Thursday, 31 January 2019

Questions (9)

Bernard Durkan


9. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the degree to which she continues to maximise opportunities for the expansion of business through the medium of innovation technology nationally with particular reference to the need to encourage and ensure an even spread of investment throughout the regions thus alleviating the pressure on the more densely populated areas; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [4639/19]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Business)

On the same theme, my question is on the need for continued focus on increased investment throughout the regions, with a view to alleviating the pressure on the more densely populated areas and utilising modern technology in the course thereof.

The Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation has made regional development a top priority. Enterprise development, job creation and the promotion of innovation across all regions are key priorities of Government. We want all regions to realise their potential as contributors to economic recovery and growth and for regional disparities to be reduced.

My Department’s 2019 capital budget allocation of €370 million for research and innovation, an increase of €40 million, will allow us to tackle a number of priority actions in Project Ireland 2040 and Innovation 2020. Science Foundation Ireland and Enterprise Ireland will continue to leverage further EU and private sector funding for Irish research programmes.

In 2018 we requested a refresh and refocus of all regional plans to ensure their relevance and impact out to 2020. This resulted in nine new regional enterprise plans, focusing on a smaller number of strategic objectives. We intend to launch the plans at nine separate regional events shortly. The plans align with my Department’s agencies’ core activities and add value to the work the agencies are already doing, through collaborative actions.

Enterprise Ireland supports companies to improve their innovation capabilities and de-risk investment in research, development and innovation through its range of innovation support programmes, which achieve a very strong regional balance. Approximately 76% of its innovation partnership programmes and 84% of its technology gateway projects are delivered outside Dublin.

Last year, my Department announced funding of €26.75 million for Enterprise Ireland's technology gateway network five-year programme. Regionally based gateways deliver technology solutions for industry through innovative collaborative projects using a network of 15 industry gateways based in 11 institutes of technology.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply. Has consideration been given to the use of digital highways? I refer here to using modern technology such as broadband throughout the regions and prioritising investment in areas where such technology is available in order to alleviate traffic congestion in more densely-populated areas and create greater opportunities for employment?

The answer is "Yes". We are certainly doing that. I did not get an opportunity to state that Project Ireland 2040 identified a number of specific priority investments in the area of innovation. These include the establishment of a €500 million disruptive technologies innovation fund, DTIF, which encompasses that to which the Deputy refers. The first call in this competitive process generated interest from all of the regions. This resulted in 27 successful projects being selected with enterprise and research partners based in several counties, including Cork, Limerick, Galway, Louth, Monaghan, Kildare and Tipperary. We look forward to launching further calls under the DTIF in order to harness further collaborative projects with potential across Ireland. We will soon launch nine new regional plans in the coming weeks across enterprise agencies and their core activities.

To what extend can the Department monitor the level of the investment in those regions on a weekly or monthly basis with a view to creating specific job opportunities?

We are in constant contact with Enterprise Ireland, IDA Ireland and Science Foundation Ireland, SFI. It is also important for people to know that we have regional fora which collaborate and co-operate with multinational companies in all regions to ascertain skills shortages and what is needed from industry. The Deputy's final question is very important because we have ongoing meetings with Enterprise Ireland, IDA Ireland and all agencies associated with creating employment, particularly in the regions. My Department and all other relevant Departments receive feedback to ensure that all the money we have invested and all the projects we have launched over the past number of years provide value for money and provide employment in the regions.