Thursday, 27 June 2019

Questions (9)

Bernard Durkan


9. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the extent to which she expects innovation to play a major role in Ireland's internal trade in addition to maximising export opportunities from the island of Ireland, particularly in the aftermath of Brexit; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27180/19]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Business)

This question seeks to ascertain the extent to which innovation is to become an integral part of developing trade in this country and within the island of Ireland while at the same time allowing us to utilise all opportunities for increased exports abroad.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue, which the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, and I talk about all the time as we travel around the country. Embracing innovation is essential in ensuring that we build a resilient enterprise base and support a sustainable economy that can withstand significant challenges such as those posed by Brexit. Innovation drives productivity - as we all know - through new, higher value-added products and services and more efficient business processes. Ireland continues to perform strongly in terms of innovation. The annual European innovation scoreboard, published this month by the European Commission, shows that amid increased innovation performance across the EU, Ireland remains a strong innovator and, in tenth place, remains one of the most innovative member states, above the EU average.

I am particularly pleased with Ireland’s success in converting our research, development and innovation efforts into high quality jobs, sales and exports, as demonstrated by our position on the European innovation scoreboard for employment and sales impacts. Under the Future Jobs Ireland strategy which was launched in March, the Government will build a framework to ensure Irish enterprises are prepared for all future challenges and opportunities. Pillar 1, embracing innovation and technological change, calls out measures to promote indigenous entrepreneurship and encourage clustering and stronger links between domestic and foreign-owned firms.

Through its agencies, the Department drives and supports greater engagement in research, development and innovation by Irish and foreign-owned enterprises, small and medium enterprises, SMEs, and large-scale enterprises. Our research shows that companies investing in research, development and innovation have 3.6 times the exports and almost double the employment of companies that do not invest. Enterprise Ireland provides a wide range of supports for companies to support innovation, competitiveness and market diversification, while Science Foundation Ireland leads major elements of Ireland's innovation agenda. Examples of the initiatives being taken include building large-scale centre investments that leverage significant non-Exchequer funding, challenge-based funding and support for talent and training in important areas such as artificial intelligence, digital, collaborative partnerships, recruiting outstanding researchers to Ireland, cross-Border collaboration and enhancing international engagement as part of building Ireland’s global footprint.

Does the Minister of State expect to see greater opportunities and greater urgency to engage in innovation in national and international trade with beneficial consequences for the country? Have objectives or targets been set, particularly in the European Union? Notwithstanding the fact that Ireland ranks tenth among the EU 27, can we improve our performance?

The Government is conscious of the need for innovation, particularly in respect of the various schemes that have been put in place. When I travel around the country, I tell companies that if they do not innovate, they will evaporate such is the level of competition. If we want to create good, sustainable jobs, we have to encourage all small businesses to innovate, grow and be competitive on the world stage. Companies that are not competitive will not succeed, as can be seen in Enterprise Ireland's annual business results. The survey shows that companies which invest in innovation are higher performing in creating employment. That is what we are trying to achieve. The same is true of export sales. In Enterprise Ireland's export results for the first half of the year the exports of indigenous companies throughout the world are growing, with growth of 7.6% in exports to the eurozone area. Despite the United Kingdom's issues, exports to the United Kingdom have risen by 4%. Similarly, exports to the United States and elsewhere in North America have increased by 6.6%. It is by encouraging innovation and ensuring agencies equip companies in this way that we can continue to grow on the global stage.

To what extent does the Minister of State foresee opportunities for the development of an all-island economy, notwithstanding Brexit, and to what extent can innovation be used in that context?

A whole-of-government approach is taken. There is collaboration between the North and the South such as between universities and research centres. InterTrade Ireland, Enterprise Ireland and the local enterprise offices, LEOs, work together, which is important in the context of Brexit. Much is happening in the area and I expect this to continue. In Future Jobs Ireland, innovation is an important factor, not least in respect of the digital and technological changes expected, given that the pace of change will be faster in the next five years than in the past 20. That is why innovation is the key. We must ensure we upskill the workforce and that innovation centres attached to universities and other third level institutions will continue to play a primary role in creating the types of job that are important on the world stage, in conjunction with the jobs we are attracting through foreign direct investment.