Speech by Taoiseach, Mr. Leo Varadkar, T.D., at the Launch of the new SFI Research Centres, Dublin Castle, 7 September 2017
Minister Halligan, Ladies and Gentlemen.
Over the summer I read a collection of essays by the great Irish writer, George Bernard Shaw, and I was struck by his observation that activity is the only road to knowledge.
It is one of the reasons I am so delighted to be here today to launch these four new Research Centres. They are centres of incredible activity that will discover new knowledge and push us towards new frontiers.
Our SFI Research Centres represent a virtuous triangle between government, industry and higher education, and show just what can be achieved through a shared vision about reaching your ambitions.
The ambition of this government is to create a republic of opportunity, one where everyone has an equal opportunity to reach their potential, where every part of the country can share in our prosperity, and where there are second chances for all those who need them.
To achieve this vision we need an economy built on balanced and sustainable growth. We need to be competitive and innovative.
This means being a leader in scientific and technological development.
In this way we are being true to the mission of Science Foundation Ireland, going right back to its creation. In 2003 when it was first established, Ireland ranked 36th in the global rankings for scientific research. Today we are 10th .
Many people are responsible for this achievement. First, we owe a huge debt to the scientific community for their energy and ingenuity and their determination to cross new frontiers of knowledge. This work has been nurtured by SFI, which in turn has been supported by the government.
Despite the recent financial crisis we were determined to continue to support this work, because we recognised both its immediate value and its long-term potential to transform our world.
After taking a difficult set of decisions, we have now emerged from the economic crisis.
Ireland is now one of the fastest growing economies in Europe and today there are more than 2 million people in work.
To maintain this progress, we need to invest in the infrastructure required for a modern sustainable economy, so that we can provide a high quality of life for all our citizens.
SFI Research Centres
The opening of these four Centres today represents an investment of over €70 million in remarkable new research over the next six years. And 689 highly skilled personnel will be involved in helping each one succeed.
BEACON will help us to tackle the challenge of moving economies away from finite fossil fuels to sustainable biological resources. The strategic development of Ireland’s bioeconomy is critical.
My own Department is currently undertaking an assessment of the potential for smart, sustainable and indigenous growth, especially in rural areas. I look forward to seeing what Professor Kevin O’Connor and his team come up with.
Confirm will help us to transform Ireland’s manufacturing industry so that it becomes a world-leader in smart manufacturing and industrial automation systems. The manufacturing sector is the second largest employer in this country, and it contributes almost one quarter of our total economic output. So Professor Conor McCarthy and his team will be tackling areas that are key priorities for our economy.
FutureNeuro will focus on chronic and rare neurological diseases. Speaking not just as an interested citizen, but as a trained medical doctor as well, I look forward to hearing new ideas about how we might treat the 700,000 people living with a neurological condition in Ireland. I understand Professor David Henshall and his team will focus on epilepsy and motor-neurone disease initially.
Last but by no means least, I-FORM is the research centre formerly known as Déantús. Led by Professor Denis Dowling and his team it has the potential to make an enormous impact on the international competitiveness of Irish manufacturing.
I’m interested to see that it will focus immediately on using additive manufacturing – 3D printing to you and me – to enhance the production of components and products.
I congratulate all four research centres and their ambition, and wish them every success.
Each of the SFI Research Centres involves strong collaborative partnerships between research bodies and industry leaders. The other 12 Centres have over 300 industry partners between them.
The 80 industry partners involved in these 4 new ones represent the diverse nature of industry in Ireland, from multinational corporations to SMEs, from indigenous enterprise to firms with an international footprint.
The work being done in these Centres helps us to attract and retain top talent and capital investment into Ireland, and embed research and development in industry.
The innovations produced from these collaborations can also help to stimulate a new generation of Irish start-ups and we expect some to become significant employers as they scale-up.
The connections between the higher education sector and business enabled by these research centres will help to underpin our future economic prosperity. The Higher Education sector plays a vital role in this process. It provides more than just a stream of talent to support industry and research: it offers limitless ingenuity.
My government is currently looking at how to better support the sector. However, we also want Higher Education to continue to demonstrate value and its responsiveness to industry needs.
The Action Plan for Education 2016-2019, launched last September, puts an increased focus on strengthening links between the education system and enterprise.
The strong connections that are created between academia and industry in these Research Centres are a blueprint for the future.
This is a future which must be based on regional growth and opportunity. The spread of locations and institutions working in these Centres, and the connections formed across the country as a result, will help to support our goals for rural development.
Rachel Carson, the great American writer and environmentalist, believed that literature and science were connected. Both helped to discover and illuminate truth.
Our four new research centres – in four very different ways – will each try to discover and illuminate new truths.
Today’s launch is a clear signal of the Government's commitment to invest in Ireland's future.
The four Centres are excellent examples of what can be achieved when we pool our talents and abilities in a common purpose.
They show the value of investing in today, so we can imagine the world of the future.