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Minister for Research and Innovation, Sean Sherlock TD, at the 1st ‘Our Ocean Wealth’ Annual Conference on the Subject of ‘Promoting Innovation to Drive a Thriving Marine Sector’

Speaking Points for Minister for Research and Innovation, Sean Sherlock TD, at the 1st ‘Our Ocean Wealth’ Annual Conference on the subject of ‘Promoting Innovation to drive a thriving Marine Sector’

The Printworks, Dublin Castle, Dublin 2

Wednesday 18th June 2014, 10.00 am

Check Against Delivery

Introductory Remarks

Good morning ladies and gentlemen.

I’m delighted to speak to you at this inaugural ‘Our Ocean Wealth’ Annual Conference here in Dublin Castle this morning. The importance of the marine sector to Ireland and the Irish economy cannot be overstated.

In order to improve the benefits accruing to Ireland from the marine sector, much is being achieved through implementation, on a cross-Government basis, of the ‘Harnessing our Ocean Wealth’ Report of July 2012
Our goal is to further develop a thriving maritime economy, enabling economic growth and creating jobs in our ocean economy.

There is evidence of many companies in Ireland who are flourishing in this area and providing valuable jobs, with Cathx Oceans in Co Kildare just one pertinent example of this.

I understand we will hear more on this particular success story later on today.

A key part of the Government’s plan for jobs and growth is ensuring that we not only continue to develop good ideas through scientific research, but, crucially, that we turn more of them into products, services and ultimately good jobs.
This is achieved by helping companies develop a competitive edge through access to innovation and research expertise.
As Minister of State for Research and Innovation, I believe that innovation is at the heart of competitive advantage.
Translating expertise, research, technology and knowledge into

  • new jobs,
  • more businesses created, and
  • the introduction of new products and services, will ultimately deliver economic and societal benefit for all.

D/JEI Funding in the Marine Domain
I believe that a vibrant and innovative enterprise base, an internationally competitive academic research base and effective connectivity between the two is a recipe for success.

Effective industry-academic collaboration is essential for the successful translation of the best new ideas from the lab into innovative new products and services in the marketplace – and the delivery of good quality sustainable jobs for our people.
A key example of such connectivity in the marine renewable energy space is the Science Foundation Ireland large-scale Research Centre, MaREI which I had the pleasure to launch at University College Cork in November of last year.
Marine Renewable Energy is one of the 14 Priority Areas targeted for public investment in science and technology under the National Research Prioritisation Exercise.

NUI Galway, the University of Limerick, UCD, NUI Maynooth and Cork IT are all academic partners with UCC in this Research Centre.

Our vision is that MaREI will act as a catalyst to Ireland establishing a safe, sustainable and profitable marine energy supply for domestic and international markets, positioning Ireland at the forefront of the marine renewable energy research sector globally.

The Centre involves 45 industry market leaders in energy, marine technology, software and hardware providers who are investing over €10 million, in a very progressive initiative.

MaREI directly supports 77 highly skilled jobs.

It has the potential to support the creation of significant employment in the long-term through spin-out companies and intellectual property in the field of marine renewable technology and marine energy materials, devices and solutions for industry.

Another SFI large-scale Research Centre, the Alimentary Pharmabiotic Centre, and the joint Enterprise Ireland-IDA “Food for Health Ireland” Technology Centre are two further examples of significant industry related research being undertaken in the area of Food for Health and Functional Foods.

This is also relevant to the marine sector given the wealth of natural resources in our seas.
Last week, funding of over €1.7 million was announced to support twenty new industry-academia partnerships through the SFI Industry Fellowships Programme.

This programme enables us to support researchers who are working on projects which can ultimately be developed into commercial ideas and employment – turning good ideas into good jobs.

One of the initiatives will see NUI Maynooth partner with Tech Works Marine Ltd to develope new technology to enable industry to map the sea bed affordably using remote sensing technologies.

This will benefit decision-makers and companies working in the Irish coastal or marine sector who require accurate, timely and affordable near-shore depth information for a variety of applications.
SFI is also currently funding many ‘Investigator Awards’ across the country which will address

  • crucial research questions,
  • expand educational and career opportunities in Ireland in science and engineering, and
  • prepare the research community to lead and win in Horizon 2020 and other non-exchequer funding programmes.

The call operates on a themed basis in order to align this major investment to areas of increasing national and international importance.

Recognising that the marine environment is a rich source of both biological and chemical diversity, one of these themes is “Novel Products from the Marine Environment”.

A fraction of this diversity has been exploited by industry yielding unique products with applications in a diverse range of areas.

Through the Programme for Research in Third Level Institutes Cycle 5 awards, my Department is also providing funding to SmartBay, the national infrastructure for marine data collection and testing of next generation marine, communications and environmental technologies based in Galway Bay.

ESA Activities in this Area
Ireland’s membership of the European Space Agency (ESA) provides significant opportunities to develop a vibrant downstream services industry, particularly in areas such as maritime surveillance and marine environmental monitoring.
With ESA’s support, Irish companies and researchers are developing innovative maritime services using satellite-derived data in these areas.

This is providing an opportunity for growth and employment, in addition to contributing to numerous socio-economic activities.

ESA’s Earth Observation Programmes provide a launch pad for Irish SMEs to develop new, highly innovative and disruptive technologies and products, either individually, or in association with multinationals based in Ireland, as well as with research institutes.

We are seeing increasing numbers of innovative technology companies emerging, leveraging state investment through Enterprise Ireland and Science Foundation Ireland, and commercialising this technology through Ireland’s membership of ESA.

This high level of activity doesn’t happen by accident.

It reflects the combined efforts of Government in investing substantially in R&D, the State agencies such as Enterprise Ireland and SFI in working with industry to help commercialise that R&D, and ESA itself in translating the innovation capacity in Irish industry into products, systems and services for the European space programme and the global space market.
Availability of Requisite Skills

To nurture any sector of the economy, a key piece must be to ensure that we have an appropriate mix and level of talent and skills to serve and underpin the growth we are trying to attain.

This is why we have asked the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs to undertake a study to identify future skills needs and labour market supply and demand trends in the marine area.

This study will encompass a review of current and future skills needs across the marine sector, and make recommendations as to how to address the training and Higher Education and CPD needs across the sector.

I note with interest that the MaREI Research Centre has set up a pioneering All-Island Marine Renewable Energy Master’s Programme for MSc students which will also help to deliver the skills we need in this area.

European Dimension
With a budget of just under €80 billion and covering the period 2014 to 2020, you will be aware that Horizon 2020 is the EU’s new programme providing access to European funding to researchers, research organisations and industry to engage in leading edge research, thus facilitating European economic recovery.

The structure and objectives of Horizon 2020 are very much in line with our National objectives:
raising the level of excellence in our science base,
making Ireland a more attractive location to invest in research and innovation, and
addressing major societal challenges by bringing together resources and knowledge across different fields, technologies and disciplines.
In order to maximise the potential benefits to Ireland arising from our participation in Horizon 2020, a national support network of National Contact Points coordinated by Enterprise Ireland has been established.

The network is comprised of knowledgeable and experienced practitioners from relevant Departments and agencies, charged with helping companies and academics access the funding opportunities presented by H2020.

In addition, the Government has approved a national strategy for participation in Horizon 2020, together with an ambitious target of up to €1.25 billion in funding for Ireland over the lifetime of the Programme.

The strategy sets out a comprehensive range of actions designed to maximise Ireland’s participation in the programme and achieve the target.

A High Level Group, under the chairmanship of my Department, has been established to oversee the implementation of the national strategy.

At the heart of Horizon 2020 is a strong challenge based approach, with more use of bottom-up initiatives and allowing applicants freedom to come up with innovative solutions.

The overall aim is to create opportunities for real breakthrough research and radical innovations.

For example, under the Societal Challenges Heading of H2020, one of the areas is ‘Food Security, sustainable agriculture and forestry, marine and maritime and inland water research and the bioeconomy’.

Within this, approximately €200 million has been earmarked specifically for marine research and innovation in the first two years of the Programme.

The potential for funding Research and Innovation in marine areas is not limited to Horizon 2020.

The European Commission has developed an overarching marine strategy ‘Blue Growth – Unlocking the Potential of Seas and Oceans’.

This strategy recognises that seas and oceans are drivers of the European economy and have real potential for innovation and growth.

We very much support this strategy which is essentially the maritime contribution to achieving the goals of the Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.

Concluding Remarks
I wish you all well for the day ahead and the very best of fortune with your endeavours in this important area into the future.

Thank you.



Published: 18th June 2014