Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Questions (104, 106, 131)

Brendan Smith


104. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the way he plans to expand Ireland's digital economy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10070/13]

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Timmy Dooley


106. Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his proposals to advance the digital society here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10060/13]

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Charlie McConalogue


131. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the way that he will meet the challenge to persuade the remaining one in five households not connected to the internet to do so; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10081/13]

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Written answers (Question to Communications)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 104, 106 and 131 together.

The Government fully accepts importance of the digital economy and to Ireland’s economic development. Research by Boston Consulting Group cited in the recent UPC report on Ireland’s Digital Future, estimates it will grow from a current rate of about 3% of GDP to 6% by 2016.

Research currently underway in the context of the forthcoming National Digital Strategy will look further at this value and ways it might be enhanced. That research will be concluded shortly and I propose to publish it in parallel with the National Digital Strategy.

As Deputies are aware there is substantial employment in Ireland in the ICT and digital sectors arising from the presence of world leading companies in these areas based in Ireland. In addition, smaller indigenous companies are also making an important contribution. For example, the Digital Hub currently caters for 66 digital enterprises, which between them, employ some 800 people. More than three-quarters (78%) of these companies expanded their business operations last year, with 44% hiring additional staff.

Two-thirds are planning to expand their workforce this year. In addition the National Digital Research Centre (NDRC) has helped to create 155 full-time jobs and 66 part-time jobs by the end of 2012 as a direct result of the projects it has supported.

Following on from last year’s National Broadband I will shortly publish Phase 1 of a new National Digital Strategy. This strategy will focus on how we can maximise the benefits of the digital technology that is available to us and will also target approaches to stimulating demand for broadband services and connectivity.

The Action Plan for Jobs published last week contains details of a specific initiative aimed at incentivising Irish micro-enterprises to begin trading online.

The National Digital Strategy will set out in detail the rationale and overall objectives of this important intervention, which will operate initially on a pilot basis in 2013.

According to CSO statistics, less than 1 in 4 SMEs in Ireland is trading online. It is not simply that firms should embrace digital to create new jobs; it needs to be done in order to preserve existing ones. This is what is happening on a global scale and Irish enterprise must keep pace if it is to survive.

Enhancement of digital skills in our education system and more generally is also of vital importance. In this context my Department is also working in partnership with the Department of Education and Skills to roll out high speed broadband connectivity to all second level schools. I believe that this scheme will assist in equipping schools and students with the digital skills, which are so important in a modern society and labour force.

The commercial sector also has a strong role to play in stimulating demand for Internet services.

The huge increase in the use of smart phones and tablet devices, increased availability of applications such as video-on-demand, and initiatives by Internet services providers to make technology more accessible to targeted segments of society, will continue to impact on the level of take up.

As part of the National Digital Strategy, my Department will work closely with the commercial sector to build on these initiatives, with a view to ensuring that citizens, business and communities realise more fully the potential of a digitally enabled society.

The evidence shows that digital engagement continues to grow steadily – as evidenced by Ireland’s performance in the Digital Agenda for Europe Scoreboard. The most recent EU Scoreboard for Ireland published in 2012 shows 71% of the population are regular internet users – this is up considerably on the 63% score for the previous year – and above the EU average of 68%. The proportion of people who have never used the internet has also noticeably decreased to 21% (from 27% the previous year).

Deputies will be aware that Ireland has performed extremely well in terms of EU benchmarking of eGovernment services. Through the eGovernment strategy published last year my colleague the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform will be building on achievements to date to further improve citizens’ and businesses’ access to, and experience of eGovernment services. Attractive online services will also serve as a further driver of internet engagement.

Deputies will also be aware of my recent appointment of David Puttnam, the distinguished Film Director as Ireland’s Digital Champion. He is strongly committed to the promotion of the digital society. I am confident that in this role he can contribute significantly to raising awareness levels of the many benefits of digital, particularly in the critical sphere of education and learning.

Overall the Deputies can be assured of the Government’s commitment to proactive promotion of the Digital Economy. Much progress has already been made in this regard. The forthcoming publication of the National Digital Strategy will underpin the Government’s commitment and signal specific areas for further development.

Question No. 105 answered with Question No. 100.
Question No. 106 answered with Question No. 104.