This week marks the opening of a pivotal new chapter in the strategic development of Ireland’s national research and innovation system.
My department — the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science — today published Impact 2030: Ireland’s Research and Innovation Strategy to 2030.
As the Covid-crisis so clearly demonstrated, research and innovation can and is playing a central role in people’s lives. A Covid vaccine was possible due to the body of knowledge built up over decades of foundational research by researchers all over the world. We were assisted by mathematicians and data scientists, who built and refined a model to help us live alongside this new virus.
My department was established with exactly this in mind. The Government has recognised the potential of research and innovation to address many societal, as well as economic, issues, and that a comprehensive view across the full spectrum of research, from curiosity to impact, is required.
We know that today’s challenges, such as climate, housing and health, are complex, and can only be solved by bringing science and human perspectives together.
Some of these challenges are existential, and we must match our ambition accordingly.
They can only be solved through intense collaboration and teamwork, where researchers, universities, enterprise, Government and communities all contribute.
We want to ensure that Ireland’s research community is fully reflective of society, not only because this is the right thing to do, but also because it leads to better quality research outcomes.
We know the Irish people are curious, informed and highly attuned to the challenges facing our society and economy and they are willing to engage in this important dialogue.
In our Creating our Future campaign, we asked the people of Ireland what was important to them and we received over 18,000 responses. The results are fascinating.
We will publish them shortly, but it is clear people want us focusing on the big challenges of our time, such as housing, climate, transport and inclusion, but also the issues that affect them daily.
For example, there were calls to research the impact on babies in pushchairs of facing away from the parent or adult pushing the pram, or the effect that electronic devices/screens, social media platforms, and gaming are having on day-to-day life.
In politics, there were calls for a smaller parliament, to abolish the Seanad, to change the electoral system, and for increased transparency in the allocation of funds and public services.
We are a small country performing in a highly competitive global arena, and we must use our resources wisely.
Under Impact 2030, we will progress critical strategic reforms so that the Irish research and innovation system is best placed and configured to make the maximum impact possible on the climate action agenda, and on the many other issues — some that we know about and some that are yet to emerge — that our country faces.
To help drive this, we will bring forward a landmark research bill and amalgamate the functions and activities of the Irish Research Council and Science Foundation Ireland, leveraging their superb track records and the expertise of their staff.
With the publication of Impact 2030, I am commencing dialogue with staff and stakeholders about how this can best be done. The new agency will be established by January 1.
Under Impact 2030, this new agency will build on excellent existing international linkages, with a more intensive focus on Shared Island, our European engagement and aligned to the Global Ireland initiative.
Already, Ireland is leading the way across many areas of innovation in health, technology and climate, but we know we have much more to do to strengthen and support research and innovation in our higher education institutions, in our enterprises, in our public service and for our people.
As the attraction and retention of world-class talent becomes increasingly competitive on a global level, Ireland needs to be a location of choice for the best and the brightest in order to realise our ambitions.
And we will support researchers in realising their own career potential, through skills development and careers advice. We will encourage our researchers more generally to make significant contributions across a range of sectors.
In doing so, we will bring research and innovation into more corners of society, reflecting my department’s vision of Ireland as an island of innovation.
Later this year, I will bring further proposals to Government on how we retain and attract talent here by coupling industry with Government.
This brings me back to the fundamental driver of Impact 2030: making a real difference for all people across Ireland and beyond.
We will create an inclusive research and innovation system delivering the solutions for Irish society and our economy, solving our common challenges through teamwork, and enhancing our reputation.
Achieving our goals will require intense collaboration. The prize could not be more consequential for us and our future generations.
- Simon Harris is Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research Innovation and Science