No prior warning of start-up hub closure

No prior warning was given to the Government by UCC and Cork Institute of Technology about their decision to withdraw funding and staffing from an award-winning start-up business hub in which the Naval Service was a joint partner.

Three Government ministers have confirmed their departments were not consulted by the colleges over the effective shutting down of the Irish Maritime and Energy Research Cluster in Ringaskiddy in March.

UCC and CIT decided to cease support for IMERC on foot of a highly critical and controversial report they had commissioned into its operations and governance in 2016.

IMERC was established in 2010 to facilitate a unique collaboration among its partners including the CIT’s National Maritime College of Ireland and UCC’s Centre for Marine and Renewable Energy (MaREI) and the Naval Service.

The review commissioned concluded that it was “not fit for purpose” and could undermine the work of both the NMCI and MaREI.

However, entrepreneurs and business owners in the marine research sector sharply criticised UCC and CIT for winding down what they described as “a unique, world class facility”.

They expressed both anger and frustration that its incubation hub on the Ringaskiddy campus was closed on the basis of a report whose findings they claimed were “inaccurate and biased”.

Enterprise Minister Frances Fitzgerald said no funding had been provided by her department to IMERC under the Programme for Research in Third Level Institutions.

Ms Fitzgerald said her department was committed to supporting research and innovation in the marine sector to exploit its potential for enterprise development and job creation.

She pointed out it had funded the establishment of MaREI with investment of €18.9m. Junior education minister Mary Mitchell O’Connor said neither her department nor the Higher Education Authority had been involved in the review of IMERC.

Ms Mitchell O’Connor said she understood the two colleges had decided to segregate the different roles of IMERC and refine and enhance the original Memorandum of Agreement to support collaboration in teaching and research.

In response to a parliamentary question from Cork East Labour TD, Seán Sherlock, she said UCC and CIT were engaging with Cork County Council as the body already charged with the economic development of Cork Harbour about inward investment opportunities.

“The IMERC start-up incubation facility, the ‘Entrepreneurship’ is now being managed jointly by UCC and CIT through existing structures and the UCC staff members involved in IMERC are working in UCC,” she added.

Junior defence minister Paul Kehoe said key personnel in the Naval Service had been interviewed as part of the review of IMERC.

However, he said neither the Department of Defence nor the Naval Service were consulted on the decision to withdraw staffing and funding from the facility.

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