Science body to be expanded in drive for 'innovation'
THE Government is considering expanding the role of Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) to allow it to fund more applied industry-related research, and take a broader role in fostering innovation.
The foundation is also likely to escape the next round of capital spending cuts, and become a key part of a slimmed-down technology promotion system, which may lead to a single "innovation" agency.
The innovation task force, commissioned by the Taoiseach, identified 11 agencies that fund or engage in research, including the development agencies IDA and Enterprise Ireland. It said this hampered "efficiency, coherence and value for money".
SFI was established to increase the amount of world-class "pure" research and to attract top specialists from abroad to work in Ireland.
SFI has faced criticism that it was too removed from the application of research to business products and services. However, in recent years it has established closer links with enterprise.
SFI analyses IDA-led investments and says well over a third can be shown to have research and development operations that link to work funded by SFI.
The organisation suffered a 10pc cut in its budget this year, to €160m. Allowing for its original expansion plans, executives say the budget is now 30pc less than would be needed to fund those plans and new projects are being hit the hardest.
The science, technology and innovation unit of Enterprise Ireland has a budget of €130m this year. The research/innovation budgets of all government departments were combined in a 'single stream' in the 2010 spending estimates and came to a total of €420m.
"As we build towards our goal of investing 3pc of GDP in research and development, we must commit greater resources to funding applied research that is focused on identified priority opportunities for industry in Ireland," the task force report said.
The new legislation, if approved, would give SFI that remit.