we have as much land as we do currently, we should be more creative in putting that land bank to use. Storing it in the hope that we will recover the market prices of 2008 is not the answer and we must grasp the nettle and make a firm decision on the land bank previously owned by Shannon Development. We must use this Bill to ensure we can bring about the maximum number of jobs. I disagree with Deputy Naughten in this regard, as there is no point in having a science and innovation strategic framework that does not make a contribution to the economy as we need the economy to finance it and fund it into the future. The areas are not mutually exclusive and they are inextricably linked. We must foster growth.

As somebody with a background in science who has worked in the industry at Proctor & Gamble in Nenagh over a good few years, I welcome the Bill. I feel strongly that this is a Cinderella industry in terms of public administration in Ireland and it should be given much more credence. We need to get to a stage where the bench in front of me will have a Cabinet Minister with sole responsibility for the development of science, innovation, energy, engineering and technology.

As a Deputy from County Meath, I welcome the opportunity to discuss the Industrial Development (Science Foundation Ireland) Amendment Bill 2012. The Neolithic complex at Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth is considered by many astronomers to be one of the oldest observatories in the world, so Meath people have been ahead in research for 5,000 years now. We want to try to stay there if it is possible.

On a more serious note, this Bill is timely and necessary. Its focus on Science Foundation Ireland being allowed to fund applied research is a much-needed and targeted direction of our scarce resources in a practical way, which will promote greater commercialisation and job creation. As the chairperson of the Oireachtas Joint Committee for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, I have seen the need for this focus and called for this change for some time. We have had an interesting discussion on the topic over the past couple of years. To quote the Minister, Deputy Bruton, a key part of the Government's plan to create the employment we need is to ensure that the Government's core €500 million research is focused on turning good ideas into good jobs. That is what our constituents, the taxpayers and those who want to become taxpayers, want to see. If buzzwords like innovation, research, creativity and export-led recovery are to really mean anything to the man and woman on the street, they must translate into good jobs for them and their children.

When we are in local schools in Navan, Oldcastle or Trim, we must be able to explain to the students that they have a chance to develop this and they will lead the way in creating jobs for the rest of their school colleagues.

Our State supports and encouragement by way of job creation and research should not just focus on securing Ireland's place as the EU corporate headquarters and research base of many important and successful US and global leaders like Facebook, eBay, Intel and PayPal, to name a few from a very long list. We must also encourage the young programmers, inventors, designers and thought leaders to give us the Irish-based brand leaders and multinational companies of the future. To this end, I will again highlight to the House the benefits of the various business support programmes to help people develop their ideas, concepts or innovations into sound business models. There are many of them out there but one example we have come across lately is Discovery Zone, a programme being run in Counties Donegal, Louth, Laois and Meath in conjunction with the local authorities and county enterprise boards. The Discovery Zone is an intensive, specialised and fully funded 12 week programme for professionals who find themselves out of work. Discovery Zone gives people the space, skills and support to explore the options of setting up a new business or seeking a new work direction, taking their idea to the next level.

Efforts should be made to join the dots between all the various institutes that fund research and groups that help the future business leaders so they can develop their ideas. I encourage a link up of such schemes to those benefiting from SFI research and innovation supports. We can spend millions of euro on all the different areas but if we do not join the dots we do not get value for money and the job creation we need. We need programmes like Discovery Zone to help us join the dots.

The success of our agrifood sector, demonstrated by Tuesday's announcement by Glanbia in Waterford, building on similar announcements by Kerrygold and Lakeland Dairies in recent times, show the strength of our local indigenous companies too. This Bill before us today acknowledges and will hopefully take it further. Like everything worthwhile in life, there is a gamble and risk involved, but we learn from our mistakes and the benefits to the State, its people and our national finances will be huge in the long term.

In 2003, we were placed 36th in the world for research overall and now we are 20th globally; in certain specific areas we are even higher. We have made great strides in a decade, although it is not easy in these tough financial circumstances. The challenge now is to maintain the upward trend in tougher times. Tough times encourage new thinking and provide a new energy to old problems. Why not aim to be in the top ten overall in global research leaders within five years, and the top five within the decade? The path of greatest resistance will always be uphill but ambition breeds excellence. This excellence must also breed jobs.

Some purists would argue that this focus on jobs and bringing ideas into the marketplace debases science and academic research. We as an Oireachtas, however, passing a budget each year, would not being doing our job right if we did not at least inquire as to the success and potential for jobs resulting from investment in this important area. There were some interesting presentations this week when the various chairmen from the European enterprise and social protection committees came together in Dublin Castle to discuss issues like this. We had a major discussion of Horizon 2020, and the Commission representatives there to discuss funding for research and the need to drive entrepreneurship. Enterprise Ireland made a very good presentation on the work it is doing in its support unit to ensure we match people's ideas for research with funding and help. Success in the last five years in Ireland has doubled the money we have received from Europe for research. We must use that now.

The other worrying factor was that across Europe, entrepreneurial spirit is in decline. The numbers willing to take a risk to develop their idea or set up their own business are falling. That is because people are more concerned for the future. It is a scary thing but we discussed it and there are plenty of solutions to that problem. There is an onus on us all to encourage people and to become inventors and entrepreneurs. By changing the rules to redirect some of the money to applied research, and to be able to spend it in different ways, is a step in the right direction.

The protection of the Science Foundation Ireland budget of €152.3 million, with only a 2% cut, is to be welcomed in the current economic climate. I hope we can continue with that level of funding. The results must be judged over several years so we must bear in mind that this investment pays off in the long term. It is okay to tweak matters as go along to ensure we get better value for money and jobs.

I am delighted to be able to speak on the Industrial Development (Science Foundation Ireland) (Amendment) Bill 2012. 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. Oriented basic research is an internationally-recognised category of research and is defined as research that is "carried out with the expectation that it will produce a broad base of knowledge likely to form the basis of the solution to recognised or expected current or future problems or possibilities". Applied research on the other hand is research directed primarily towards a specific practical aim or objective.

It is timely that we evaluate the situation with Science Foundation Ireland. The Bill also makes provision for a new function: to enable the foundation 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 Forfás to the foundation on an administrative basis with effect from 1 March 2012.

The Bill also provides for certain amendments to existing legislation relating to Forfás, 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.

Shannon Development, Enterprise Ireland and all those other agencies have had an important role in the development of our country as a science-based economy. Obviously, time changes everything and there is a need to adapt. I see that as important. Listening to some eminent speakers from UCG at a function in Galway some years ago, we were told clearly that there were worries about the numbers and suitability of Irish graduates. I was told the same by eminent American industrialists when I had lunch with the American Ambassador in his residence a year ago that they were concerned about the quality and quantity of graduates applying for positions with the new FDI companies that are coming here. A year ago I was shocked to hear an American company had to bring its graduates with it and that it had to recruit from other countries in Europe.

I am not knocking Irish graduates but the focus must be changed. We were told quite starkly that this is happening and while we welcome the development of employment, and companies announcing their arrival here on a reasonably regular basis, it is a pity we cannot employ our own graduates because they do not have the appropriate qualifications. We must see if we can adapt to ensure our universities and institutes of technology are up there with the best. One particular issue is very important. At least 40% of direct investment comes from San Francisco but there is no direct flight. We must work on that. There are other areas we must look at to kick start the economy again.

Getting out to the RDS to see the BT Young Scientist exhibition is one of the highlights of my year.

Like, I am sure, my colleagues or the large numbers of the public who go, I am amazed and aghast at the standard, initiatives, sheer thinking, skills, imagination, business intuition and nous for business of the stands there. Unfortunately, one would need a week to see them all. One is normally attracted to those from one's own county but I am not taking from any of the other counties. The standard this year, and the enthusiasm and interest, was something to behold. I salute all of those young entrepreneurs, their múinteoirí scoile who help, nurture and lead them along and, of course, their parents and families in supporting them and getting them to that point. I hope many of them will be our brightest and best and movers and shakers over the decades to come because they have it and they are well able. They have a different mindset from that of when we were going to school and different ideas on modern technology and everything, but even they have some simple solutions to ongoing problems.

I also would have to salute the South Tipperary County Enterprise Board for the gallant work it has done over the years on a shoestring in comparison with what other agencies use. I was a member of that board for a while. It is a retrograde step to have them dangling at the end of a string for the past 18 months as to their future. I do not agree with them being subsumed into the local authorities because there are horses for courses. Let us face it, there is Science Foundation Ireland, Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland. I was a member of a local authority for a good number of years and so was the Leas-Cheann Comhairle and many of us here in this House. The local authorities, like or lump it, are seen as a regulatory authority. One goes there for planning. One must deal with the local authority for a range of issues such as local development plans in which they have a regulatory role, environmental issues and control, and the veterinarian area to look after animal welfare. Unfortunately, they were never seen as having a stimulative or supportive role; I wish they were. It is a retrograde step to put the enterprise boards under their remit. While they are under the auspices of the local authorities, they have done a great job independently and they should be allowed to continue.

The same applies now with the development companies. Some of them had poor starts. The one in Tipperary had Leader I ten, 15 or 20 years ago. Merely because of some problem with one group in some part of the country, the Minister is going to throw the baby out with the bathwater. The Minister has decided he wants to bring them all in under the auspices of the local authorities. It is wrong. It is a retrograde step for the reasons I mentioned. I am not saying that they should flout any laws or adopt light-touch regulation. People can go to their mentors and the staff in the offices who have the understanding. I salute the ones in Tipperary, both north and south, although I have more dealings with those in south Tipperary. Those staff adopt a bottom-up approach. They are not bogged down in regulations on such areas as planning and the environment. They must adhere to them but they are separate. They are a breath of fresh air and they can invigorate struggling small companies or new fledgling ones. It is another retrograde step.

I do not know what is the rush on the part of the Government to do this. We have seen what happened with SUSI and medical cards and everything that has been centralised. This is the same, bringing these in under those local authorities that are regulatory bodies and that are not seen as stimulative or job-creating bodies. Unfortunately, that is the legacy. That is not the local authorities' role. Their role has been regulatory.

The sole traders, who have the ideas and vision, need the support of the country enterprise boards if they go to them. Many of them never go near anybody. There are sole traders with limited education. These were merely persons with good ideas who had the vision, passion, enthusiasm and courage. They put their own savings into the development of their product or business and into achieving a great deal and employing. I am like a bad record saying here that if all of them were not even supported but deregulated in some ways to cut out bureaucracy, and were allowed take on one extra employee, we would halve the unemployment figures in the morning, whether it be in science and technology or whether it be in the ordinary trades in which they would be involved.

I must return to the thorny issue of the banks. This Bill and the Bills we are passing and promoting in this House are intended to help, but there is no money or support from the banks. The only interest of the banks, which are crucifying the people through both the previous Government and this Government in relation to the cost of the bailout, seems to be in improving their own balance sheets. They are not lending to small business. The relationship some of the sole traders I knew, and even I in my business, had with the bank manager was great. We knew them. Above all, they knew us. They knew our capabilities. They knew our drive and our passion and they took us at our word, which was our bond. Now there are mainly whiz-kids. The managers who I knew are gone. There are new men moved in and around and, invariably, there are some of the mná na hÉireann. I am not being sexist or anything else, but some of these staff do not have a clue about business. They could learn a great deal in public relations skills as well, in how to deal with customers. This applies right across the board. We need real presence and effort from Government to light a fire under the backsides of these bankers and tell them to come out and stand with, support and get to know the business people and entrepreneurs. It is badly needed.

I want to give a mention to the Tipperary Institute, the Limerick Institute of Technology, LIT, and the Waterford Institute of Technology. They have done much creative work. They have had many good leaders setting up in those areas over the years and they have provided many teaching courses and produced graduates. I welcome the amalgamation of LIT and Tipperary Institute that is under way. It can be mutually beneficial but there is a need for fair recognition of Tipperary Institute in that. Alongside LIT, we must think of the vision of the former county manager, Mr. Edmond O'Connor, and others who purchased a fantastic site in Clonmel on the N24 that was meant to be an high-technology industrial park. There are certain business persons interested and that must be supported. That vision must never be lost because it is ideally located. We have the entrepreneurs, we have the young people with the skills sets in the community, and they must be promoted and supported in every way. We must ensure those talents they have gained through their correct schooling, from national school right up to third and fourth levels, are supported, nurtured and, above all, encouraged in these times so that they do not shy away from it.

Anybody looking from the outside at a business and making a career choice sees the considerable difficulties in financing the economy, ordinary people being persecuted by the banks, and as I referred to in the past, the significant amount of State terrorism of those in business. Every letter one receives from the Revenue Commissioners has a jail term at the bottom of it. We do not treat the drug barons and their like with the same indignation. While I uphold the regulations of this country and the laws of this land, it is frightening to see the banks' behaviour towards indigenous and small businesses. It is simply appalling. With Revenue, the problem is the staff are being pushed and squeezed to keep the books balanced. Everybody knows the funds are drying up because the more austerity there is, the less money in people's pockets and the less spending, with the knock-on effect being less taxes.

It is time the staff in Revenue were brought out into business and shown what is happening on the ground. It is time that they were told to cop-on in their practice of charging draconian interest rates and penalties. We note every so often the defaulters in every county as listed in the Sunday newspapers and on local radio. In the main, these are not tax dodgers. They are decent people who set up businesses, worked hard, employed many, paid their taxes and fell on tough times. One will find that two thirds of the sum is interest and penalties. Recently I have been negotiating on behalf of a taxpayer in County Limerick with Revenue and it does not have an understanding. The staff have not got it because they went from college into Revenue, never worked in the real world and do not understand.

All those officials should be re-educated as to the difficulties of running a business, promoting a business, having a business idea and having the vision, passion and energy to put in the effort and the long hours. They should be sent out compulsorily for a week each year, as we do with interns in here, to understand the basic raison d'être of what makes a business tick. They do not understand it and in many cases they do not want to know.

Then they pass on their demands to the sheriff - a lovely title. Some years ago the sheriff's agents arrived at the office of a good friend of mine at 1 o'clock and told him they would be back at 3 o'clock for €15,000 - I might be wrong with the sum. The first customer to come in after dinner discovered that the unfortunate businessman had taken his life. I salute the county coroner in Tipperary who described that as State terrorism. It is nothing short of State terrorism and it goes on every day.

It is going on at the moment in County Limerick and I am dealing with the sheriff. He arrived to a customer after negotiations following which his agent got back to the sheriff and back to the Revenue and signed an agreement. He went away with a payment and got agreement to have another payment of €10,000 by the end of June. He took away a logbook from a machine. It is highly irregular and illegal. He then signed an agreement with the farmer and arrived back three weeks later even though that agreement still stood with Garda vehicles with blue lights flashing and haulier trucks. They wreaked havoc on a family business of 40 years and seized the machines. Worst of all they had to be sent to an auction house in Dublin and were advertised on the Internet with no VAT. They proceeded to sell them last Saturday for less than half the amount for which they were advertised by the sheriff. We now find that the person who agreed to buy them could not pay the deposit and so they are for sale again this Saturday.

What is going on is a scandal and until someone in Government deals with this how will we establish a proper ethos of entrepreneurs developing businesses using their genius, prowess, energy and enthusiasm to work the country out of its economic slumber? The Revenue might claim it has no control over the sheriff and how he engages the Garda and takes over. However, at some time someone will be seriously injured because of the trauma visited on decent businesspeople. I accept there are difficulties in paying the tax and reaching settlements. However, there must be mutual respect. If a written agreement is entered into by an agent of the Government, it must be respected. It is not just toilet paper and something that someone signs for convenience on the day.

There is much to learn here. We need to re-evaluate where we are and what we are doing, and then by all means we can pass this kind of legislation. Last week I criticised that the Companies Bill ran to 1,400 pages. We need to get our basics right and allow our businesspeople and entrepreneurs to breathe and above all to sleep in their beds. They should be free from the constant harassment of the banks and their agents, who act with total impunity. They send out third-force militias to beat up customers and break in to remove machinery - steal it. I have evidence of that happening. I will attend a meeting this evening in Gorey Garda station with the chief superintendent and superintendent about the behaviour of some of these thugs who have left people for dead on the road. We now find that the DPP has decided not to prosecute anybody. The State terrorism and how the banks have a licence to do whatever they want to do beggars belief.

These Bills mean nothing if we cannot get our fundamentals right. I do not blame the people who write them. The Minister, Deputy Bruton, is doing an excellent job and is doing his best. We need to get the fundamentals right and stop these Dracula-type vultures from sucking the blood from the ordinary people of Ireland. We need to stop threatening people and beating the spirit of entrepreneurship, enthusiasm and business orientation out of the people. The same will happen with the Bill we debated last night regarding homeowners and owners of second properties. It is draconian. We need to shout halt and re-evaluate, and listen to what Uachtarán na hÉireann has said, for which I salute him. I knew he was never going to be silent anyway, but it is important that ordinary people - workers, small businesspeople, ratepayers, taxpayers, young and old have some voice because unfortunately the previous and present governments have abandoned them to austerity and the troika.

We must also listen to the former head of the troika who said there was a menu of options on the table and we took the one of austerity. I do not know whom or what we are protecting here, but we are not helping the entrepreneurs and ensuring that business is promoted. Much as these Bills are welcome, they will not be worth the paper on which they are written if we do not get the fundamentals right and allow our people to regain their freedom to work, and use their enthusiasm, business prowess and simple courage to develop this country again. To hell with the bankers, chancers, speculators and officialdom in Ireland who are gone mad.

On behalf of the Minister of State, Deputy Sherlock, I thank the various Deputies for their contributions to the debate on this Bill. We are delighted to see unanimous cross-party support for this Bill, which is an acknowledgement of how important science and technology is to Ireland's economic and societal development. It is heartening to have had such an extensive discussion on SFI operations, and on wider elements of our science and education systems. It is also very encouraging to note that a wider audience now recognises the important role that Science Foundation Ireland, a small but highly efficient agency of just over 40 staff, is playing in our economic rehabilitation.

SFI is a national success story of which we should be proud. Almost on a weekly basis of late we have seen the direct, and indirect, positive consequences through various FDI and indigenous jobs announcements. These are in some way linked to SFI-funded research teams, contributing in some way to recent significant jobs and investment announcements by companies such as PayPal, Zurich, E-Bay, McAfee, Yahoo, Glanbia, FeedHenry, etc.

The main purpose of this Bill is to enable SFI to drive Ireland's economic future and to support excellent funding opportunities to realise the potential of this research for the wider economy. While the Bill is primarily about SFI operations, I know the Minister of State, Deputy Sherlock, is more than happy to engage on Committee Stage, in a broader conversation that covers the research prioritisation action plans. As there seem to be some misconceptions around the 14 priority and six underpinning areas, the Minister of State, Deputy Sherlock, will be glad to have the opportunity to discuss this further. He will also be happy to discuss the roles and functions of other research funders; supports for fundamental research - "blue-skies" research; and elaborate on Government plans regarding moves towards a new national science strategy in 2014.

I take the opportunity to correct or clarify a number of points that were made by some Deputies on 17 April. In his contribution, Deputy Boyd Barrett chose to use misinformed and outdated material that appeared in The Irish Times during the latter part of 2012. Without examining the evidence of various SFI and other agency funding announcements in recent months, the Deputy cited certain articles and quotes attributed to three people out of the several thousand research personnel who are directly involved in Ireland's scientific community as his weapon to deride Government's science policy.

I wish to correct some details that appeared in The Irish Times. SFI is not shutting down 27 research centres - it is not shutting down any research centre. Through its various centres funded programmes, there is a natural lifetime associated with an SFI centre award, be it on a three or five-year basis, and some centres will go on to a second term award.

Assuming a centre is of true internationally recognised excellence, and of continuing direct relevance to a nation's educational and industrial base, over time it will invariably develop a range of funding streams which ensure its sustainability. This is as it should be; centres should not exist beyond their natural productive state or relevance and nor should they be overly reliant on one funder.

On the issue of support for mathematics, the largest single award under the 2012 SFI investigators programme awards announced at the end of January this year was a €2.7 million investment in mathematics to the Mathematics Applications Consortium for Science and Industry, MACSI, based at the University of Limerick. I wish to clarify a number of points raised by Deputy Calleary. We note the point made about appreciating where this SFI legislation fits in the overall jigsaw of our research offerings. In this regard, the Minister of State with responsibility for research and innovation wishes to inform the House it is his intention to look to deliver a new national science strategy in 2014 given that the existing strategy for science, technology and innovation, which commenced in 2006, expires this year.

We have not ceased funding supports for e-journals. The e-journals facility provides researchers in all disciplines electronic access to world-leading research databases and publications. Through the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Vote, the Government will provide more than €4.5 million to maintain the provision of e-journals this year. Deputy Calleary also referred to an apparent suspension of the programme for research in third-level institutions. Through the Department's Vote this year we will provide approximately €40 million to continue support for more than 40 research projects and top-class facilities under the programme for research in third-level institutions.

At this juncture I wish to bring to the attention of the House the possibility we may table a small number of amendments to the Bill on Committee Stage which shall be of relevance to the rationalisation of certain functions that currently fall to Forfás. Following a recent Government decision it has been decided that certain functions relating to the Irish National Accreditation Board should transfer from Forfás to the Health and Safety Authority. As a consequence a small number of legal changes need to be accommodated quickly and these could be presented for consideration on Committee Stage.

Through this legislation, our ambition is that SFI will continue to fund excellent scientific research, which fosters innovation and enterprise leading to high-value jobs and improvements in our society. SFI is a key part of our science and enterprise ecosystem which aims to further develop our success in export markets, start and grow new companies, attract new foreign direct investment opportunities and further build Ireland's international reputation as an economy and a society. SFI has, in the period since its establishment in 2000, ensured the State's investment in research and development has transformed the research landscape in Ireland. The changes proposed in the Bill will enable SFI to deliver on the Government's aim to invest in areas linked to Ireland's future economic and societal needs and to accelerate the delivery of outcomes from this research investment. We welcome the positive outlook of Deputies towards the Bill and look forward to its passage following Committee and Report Stages.

Question put and agreed to.