Entrepreneurs and business owners in the marine research sector have sharply criticised the decision of UCC and Cork Institute of Technology to withdraw funding and staffing from the Irish Maritime and Energy Research Cluster in Ringaskiddy.
They claim the winding- down of the facility has deprived Ireland of “a unique, world-class facility” that had attracted interest from global leaders in marine research.
Business owners who worked with IMERC claim the findings of a 2016 report used to justify its winding- down were “inaccurate”.
Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney and Defence Forces Chief of Staff Mark Mellett both signalled their unhappiness with the winding-down of IMERC, highlighting social media posts in recent days which described the decision as “crazy”.
IMERC was established jointly by UCC, CIT, and the Naval Service in 2010 to facilitate collaboration among its partners, including the National Maritime College of Ireland, a constituent part of CIT, and the Centre for Marine and Renewable Energy (MaREI), and to exploit opportunities for commercialisation of their research work.
However, IMERC has been considerably wound down following publication of the review commissioned by UCC and CIT last year.
The review, which was carried out by five international experts, was chaired by Paul Haran, a former secretary general of the Department of Enterprise and Employment, who concluded that the set-up of IMERC was “not fit for purpose” and could undermine the work of both the NMCI and MaREI.
It also claimed poor financial management, procurement processes, and public relations were exposing UCC and CIT to reputational and financial risk.
Following completion of the Haran report, UCC and CIT decided IMERC would no longer have its own funding or staffing with its incubation facility at Ringaskiddy, now managed jointly by the two colleges.
UCC president Patrick O’Shea told the Dáil Public Accounts Committee last month that the implementation of IMERC’s ambitious plans going forward would have required it to establish its own corporate or legal entity which would have presented difficulties for the Irish Naval Service.
The decision to remove funding and staffing of IMERC has been widely criticised since it was revealed last week by the Irish Examiner.
Andrew Parish, an entrepreneur and business start-up mentor who worked with IMERC on a regular basis, said there was anger and frustration at the decision.
“IMERC should have been celebrated as a shining example of the value of joint industry and academic clusters. We had this unique combination of academic research, vocational training and access to the Irish Naval Service, which had the potential to create a world- class centre of excellence for marine technology,” he said.
He claimed IMERC was successful in attracting both start-up businesses and existing global leaders in the sector who greatly valued the way it facilitated mentoring, networking, and collaboration.
Mr Parish criticised the report for failing to reflect the value that IMERC had delivered to businesses and entrepreneurs who had been based in the Ringaskiddy campus in the past seven years.
A spokesperson for UCC could not be contacted for comment over the weekend.
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