Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 20 May 2003

Vol. 567 No. 1

Industrial Development (Science Foundation Ireland) Bill 2002 [ Seanad ] : Second Stage.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

This Bill provides for the establishment on a statutory basis of a body to be known as Science Foundation Ireland. The new body will be an agency of Forfás. The establishment of the foundation is central to an overall strategy which will see Ireland as a leader in the global knowledge-based economy. There is a broad consensus at all levels of society for creating a knowledge-driven economy and it is widely accepted that by investing in excellence in basic research, Ireland is investing in future social and economic growth and industrial development. Central to the vision of Ireland as a country driving technological change is Science Foundation Ireland.

Ireland's emergence as Europe's high-growth economy has been a feature of the last decade. We have experienced a substantial expansion of our industrial base. Indeed, 750,000 more people are working in the country now than was the case ten years ago. To build on the progress made and to ensure a continuing expansion of our economy, our policy has been modified to give increased priority to research and development as a means of ensuring the economy's continued growth and success. Ireland can no longer compete on a low cost basis with other cheaper economies around the world. The Irish economy must compete on skills and innovation.

Ireland's sustained economic growth and prosperity will depend upon establishing a culture of scientific and technological innovation, a high level of research and development, and a globally-competitive, knowledge-based economy. Such re-positioning is essential to provide sustainable, high quality, well paid jobs in Ireland.

Science, technology, research and innovation are the key words of the future. We must build the structures which support research excellence. We must enhance our ability to compete at the pinnacle of knowledge and produce the people through our education system who will take on the new challenges. A cornerstone of this future is building our research capability in our universities, institutes and enterprises, in essence, the research infrastructure which will make it possible.

The process leading to the establishment of Science Foundation Ireland started in 1998 when a major technology foresight initiative was carried out by the Irish Council for Science, Technology and Innovation. The aim of the technology foresight exercise was to identify the technologies that will be key to our national future economic and social development and to propose the actions needed to foster our capabilities in these technologies. A key feature of the initiative was that it involved a wide range of consultation with key industrialists, academics, senior civil servants and other interested parties in an attempt to develop a consensus on the actions required to foster technological development.

The technology foresight report identified a need for a substantial increase in national capability in niche areas of information and communications technology – ICT – and biotechnology. These technologies were identified as representing, for the future, the engines of growth in the global economy. The technology foresight report recommended the establishment of a fund to invest in research in those key areas of technology and recognised that, in order to achieve this outcome, a qualitative shift of industrial policy would be required. This would also have to be accompanied by a significant increase in the level of resources allocated to investment in research which would achieve the excellence and critical mass needed to give Ireland an international reputation in the specified technological sectors.

In February 2000, the Government approved the establishment of the technology foresight fund, from which €646 million is being used over the period of the national development plan to support research excellence in strategic technologies, particularly the development of world-class capabilities in the niche areas of ICT and biotechnology. The Government also approved the establishment of a national strategic research foundation, Science Foundation Ireland, as a mechanism for the management of this expenditure from the fund.

To allow the foundation to commence operations almost immediately, the Government then agreed that it could be established under the existing Industrial Development Acts as a sub-board of Forfás. The purpose of this Bill is to establish the foundation as a separate legal entity. Science Foundation Ireland will invest in funding research that is of intrinsic excellence and acknowledged internationally, is of a sufficient scale and critical mass to have real significance in Ireland and internationally, and strengthens the scientific foundations on which to develop high-productivity, high-technology, market-driven, knowledge-intensive investments, including start-ups, in Ireland's industrial and services sectors.

As recommended in the technology foresight report, the foundation will concentrate on the fields underpinning the industrial sectors of biotechnology and ICT with a view to promoting and supporting basic research of world-class stature in these fields. A world-class research capability in selected segments of these two enabling technologies will become an essential foundation for future growth in our economy.

ICT involves all disciplines that underpin the study of physical components, systems, networks, storage, transmission, software and applications, as well as the underlying fields of mathematics, computer science, physics, chemistry, materials science and electrical engineering. ICT is at the core of the knowledge society, as scientific and engineering research today requires the use of systems and processes that ICT research has produced. New breakthrough technologies will be required to continue the progress made in electronics technology that we have experienced in the last 50 years. These advances will be of profound significance to the microelectronics and semiconductor industries in the future. If Ireland is to compete in this era of rapid development of ICT products and services, appropriate state-of-the-art infrastructure must be put in place.

Agencies such as IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland have already helped give the country a global reputation as a major competitor for ICT industrial investment. This sector has been developing steadily over 30 years through substantial investment by Government and by the world's leading ICT companies. Today it is one of the most important sectors in the Irish economy and a key engine of growth. By building a globally-renowned research base, focusing on the fields that underpin ICT, our economy can build on the relationships it has already formed with this industry. It could also play a competitive role in defining and shaping economic activity and technological advancements worldwide. This represents a truly significant opportunity but also a threat. If we miss it, we will face the possibility of being left behind as the 21st century progresses.

Ireland's research institutions are involved in most of the key research areas in ICT, including some engaged in globally-distinguished research. However, we must focus on developing ICT research programmes in areas that can compete on a global scale. Doing so will require the formation of outstanding research centres as well as the recruitment and development of critical masses of research talent.

In seeking to establish a dynamic, competitive, knowledge-based economy, characterised by a high skill base and high added value, biotechnology will reveal more knowledge in the coming decades than all other technologies combined. Biotechnology includes areas such as gene expression, protein synthesis and characterisation, DNA chips, genomics, biosensors, drug delivery and bioremediation. This research will affect health care, pharmaceuticals, environmental management, agriculture, marine science, medical devices, consumer goods and food and drink businesses.

One example of the possibilities offered by world-class research in even one area within the biotechnology area would be the new techniques for studying incredibly small-scale phenomena that are being developed at present. Efforts in this area will provide a detailed understanding of the structure and behaviour of biological systems, such as cell membranes. Innovative research in this area could lead, for instance, to the development of new drug delivery systems that could advance the treatment of disease.

The industries most affected by biotechnology – pharmaceuticals, chemicals, agri-food and medical devices – have contributed significantly to industrial development in Ireland over the past 20 years and have the potential to continue to do so. Ireland is home, for example, to the operational bases of nine of the top ten largest pharmaceutical companies in the world. This situation links Ireland closely to an industrial culture that is among the leaders of the knowledge revolution. Combined with the recent emergence of indigenous biotechnology start-up companies, such relationships give Ireland a crucial opportunity to prove itself a successful innovator and knowledge generator.

Biotechnology will play a pivotal role in social and industrial advancement over the next 20 years. With its strong base in the relevant industrial sectors and with its existing, though small, research capabilities in some aspects of biotechnology, Ireland is in a good position to participate in the next phase of the biotechnological revolution.

The foundation will review its focus in both biotechnology and ICT regularly to seek out the most promising opportunities. Through investments in these areas, the foundation offers the possibility of significantly enhancing Irish science, engineering and economic growth and becoming a vital partner in building a research system recognised and distinguished around the world for its excellence.

The greatest challenge facing Ireland's research and development goals is building its most important resource, the human talent that drives discovery, innovation and prosperity. SFI will help Ireland diversify and grow its economy through recruiting and retaining creative individuals with advanced research experience in areas critical to the development of a knowledge-based economy. These leading research scientists and engineers will bring their skills to Ireland and thereby augment this country's skills portfolio. They will also train new generations of talent which will contribute to making this economy even more attractive to the industries that will increasingly need their scarce resources.

Since its establishment as a sub-board of Forfás in 2000, the foundation has introduced a range of policies and established five key programmes: the SFI fellow awards; investigator programme grants; centres for science, engineering and technology grants; ETS Walton visitor awards; and SFI workshop and conference grants. It has already recruited and retained the expertise of approximately 93 research scientists and engineers, and their teams, for a total investment commitment of €161 million. The foundation has also recently made an additional investment of €42 million in three new world-class research centres for science, engineering and technology that will build top-class research teams between academia and industry.

Science Foundation Ireland offers the prospect of acting as a catalyst for Ireland's future economic and social transformation into a knowledge economy in the same way that Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland helped to support the development of our economy to its current level. Establishing the foundation on a statutory basis is essential if we are to sustain this transformation, a transformation that, if attained and exploited, will yield untold benefits for future generations of Irish society.

I will now outline briefly the provisions of the Bill. As I indicated earlier, the main purpose of the Bill is to provide for the establishment of Science Foundation Ireland as an agency of Forfás. The Bill also provides for amendments to the Industrial Development Acts 1986 to 1998 and the Shannon Free Airport Development Company (Amendment) Act 1986. These amendments arise out of the establishment of the foundation as an agency of Forfás and also the necessity to update certain financial limits.

Part 1 contains standard provisions relating to the Short Title, collective citation, interpretations, establishment day, expenses and procedure for making regulations. Part 2 deals with the establishment of Science Foundation Ireland.

Section 6 provides for the establishment of the foundation as a corporate body and an agency of Forfás. In that regard, the foundation will come within the policy and co-ordination remit of Forfás and its powers have been extended to allow for this in section 34.

Section 7 sets out the functions of the foundation. The foundation will promote, develop and assist the carrying out of oriented basic research in strategic areas of scientific endeavour that concern the future development and competitiveness of industry and enterprise in Ireland. These strategic areas include information and communication technologies and biotechnology.

Sections 8 to 12 provide for the board, its composition, chairperson and meeting arrangements. Sections 13 and 14 cover the appointment of the director general and include a provision requiring the director general to be accountable to the Committee of Public Accounts and other Oireachtas committees. Sections 15 to 18 are standard provisions on disclosure of interests, disclosure of information and provision of a seal.

Sections 19 to 21 are staffing provisions. Under the terms of the Industrial Development Act 1993, as amended by the Industrial Development (Enterprise Ireland) Act 1998, Forfás is the overall employer of both its own staff and staff of Enterprise Ireland and the IDA. It is proposed to retain this approach for Science Foundation Ireland; that is to say that staff will be employed by Forfás and seconded to Science Foundation Ireland. However, provision is also being made to allow the foundation assume the role of employer should this prove necessary at some future date.

Section 22 allows the foundation to engage consultants and advisers and section 23 obliges the foundation to prepare strategy statements and work programmes. Section 24 provides for an annual report and also requires that accounts are submitted to the Comptroller and Auditor General for audit. Section 25 provides that the foundation shall provide the Minister and Forfás with any information they may require and section 26 provides that the foundation may build, purchase or lease land or buildings required for its functions.

Part 3 amends the Industrial Development Acts 1986 to 1998 and the Shannon Free Airport Development Company (Amendment) Act 1986.

Provision for the raising of existing legislative thresholds on the aggregate amount of grants to Forfás and its agencies to Shannon Development and to the county enterprise boards, respectively, for use in discharging their obligations and liabilities is made in sections 33, 34(e) and 35. The increase is necessary because the bodies in question are now nearing the existing statutory limit in respect of the total amount of moneys which may be granted to the bodies for the exercise of their functions.

Provision is made for the raising of threshold levels in the 1986 Act in respect of various industrial incentive instruments, above which Government approval is required for the agency concerned to proceed with payments to individual industrial projects. The existing thresholds were set in 1998 and, taking inflation into account, have resulted in a significant increase in the number of projects which require Government approval. The threshold for capital grants is raised in section 34(f), the threshold for employment grants is raised in section 28, the threshold for equity provision is raised in section 31, the aggregate threshold for all investment aid is revised and raised in section 32, the threshold for training grants is raised in section 29 and the threshold for research and development grants is raised in section 30.

Is the legislation as it pertains to thresholds entirely distinct from its purpose as regards science? Arising from that, is it the case that all aspects of industrial policy are open for discussion in this debate, given that thresholds generally are being raised?

The agency will be a sub-set of Fórfas, which has overall responsibility for advising the Government on industrial policy. While the purpose of the Bill is to establish the foundation to give grant aid for basic research in ICT and biotechnology, I am also taking the opportunity to raise the thresholds. It is a matter for the House—

Are the thresholds being raised across the board?

At present, any project which receives total investment by the State of €4 million or more, in other words, if an enterprise expands in such a way as to bring total investment by the State to €4 million, Government approval will be required. A large number of such projects now come before the Cabinet. We want to raise the current thresholds which were last raised in 1998. The same applies for research and development grants and for Enterprise Ireland. If the Deputy wishes to raise industrial policy generally, it will be a matter for the Ceann Comhairle. However, given that the issue is central to our industrial policy, I do not see a problem.

There are two parts to this Bill, grant levels in industrial policy and the issue of science.

As the Deputy is aware, we often use legislation of this kind to do some tidying up. Increasing thresholds would not warrant separate legislation. We used the amalgamation of CTT and Forbairt on a previous occasion to do the same thing.

The existing provisions on employment grants and research and development grants are redrafted to take account of current practice in using these instruments. Employment grants are dealt with in sections 27 and 28 and research and development grants in section 30.

As was noted in the Seanad debate on this Bill, most knowledge-based economies and societies are built around world class research institutions, skills and abilities. If we can successfully exploit the innovations yielded from this new world class research culture we are building in Ireland, it will be of immense benefit to future generations. I commend the Bill to the House.

I wish to share time with Deputy John Bruton.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

Is that agreed? Agreed.

The overall vision and strategic direction for Science Foundation Ireland is to build and strengthen scientific and engineering research and its infrastructure in the areas of greatest strategic value to Ireland's long-term competitiveness. For this reason, this Bill establishing Science Foundation Ireland is supported by my party. Establishing the body on a statutory basis, while a radical departure, is an essential initiative if we are to build a global, knowledge-based economy.

The Minister and the Government must introduce new ways to tackle our deteriorating level of competitiveness. The Government has failed to maintain Ireland's position as a competitive location for business. We have been slipping in our efforts to remain competitive and failed during buoyant economic times to plan ahead for the post-Celtic tiger era. As I have stated on many occasions, we have squandered the boom, failed to invest in research and development, broadband and infrastructure generally, and are now playing catch-up with the rest of Europe and the world.

It is interesting to note that the Minister and the Progressive Democrats Party, in a mark of political opportunism and their lack of policy, are abandoning the notion that one cannot borrow for particular productive purposes and now support borrowing for infrastructural developments. The cheers in the House during the budget speech of 2000, when the Minister for Finance stated his budget would not require borrowing, have given way to a shallow policy that meant nothing in reality other than papering over the cracks which have appeared in Government expenditure programmes since the general election.

The Minister for Finance is living on borrowed time.

The imposition of massive indirect taxes since the general election and the failure to plan ahead at a time of sound economic and financial means or to implement decisions which would encourage investment, particularly in infrastructure projects, are concentrating the minds of all the partners involved in the economy, whether business people or politicians. We must plan to make Ireland competitive again. We have no option but to invest in human resources in the same manner in which we invested in the 1960s when the Minister for Education at the time, former Deputy Donogh O'Malley, introduced free secondary education, a contributory factor to the jobs boom of the 1980s and 1990s, and the 1970s when regional technical colleges were established throughout the country marking a major advance in bringing science related subject matter to the attention of our students.

The Fine Gael Party has always believed in the fundamental value of equality of opportunity in education. Access to education is now a burning issue. The Minister's view on third level fees differs from other Ministers and her political party, the Progressive Democrats, takes a different view on the issue from the Fianna Fáil Party. We cannot find out, to the extent we should in a proper accountable democracy, what is the real policy of the Government in order that students and parents who require and want access to third level education can plan ahead with a degree of certainty. For the benefit of students who will enter third level education from September and October 2003 onwards, will the Minister inform the House, in the context of this all-embracing legislation on industrial policy and science, what is the Government position regarding educational funding for the years ahead?

I welcome the decision to allocate substantial resources in the National Development Plan 2000-2006, to assist knowledge and science-based activities. However, if Science Foundation Ireland is to succeed it must have certainty in relation to its budget. The partners, investors, business people and educational establishments involved will be able to make solid commitments in terms of the human capital required and make Science Foundation Ireland a major success if there is certainty regarding funding.

The reason Science Foundation Ireland is being established is to maintain our recent economic success by continuing to raise levels of excellence and quality among industries located here. Competition from eastern Europe and other locations means we have no option but to go for higher value-added production. In terms of costs, we are competing with cheaper locations. Science Foundation Ireland offers an opportunity to attract companies producing high quality goods to locate here and employ a highly skilled labour force which we must continue to resource through our educational establishments.

While Ireland can no longer compete with other cheaper economies on a cost basis, we can compete on skills and quality. Financial certainty is required as it will ensure researchers have confidence that the Government is serious about its role in developing a world class, knowledge-based economy. Through its grants system, Science Foundation Ireland will contribute to improving standards in both these areas by attracting first class researchers from outside this jurisdiction to live and work here. These researchers will also support the development of a trial ecosystem and world class research in Ireland which will eventually lead to new discoveries and innovations and will be attractive to industries which need such scarce skills.

A critical mass of excellent researchers employed in research laboratories in third level institutions here is essential for the success of this new entity. It is essential that we are able with the help of grant aid to recruit leading researchers to continually raise skills levels and competence here. If Ireland is to have the personnel and skills to meet the demands of the next phase of development, it is essential that Science Foundation Ireland is supported in every possible respect by the Government.

Most knowledge-based economies and societies are built around world class research institutions, skills and abilities. Correctly exploited and used, innovations and world class research can benefit future generations. However, every possible effort should be made by Science Foundation Ireland to ensure young people have access to education, in particular, institutes of technology. We must utilise centres, which are well placed geographically under the national spatial strategy and funded under the national development plan, to ensure every possible effort is made to provide easy access to the talented people in our country.

It is important to point out that science research should not be elitist but should be the norm in our educational and research facilities. I and my party are convinced that the development of Science Foundation Ireland is an important step which can reap tremendous rewards for the talents of our people and country into the future. It is not acceptable to have a couple of elitist locations around the country. The institutes of technology should have access in an outreach capacity, if not a core capacity, to the funding and expertise which will be available when the foundation is placed on a statutory basis.

I welcome the fact that an interim board was established some years ago with leading academics and researchers from home and abroad taking an active part in the establishment of this entity. I welcome the appointment of the director general, Dr. William Harris. I have read some of his speeches in recent years and he and his board of directors have been diligent in assessing and improving a range of new research programmes. Generous grant schemes are now available, which were outlined by the Minister. I am informed that the grant schemes to date have funded in excess of 120 projects with a total financial commitment of more than €200 million over the next five years. That is a good start for Science Foundation Ireland, which I welcome.

I recently had the opportunity to meet Dr. Fottrell, the acting chairman, the director general, Dr. Harris, and the head of corporate affairs, Mr. McCabe, to discuss the establishment of Science Foundation Ireland. I was impressed by their commitment and enthusiasm to ensure that Ireland becomes successful in the global race for knowledge in both biotechnology and information and communications technology. I am convinced there is great potential in all the players, including the State, acting together as a team with the excellent human capital that has been assembled by the director general. In a recent address Dr. Harris told the Ireland Chamber of Commerce in the United States that teamwork which breaks down boundaries between people and joins them in a search for knowledge and shared persistent imagination and outlook will help to answer fundamental questions about nature. He also said it may help us to see further than Newton might have dreamed. Teamwork is important and the State must play its part.

It is essential to allay the fears about funding if we want this new entity to be successful. I am interested in the centres programme which the foundation funds. I am aware that substantial grant assistance has already been allocated to many colleges and institutes of technology as well as the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. I wish those projects, which have already been funded, well.

Science Foundation Ireland was established as a result of a study which was commissioned in 1998 by the Government. Forfás was to the forefront in ensuring that all the studies were taken on board. It came up with this proposal and assembled the necessary expertise to get the project off the ground. It deserves our congratulations and our support for the forward looking report which was published in 1998. The conclusions reached that biotechnology and information communications technology represented the engines of future growth in the global economy were correct then and are more correct today. The report stated that a world class research capability in selected niches of these two enabling technologies is an essential foundation for future growth. That was the right conclusion. As there is a worldwide market for biotechnology industries which could grow to $275 billion and support three million jobs in Europe, it is important that Ireland develops its policies to tap into that growth.

Ireland must be well placed to attract some of this investment. Dr. Harris said the future may not be what it used to be, but science is. Ireland has been to the forefront in seeking investment and educational opportunities. There is no doubt that our economic growth would not have hap pened to the same extent over the past ten years had it not been for the vision and the policies pursued in terms of educational participation, access and opportunities. Ireland's success during the past decade has been greatly helped by the crucial work done in organisations, such as IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland, to attract multinational investment and to encourage indigenous business growth.

Partnerships have also been crucial to boosting Irish competitiveness. Partnerships between college based business and third level institutions is being enshrined on a statutory basis through the creation of Science Foundation Ireland. Decisions taken today mean that research in areas such as mathematics, chemistry, physics, biology, biochemistry, bio-engineering, computer science, engineering and electrical engineering will help to yield employment opportunities for the young people emerging from our third level institutions in the future. It has been identified by Science Foundation Ireland that the areas which can produce the most significant results for research and development over the next few years are cell growth and differentiation, therapeutics, medical devices, which is a growing area in terms of recent employment announcements, gene and environment interactions and computation biology. As regards communications and information technology, Science Foundation Ireland has identified areas of growth within broadband, wireless and mobile transmission, wearable sensors, human language understanding, image and signalling and computer based problem solving.

The Government should take note of the urgency of implementing a broadband strategy. We have lagged behind in recent years, at a time when we had unprecedented resources at our disposal, in terms of rolling out broadband technology. It is ironic that the State is now relying on a former public entity, Telecom Éireann, which was privatised and became Eircom, to roll out broadband technology with Government assistance. When it was privatised, enormous resources of €4.6 billion were brought into the Exchequer. We must now pay the same company to roll out broadband technology. What happened some years ago should not have happened.

Science Foundation Ireland also believes that the best opportunity for technological and economic advancement will emerge in areas such as novel adaptive technologies, software engineering, segmenting web technologies, which is new to me and for which a centre has been developed in the National University of Ireland in Galway, network design, novel components and components integration. This activity regenerated at research centres around the country will ultimately result in teamwork between academic and industrial researchers. It is the first clear example in education and science of a public private partnership. Such partnership must permeate all regions and third level educational establishments and it should not be allowed to become elitist. Science Foundation Ireland is aiming to bring fine researchers together and to support them financially so that they can work together and train the next generation. That is why the campus industry research partnerships are critical in the contribution they will make to science innovation in Ireland.

The Minister outlined the contents of the Bill, which are mechanical in nature. The Bill sets up a new entity and deals with staffing issues and the necessary appointments to the board of directors, such as the director general. Section 23 provides that the foundation is obliged to prepare a strategy statement every five years and a work programme which must be presented at the end of the year. We must ensure we know the direction the Minister is giving to Science Foundation Ireland in the strategy statement. The work programme must be approved by her and account must be given to the Oireachtas on an annual basis. Section 24 provides for an annual report. An indication should be given about the content of the annual report required of Science Foundation Ireland and about what the Minister expects Science Foundation Ireland to be able to accomplish and to report on arising from the requirements outlined in section 24.

I seek clarification on the issue of intellectual property. If significant resources are invested on behalf of the taxpayer in partnership with business and educational institutions, inevitably, discoveries will be made and innovations will emerge. The question of intellectual property and patenting needs to be outlined in the legislation so that everybody is clear from the outset about who holds the rights of the intellectual property that will ensue from the success of Science Foundation Ireland.

I welcome the legislation. It is not a serious political issue as far as Fine Gael is concerned. My party fully supports the knowledge-based economy that we are seeking to enshrine in legislation through the establishment of Science Foundation Ireland on a statutory basis. I wish the new board of directors and the director general, Dr. Harris, every success in what they are seeking to achieve through this entity. I have no doubt that through proper funding and commitment from the State in partnership with business, important results will be achieved in the years ahead as the talent, knowledge and expertise of the population is developed at the highest level globally. This will ensure value is added to the workforce and to the products that will be needed to compete economically. We will not be dependent on traditional industries that, unfortunately, are unable to compete currently because of the economy's deteriorating state of competitiveness. I support the Minister in commending the Bill to the House.

I thank Deputy Hogan for sharing his time. I have four points to make on the Bill. First, it is too late. As Deputy Hogan pointed out, €120 million of taxpayers' money has been committed to the foundation without a statutory authority being put in place. This is not abnormal – unfortunately, this has been all too normal in our democracy under successive Governments. The Oireachtas is taken for granted and no great regard is paid to an entity having statutory authority before it is allowed to begin spending money. As far as the operation of this entity is concerned, the passage of the legislation will make virtually no difference and that is not as it should be. That is a reflection on the lassitude of Members of the House in insisting on their rights as progressive democrats.

Second, the objectives spelt out in the legislation are unduly narrow and economistic. References are made to excellence and efficiency. Excellence can only be judged on the basis of values. What underlying values are inherent in the Government's science policy? On what does the Government put a value? Is it only money? Enhancing the quality of people's lives and not only the length of their lives should be indicated as one of the underlying values of scientific policy. Redressing the economic balance of the market is a necessary justification of State intervention. For example, in the medical field, very little research is being conducted on malaria because those who contract the disease cannot afford to pay drug companies. A small amount of our commitment to science should relate to researching cures for ailments, the drugs for which victims cannot afford, so that the research will not have to be justified on commercial grounds.

Section 7 deals with objectives and it should be scrutinised with great care with a view to elaborating more fully on them. There is an obligation on the House to give guidance to the foundation regarding what it should achieve. Scientists should not tell us what values there should be in science. It is the job of politicians to set values and it is for scientists to deliver on them. It is important that we should do our job in making valued judgments about what is important. While I agree with the objectives the Minister has included such as competitiveness, which is precise, clear and necessary, others could be included.

Third, the legislation does not provide for sufficient parliamentary accountability. When legislation of this nature is passed, we are saying we cannot ask questions about it anymore because once a body similar to this has been established, the Ceann Comhairle will rule that parliamentary questions tabled about it are not a matter for the Minister. Every time legislation such as this is passed, the power of the House is diminished. That is necessary but it should be justified. The legislation should be strengthened considerably in terms of parliamentary accountability. For example, section 7(1)(f) refers to the granting of additional functions to the body. That should require the approval of the House and it should not be possible for the Minister to grant additional functions without referring to the House. Likewise, section 7(4) relates to general directives and permits the body to move into new areas. The directives should also be approved in the House.

I agree with Deputy Hogan that the content of the annual report should be the subject of considerable scrutiny by the House. For example, reports should be provided on the value of intellectual property acquired by the State as a result of its investment or the value of the profits made as a result of these investments. The detail of the content of annual reports should be specified. There is a standard practice whereby the parliamentary counsel drafts sections similar to this in legislation. The Bill is identical to others that put other bodies on a statutory footing for entirely different purposes. Only one or two sections vary from similar legislation that passes through this parliamentary mill three days a week. We should focus on the changes we can make. I hope an effort will be made during the Bill's passage to amend section 24 so that it provides that what we want is included in the annual report. It should not be left to the foundation to write what it thinks is a report that is acceptable financially.

My fourth and final point relates to the ethical aspects of science. One of the priority areas in the legislation is biotechnology, which deals with the manipulation of human life. Each human life is sacred and each human being is a person from the time of his or her creation. I do not believe people are a fit subject for scientific manipulation. Many of the claimed benefits of stem cell research can be achieved by other methods using adult cells, without the necessity to use a human being or incipient embryo. Strong ethical guidelines are needed to govern research but they are not mentioned in the legislation.

It is not sufficient for scientists to decide their own ethical guidelines. The elected representatives of this House should decide the ethical guidelines for science, whether it is funded by the State. We are the experts as far as public ethics are concerned, not scientists. We are elected to make such decisions. They may be difficult decisions but we are charged with that responsibility. It is not appropriate to delegate ethical issues to scientists. They must inform us but we must make the decisions because we are charged by society under the Constitution to do so. I am disappointed that no section relates to scientific ethics. I presume they will be encompassed in some fashion in the annual report or in directives that the Minister might give to the board but they should be specified. As far as I can see, we are behind many other European countries and the United States in dealing with the issue of ethics in science. The Minister is well known for her preference for Boston over Berlin or, perhaps, her preference for Waco over Paris. She is welcome to that choice – we all have our value systems. Personally, I prefer Paris even though I have relatives who live quite close to Waco, but that is the Minister's way of looking at things.

The big difference between Europe and America is that America is utterly confident about science. There is a scientific fix to every problem in the American mind whereas in the more pessimistic European psyche we believe that every problem is a problem not a solution. We are more cautious and stuck in the mud in that regard. We complement each other and that is why we should stay together rather than fall out.

We have the best of both worlds.

America places major emphasis on the ethical boundaries of science. I am sure the Minister is aware of that having read many of the publications in that regard. Why does this legislation not contain a reference to the ethical boundaries of science?

I wish to share time with Deputy Upton.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I, as always, am impressed by the contribution of the former Taoiseach, Deputy John Bruton, and agree with much of what he said. I hope to amplify some of those points in the few minutes available to me.

This is important legislation. It is not hugely substantial in terms of the written word but it is of extreme importance to Ireland into the future. One could pose a few immediate questions such as whether a Bill of this type should be anchored in the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. The whole emphasis of the briefings we received of the explanatory memorandum and the Minister's speech today and in the Seanad is of an enterprise culture and science for the use of enterprise. That is extremely important because technology has been the basis on which we developed our enterprises during the past decade or so, and it will be the basis on which we develop and hold on to our industries into the future.

There are, however, other dimensions. Science is not about industry and technology for the sake of employment alone, there is such a thing as pure science. One of the questions I posed as a former health Minister related to the status of the Health Research Board in this regard where there is scientific research for medical good that might not, as Deputy John Bruton said, have a particular value in terms of economic generation. These matters need to be teased out in this House.

I also agree with Deputy Bruton that quite often the last place where the basis of critical policy is debated is in this House. It is often in the Department in multilateral discussions with the social partners that the future of Ireland is debated, projects are agreed upon and taxpayers' money is committed. Finally, when all is done the debate to give the policy the vestige of demo cratic accountability takes place here. We have tolerated that and many of us who have had the privilege of being in government have contributed to it. If we are to have a meaningful democracy, the debate should commence, not end, here. That is important.

Another issue which we dealt with in the European scrutiny enactment last year is that when we set up a structure, we should not cut the umbilical cord and make it unaccountable thereafter. The whole idea of having functioning committees is to ensure democratic dialogue between the agencies we establish. We will shortly deal with another agency, FÁS, in Private Members' time. I have many files containing queries in relation to FÁS for which the Minister has no statutory responsibility so that CE schemes and so on can be cut. The Minister for the Environment and Local Government has no responsibility for the Environmental Protection Agency. We establish these agencies and off they go on their merry way. We can invite them to come before our committees to give explanations for their actions. We need to address that area. The business of governance has become complicated. We need to ensure this House remains relevant. The most dangerous thing facing our democratic institutions is irrelevance followed closely by indifference from a public that demands that we hold somebody accountable for the actions which impact on their lives.

The Bill sets out to establish on a statutory basis Science Foundation Ireland whose function it will be to promote and develop world-class research capability in strategic areas of sciences such as those concerned with economic and social benefit and long-term competitiveness, information and communications technologies and biotechnologies, the new cutting edge. The objective of Science Foundation Ireland is to attract individuals and teams of researchers of a world-class standard into this country to carry out research here. The Minister, in the Seanad, outlined it as seeing Ireland as a leader in the global knowledge-based economy. That is very telling – it is not in a global knowledge-based world that she sees it but in a global knowledge-based economy.

The world and its economy is changing and knowledge remains king. There are new challenges. If the raw material that is the most valuable for our economic well-being is knowledge we do not have a unique pool of it. We are fortunate to have a good and well trained pool of it but other countries such as India and the Far East have talented, educated, intelligent people who can challenge that unless we are always responsive to a changing environment. That response is not solely the prerogative or main concern of the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment. All Departments and agencies of State must share that responsibility. As a number of other speakers said, there does not appear to be any sense of the joined up nature of Government that is required to achieve the Minister's objective of establishing Ireland as a leader in a global knowledge-based economy. We are not achieving the roll-out of broadband or access to technologies that should be available and are available in much poorer countries. We seem now incapable of even reaching the objectives of the national development plan in the timeframe we set.

The Government commit itself to a "can do" philosophy six years ago. It was anti-statist and was going to push away the difficulties of red tape and get the job done. Our infrastructure is drastically inferior to that of much poorer countries. There must be an answer to that so that when the roll-out of broadband technology promised for the region does not happen somebody will be able to get the job done. There is no point having the finest experts in the world developing technologies here if we do not have the educated workforce to man the industries that are spawned from that research. Where will they come from? They will come from young people who are attending schools at primary, secondary and tertiary level. There is a supreme irony here. We are saying that our prime focus for the future in terms of economic well-being, employment status and full employment is to be in our intellectual capacity, the raw material of knowledge and the ability of our people to utilise cutting edge technologies to create new and innovative jobs. At the same time, this daft kite is being flown by the man who must now be the most professional kite flyer in the business, the Minister for Education and Science, to reintroduce third level fees.

The man has crash landed more kites in the past five years than anybody I know but it really is not good enough to look at education as a commodity in the crude, crass way evident in the Minister's approach. I am heartened to know that the only member of the Government present agrees with me on this, if I am to accept the Tánaiste's Brussels speech last night. If we are to have the type of joined up Government which ensures that the hundreds of millions of euro we are to invest in this new statutory body is to spawn jobs in sustainable, vibrant, cutting edge Ireland, then we must have the graduates to carry the batons of the cutting edge research. Surely we should be trying to break down those barriers. If the Minister for Education and Science wants to provide new schemes to break down inequality and new access and supports, let him do so without putting up other barriers to a different category of person who really will depend on the absence of fees to ensure that he or she can have access to third level education.

That sort of joined up thinking is spectacularly absent in the Government's proposals on the free fees issue. That is why I make these points. The Tánaiste has a great deal of credibility in relation to what she wants to achieve on this but it is not for her alone to achieve it. She must have the active support, not simply in voting terms but in policy terms, of all her Cabinet colleagues. The two examples I have just given show that this sup port, and joined up Government, is spectacularly absent.

The work of the technology foresight initiative carried out by the Irish Council for Science from 1998 was extraordinarily important and worthwhile. We required those involved in the initiative in 1998 to look into their crystal ball and identify emerging technologies. They were asked to identify, if you like, the IT of the next phase. Their recommendations, which included the establishment of a science foundation, are now being acted upon on a statutory basis. I am taken by what Deputy John Bruton said about their being belatedly put on a statutory footing because these recommendations should be front-loaded on a statutory basis if we are to allocate money as the Minister has.

All sorts of peculiar enactments have been allowed. I recall that the Health (Corporate Bodies) Act 1961 allows the Minister for Health and Children, uniquely, to establish a corporate body by the simple stroke of a pen on a statutory instrument. That really is not good enough any more and we should seek to ensure that the democratic scrutiny these Houses provide is a functioning, working process and not, as many Department officials see it, just a cipher or rubber stamp for policies determined elsewhere.

When Science Foundation Ireland was established, €646 million was allocated to support research for the duration of the national development plan. In the briefing we received from Science Foundation Ireland, that sum is repeated and reference is made to the organisation's established five key programmes. It tells us that Science Foundation Ireland has already recruited and retained the expertise of 93 research engineers, scientists and their teams for a total investment commitment of €161 million and that further investment of €42 million in three new world class research centres that would build top class research teams between academia and industry is now planned.

I would be interested to hear how much money has actually been expended. How much of that €646 million has been drawn down to date and what is the expected run of the money? Was that sum just plucked from the air in 2000? It is an odd, uneven sum. Perhaps if I translated it into pounds it would be a more obvious figure but I wonder how it came about. Is that the sum available regardless of the values of the ideas and research made available and the projects that might be offered? Where did the sum come from and how has it been spent to date? Our challenge is to be a centre where new technologies are created and devised rather than simply a place where new technologies created elsewhere are applied.

I want to deal briefly with an issue of extreme importance and urgency. I have no difficulty with the Tánaiste's proposals. It is very important legislation that will do an important job, and we trust that the skills of the people already recruited are first class. I have no difficulty with that and we can deal with the minutiae of the Bill and how we could tweak the structures on Committee Stage.

However, I want to state a couple of important general principles now. These concern the issue of what the new technologies will be, particularly biotechnologies The briefing we received from Science Foundation Ireland indicates the sort of issues that will be examined. The briefing states:

SFI believes that the following areas are likely to produce the most significant results for R&D for the next few years in particular: cell growth and differentiation; therapeutics; host-pathogen interactions; gene expression; bio-markers and bio-sensors signal transduction in a cellular context; gene environment interactions; computational biology; and medical devices.

I am no scientist and I do not know what most of these things are. However, I am concerned about new biotechnologies in terms of the ethical standards that have been referred to previously. I want to raise this in this context because it is important for us as politicians to take control of this issue. We have not done that. Other speakers are correct in saying that we in Ireland are particularly bad at this. We must set a framework within which the research can take place.

Scientists want that. They want certainty in relation to the framework of ethics in which issues like stem cell research and cloning are to be dealt with. We do not have those standards. We need to look at issues like patenting of genes, in particular of agricultural genes, and the implications for north-south issues.

The European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, Poul Nielson, addressed these matters in a speech to a conference in Brussels on 31 January. I wish to quote a small portion of that speech:

The challenge we are facing now is to make sure that present and future discoveries will be accessible to those who need them most, particularly the poor. It is our responsibility as decision makers to facilitate this process and to ensure greater equity in the sharing of science and technology.

He quoted the French political leader philosopher, historian and peace activist, Jean Jaures, when he declared:

Science creates the possibility of new societal forms, but it creates only the possibility. Progress in science is not sufficient to achieve justice.

The European Union has spelled out its policies in a January 2002 Commission document entitled "Life Sciences and Biotechnologies: A Strategy for Europe" which has been largely supported by the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament.

The message of that document was that any policies and strategies elaborated in Europe regarding life sciences and biotechnologies will have a major impact on developing countries. Therefore, the interests of developing countries must be taken fully into account by the European Union when main routes for the future are considered.

Developed and developing countries have common fields of interest in life sciences and biotechnology. New informed, democratic, ethical and transparent partnerships should be encouraged among developed and developing nations to take full advantage both of promising technologies available primarily in the northern hemisphere and an extraordinary bio-diversity potential primarily in the southern hemisphere.

Environmental and health concerns are paramount when considering life sciences and biotechnologies and they must be fully integrated in strategic choices contributing to sustainable development in accordance with international commitments and conventions and the precautionary principle.

Although the economic benefit for Ireland is of paramount importance, there are other issues, including the ethics of gene research and the impact it will have on humanity and developing nations. We have a responsibility as a developed nation to establish ethical partnerships with other nations in the world. I hope to have the opportunity to deal with all these issues on Committee Stage.

I wish to make brief reference to another new Council of Europe document on stem cell research by Dr. Michael Asciak, which was adopted by the Science and Education Committee of the Council of Europe at its last meeting a fortnight ago. It sets out a moral anchor for this sort of research. We need to return to these kinds of issues in this House.

I am in the somewhat invidious position of being a scientist and a politician so my views on the Bill are coloured to a certain extent. The Tánaiste will be pleased to hear that I welcome the Bill for a number of reasons although I have some criticisms also. I welcome it because it gives us the opportunity to have a robust discussion in the House on science and technology. This is the first substantial debate on these issues that I can recall, which in itself is welcome.

The Bill is very thin in that it relates predominantly to the funding of science. My colleagues raised extremely important issues concerning ethics and intellectual property to which I will return. I welcome the Bill on the basis of its being a flagship in regard to the importance of science and technology for our economy. They form the powerhouses and engines of our economy and there is no aspect of life that is not influenced by scientific development.

I will first deal with the major ethical issues, which were addressed by my colleagues in some depth. Earlier this year saw the completion of the mapping of the human genome, which did not merit a sentence or a small debate in this House. I have tabled a Private Members' Bill on human cloning, which we have not had any opportunity to debate. These are the issues of science and technology that will be important to everybody in the future. There are economic aspects to the debate, but there are serious ethical issues that cannot be left aside and must be given priority.

There are issues of intellectual property and intellectual rights as well as patenting, including the question of who takes responsibility for and has ownership of patenting of the human genome and patenting of information in general. My colleague, Deputy Howlin, referred to the importance of this particularly for agriculture in developing countries. These are the issues of which we must take account as well as sheer economics.

I return to the funding of science. I welcome the input of significant resources into the science and technology area. The sub-text of the Bill is to generate a world-class research base in Ireland, the outcome of which should be to attract multinational companies and other major investors that will help us to drive the economy. The problems of generating interest in science and technology are multi-factorial and have been debated in the media in general. We are concerned about the lack of interest in science subjects at second level. I do not want to rehearse that because it has been well covered and the main points have been clearly set out. There is concern over the level of interest in the hard sciences of physics, chemistry and mathematics at second level. The consequence is that students are unable or unwilling to undertake those subjects at third level, which has a knock-on effect on graduates, postgraduates and post-doctoral fellows. If we are serious about science and technology, and driving the economy on a research basis, we must ensure the subjects of physics and chemistry in particular are supported at second level.

Another aspect of our lack of commitment to science and technology is shown by the career paths and career structures for scientists. These fall considerably short when compared to other professions. It is grossly unfair and unacceptable for highly educated and trained individuals aged 27 or 28 with a PhD and a couple of years post-doctoral experience to be unable to get a mortgage because they have no career path and no guarantee of a positive career structure. If we are serious about retaining our scientists and about attracting good science expertise to the country, we must look at the career structure and options open to scientists. Otherwise, they will move to those professions where there is more money to be made. In many cases the more difficult subjects like physics, chemistry and mathematics are left aside for the leaving certificate at higher level. We must look at what is happening at second level and even at primary level. I know this is getting some attention at present, but it needs more input, greater resources, much improved laboratory facilities, etc.

We sometimes suffer from an inferiority complex about the expertise available to us. We should acknowledge the important role of the universities and our third level institutes and the very high calibre of graduates they are producing. I am concerned that those graduates will not be retained in the country if we do not provide them with the structure and opportunities to stay.

Any allocation of funding to science must take account of the importance of the social sciences and the humanities. In the past, we have tended to compartmentalise these. On the one hand we have science and on the other hand we have social sciences and humanities. In addition to the economy there are important quality of life aspects that cannot be ignored. We must bring together and develop the humanities, social sciences and other sciences. They cannot be set out in different compartments.

The Minister has stated there will be an equitable balance between men and women in the composition of the board, which I welcome. I am sure the Minister is aware of a very effective group called WITS, Women in Technology and Science. It might be time for this board to break the mould and have more women than men. Many high calibre women scientists would be very happy to participate on the board.

If they formed half of the board, they would be half-wits.

Certainly not.

Does Deputy Howlin disagree with Deputy Upton's proposal?

Certainly not. It would be unfortunate if it were half and half.

Emphasis appears to be placed on the two areas of biotechnology and communications technology. At present, these two areas are hugely important to the country economically. I accept that other general areas will be included and that there will be an awareness of them as they evolve and become important, but this definitely narrows the Bill. How do we know what is going to happen? We must look at what is happening in terms of emerging technology and at what we can expect in five or ten years' time. The Bill is quite exclusive in that respect, even though it has a rather broad general third area. We should leave it open to incorporating, at a much greater and higher level, other areas of interest.

Is it necessary or desirable to include the director general as a member of the board? Might it not be somewhat invidious to have the director as a board member in a difficult situation, as might arise on any board? Should this matter not be given some consideration?

I welcome the establishment of the Friends of Science by the Tánaiste. Meetings between politicians, scientists and business people are a recipe for good communication and the advancement of science. It is important that we learn to listen to each other and understand the views that are important from a business and scientific point of view. However, as has been pointed out by my colleagues, politicians have ultimate responsibility in determining the direction and focus. The Friends of Science have held a number of meetings. I encourage the Tánaiste to widen the membership base of the group among Members of the Oireachtas. Members of the group are mostly scientists or people with a background or interest in some area related to science but it might be worthwhile expanding that base so that we could broaden out our ideas in terms of Oireachtas interests and political views.

It is important that science be made user-friendly and that the awareness of science at primary and second level be emphasised and promoted. The ethical issues I mentioned must be the driving force and we cannot move away from those.

I wish to share my time with Deputies Morgan, Connolly and Cowley.

Like Deputy Upton, I welcome the chance for a broad debate about where we are going in science and what role science has to play in our society. It is particularly appropriate that we are debating the question in this Chamber, which was originally built by the Royal Dublin Society, a scientific society, as a lecture theatre and where, I am sure, huge original scientific debate took place. I believe the Chamber was also, at one time, a concert theatre, which was a more colourful use than its current one. This is an interesting place in which to debate science, which we do not do sufficiently.

When it was established, the Royal Dublin Society was originally named the Dublin Society for Improving Husbandry, Manufactures and Other Useful Arts. A week later the members added the word, "science" to the title. I hope the Minister will be equally flexible when she comes to amending this Bill to improve it. Unfortunately, one of the amendments I will be suggesting will propose the deletion of the word "science" from the title. The Bill might be better described as "the orientated basic research foundation Bill". The Bill promises that research will be carried out with the expectation that it will produce the broad base of knowledge that is likely to form the background to solutions or recognised current or future problems or possibilities. My understanding of science is that one cannot approach it with expectations. A student of science views the world as a removed observer and tries to understand what is going on. If we compromise that basic independence which is the kernel of scientific method we are not promoting science, we are promoting research and development. There is nothing wrong with that. It is welcome in Irish industry that we develop and use technology and research to maintain jobs and to help our economy. That is very valuable. However, we must be careful about feeling that by doing so we are developing science, in the purest sense, or developing our inquiring and independent scientific minds. I have a terrible fear that the Bill may be a research and development Bill or an orientated basic research Bill but I do not believe it is a Bill to promote science per se in our society.

The Bill has two or three regrettable aspects. Emphasis is continually placed on the basis of the economy, even on the narrow basis of technology and applied research. We must change our ways and start looking at how we develop our county and our industries on a broader and more holistic basis. The environment, society and the economy cannot be separated. The ecology and the sense of interconnectedness of everything in our society comes first. We must take an ecological analysis, an economic analysis and an equality analysis and, by bringing those three together, we will achieve sustainable development.

In our work in the Oireachtas we continually refer to the economy. Unless we are ecological in our approach and see the interconnectivity between nature and our economy and society and our economy, the economy will not develop successfully. Successful economic development requires sustainable economic development and this Bill does not have that emphasis. It is based purely on economic development rather than on that broad sustainable basis.

The position is not the same elsewhere. President Truman established what was probably the first scientific institute in the United States in the 1950s. Its strategic objectives are much broader and include welfare. It also includes national defence, with which I have a problem, but its analysis is much broader than purely economic development. One of the statements of what the institute is about defines one of its roles as, "funding and encouraging fundamental research and education resulting in discoveries and innovations that save lives, save time and maybe even save planet Earth". The American institute had a broad and wondering vision and a desire to understand. The New Zealand Scientific Research Institute, which again is involved primarily in investing in industry and in trying to develop connections, also has a much broader basis. It has a special fund for investing in sustainable development research. In five or ten years' time I am certain that the findings from that sustainable development research will provide the technology which will be demanded throughout the planet from which new industries will be created. If we really want to develop our economy we must emphasise sustainable development, which is not even mentioned in this Bill. The environment does not feature.

Some people might expect members of the Green Party to be anti-science. We certainly have serious qualms about the use of certain technologies in, for example, genetic engineering and the use of patenting of life. Most of the solutions to our environmental problems will come from science. We rely on scientists to provide an object analysis of what is happening and of how we solve it. Science is our only solution. The misuse of science and technology may well have been the cause of most of the damage which occurred in the 20th century and of most of the harmful effects we are now creating on the planet, but in the 21st century science and technology will be the chief tool in undoing that damage.

To do that we need to whet the creative ambition of our younger people. I agree with the comments about concern at the lack of impetus towards people moving into the basic sciences at a very junior level in school. To encourage young people into science we cannot set a model that they might some day help the global economy or a certain corporation by developing a scientific or technological solution. That will not set a child's imagination alight. We must show children the big picture and tell them the truth. We are in deep trouble in that we are affecting the planet. We are affecting the climate, the level of biodiversity and other areas in ways we do not even know about. We can set young people's imaginations aflame by telling them they will have to solve those problems because such problems will come to a head in their lifetimes – they will have to go into science to understand the way nature works in order to solve the problems. This will raise young people's ambitions and creative instincts and they will create jobs and wealth for us in the process of saving the planet. This Bill shows none of that vision; it sees Ireland Inc. as a business community, not a social community. It does not have any sense of an environmental approach, which is also regrettable. Like the founders of the Royal Dublin Society, I hope the Minister agrees to amend the Title of and some other terms in the Bill.

I agree with Deputy Howlin that it seems remarkable that we are the last people to discuss the Bill. It has gone before the social partners, through a consultation process within the Department and the institution involved is even up and running. The House which was to debate it comes in last place. That is reflective of a general trend of how we set our vision and policies in Ireland and it is not particularly democratic.

I welcome the Bill which facilitates the establishment of Science Foundation Ireland. The long, lazy reign of the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrat Government has done little up to now to encourage indigenous research and development-based industry. The creation of a science foundation which will promote research and development and support the research work being done by universities is long overdue. The failure of the Government has often been in the lack of ability to see the long-term picture but this Bill marks the commencement of a long-term, determined national effort to develop research and development capabilities in the State.

I hope Science Foundation Ireland will play a central role in encouraging and supporting the growth of research and development and in supporting the development of indigenous industry, helping us to move away from our over-dependence on multinational companies. Other, albeit bigger, countries, such as the United States invested heavily in national science foundations as far back as the 1950s. As a result, those countries have cultivated generations of outstanding scholars and have succeeded in keeping their best graduates at home. There is a strong link between investment in the research and innovation base of the economy and sustained economic growth. Those countries' economies have benefited greatly from such investment.

Ireland has long lagged behind our European neighbours in the amounts we invest in research and development and the economy has suffered because of that failure to invest in research and development. As a result Irish students with third level science degrees have tended to leave the country because they feel advanced research facilities do not exist in the State. Investing in research and development through Science Foundation Ireland will create scientific know-how which will act as a permanent resource benefiting the economy. Research and first-rate universities prepare people for the knowledge-based economy and will help develop a flexible workforce which is able to adopt to the changing needs of the economy.

It is now a pertinent time to undertake a critical assessment of the industrial policies which have been pursued by the IDA over the past ten to 15 years. Increasingly, we see that multinational companies which received inordinate amounts of grant aid from the State during the boom years are uprooting and moving to developing countries where they can access cheap labour. They are also moving to the EU accession states, which have emulated Ireland's policy of low corporate tax and high incentives. This trend illustrates the necessity of providing indigenous industries with the same quality and quantity of resources as were made available to foreign investors. We need an economic development strategy which creates a balance between indigenous and inward investment. We must encourage both small and large scale indigenous countries to form a research and development anchor, while also recognising that some 80% of employment stems from small and medium-sized enterprises. Investment in indigenous companies will have a beneficial impact on ensuring job security for Irish workers. One can be certain that if an Irish company is in difficulty it will fight tooth and nail to survive, if only for the sake of its workers. That close relationship between workers and management is often missing in the bigger companies, particularly multinationals.

I am not opposed to multinational companies, far from it. We have seen the benefits and excellent conditions some of them provide but we should not be as dependent on them as we are at present. The crazy thing is we do not need to be; indigenous industry has proven its ability and with the establishment of Science Foundation Ireland there is now an opportunity to give those indigenous companies some of the necessary assistance they require. Despite the fact that by 2000, 40% of Ireland's trade with the rest of the world was in research-intensive products and services, eight times the OECD average, those products were not developed or researched in Ireland.

The development of SFI cannot be divorced from the wider issue of investment in education. Investment in research at third level will fail if it is not matched by investment at primary and secondary level, a point made by several previous speakers. If the education system fails students at primary and secondary levels, we cannot expect to have an educated and knowledgeable workforce to work in research and development-based industries. Sustainable economic development cannot happen without a well-educated workforce but we will not have such a workforce if we do not invest in those two critical sectors, primary and secondary education.

The decreasing interest in science among students in the 26 Counties is worrying. The Government must make science and engineering careers attractive to students. I hope SFI will demonstrate to Irish students that careers in science and technology lie ahead of them as researchers, teachers and innovators in an ever-growing and increasingly important sector of the Irish economy. Investment in research and development should not be dictated simply by economic prosperity and future competitiveness. The social benefit must also be prioritised. We must invest in research and development areas which will be of benefit to the people of Ireland, such as the medical and health care sectors. The importance of environmental issues should also be recognised. As Deputy Eamon Ryan pointed out, there is no reference whatsoever to the environment in the Bill although there are many opportunities for effective work in areas such as the development of green energy. There are developments all over the world regarding tidal and wind energy – the Dundalk Institute of Technology is pioneering a new type of wind energy facility. This should happen more often and the research facilities should not all be offered to top flight companies, as smaller Irish companies should be able to avail of assistance with research and development.

Investment should be directed at areas which will be of benefit to the country first rather than just being a matter of profit. Many bigger companies already have expertise and back-up. I am not saying they should not receive assistance, as if they do not invest in research and development we will not be going anywhere.

Debate adjourned.