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Speech by An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar T.D., Digital Summit, Convention Centre, Dublin

Check Against Delivery 

Good morning. 

It’s a pleasure to welcome you all to this year’s Digital Summit.  Thank you for coming here today, many of you from overseas. 

Tá fáilte róimh go léir.  

My first public event as Taoiseach was at this one two-and-a-half years ago, back when it was the Data Summit.

The world of technology and digitalisation was moving fast then, and since then the pace of change seems to have accelerated. 

Today as many emails are sent in a single day as there are letters posted in a year.   Almost 300 billion. 

Online connectivity has transformed how we interact with each other. 

It brings an immediacy and it also brings a cost. 

Things that were science fiction only a few years ago are now part of our everyday lives.  

Artificial Intelligence,

driverless cars, 

robotic surgery. 

This forces us to pose some major philosophical and practical questions?  Who is in control, will there be bias and how do we ensure transparency and accountability? 

At its best, new technology has democratised the world of content and information; 

At its worst, it can be used to subvert democracy itself.  

We need to protect all that is good and counteract all that is bad. 

The Digital Revolution is transforming allof our lives at an unprecedented rate.  

Facing this future requires creativity, imagination and courage and that is where you come in.   

A basic but fundamental question - ‘how do we ensure that technological developments serve the people and contribute to our well-being?’ 

We need to challenge ourselves to come up with answers and to keep asking new questions.  And that’s what the Digital Summit is all about.   

This is a space where we can discuss how to achieve the best outcomes for society from all of these changes.   

The Summit was conceived three years ago as a way to build on Ireland’s role as a receptive location for high-tech companies.  

We wanted a space where we could discuss technological impacts on privacy, data protection, cyber-security, and other issues which were becoming increasingly important for governments and citizens.

Ireland is well placed to host and foster these debates.   We are the tech capital of Europe.  Linked through our history and our business with the United States.  And connected to the world through our diaspora. 

The work of our Research Centres is central here – and I know that exhibiting today we have ADAPT, CONFIRM, CONNECT, FutureNeuro, INSIGHT, LERO and VistaMilk.  Through Science Foundation Ireland we are linking research and industry to develop new solutions to new challenges.  An investment in the future that is already paying off.   

Governments are increasingly caught between the Scylla of greater demands for regulation of technology and the Charybdis of not wanting to stifle innovation and commerce. 

This kind of debate is increasingly evident on a European level and we must find a way of charting the correct course. 

The Digital Summit provides us with the tools to navigate these potentially treacherous waters.  Your deliberations today will be reported back to Government and will help shape our future actions and develop our policies. 

I believe digital change fosters connectivity and openness.  

We want connections that reach into every corner of the globe.  

This is very much the thinking behind our National Broadband Plan.  We want to ensure that people who live in small towns and villages in rural areas have the same digital opportunities as those who live in urban areas. So, over the next 7 years we will bring high speed broadband, fibre , to the home and premises across the country, becoming one of the first countries in the world to bring fibre to almost every home and business in the country. 

It will also enable us to upgrade our digital infrastructure. 

In this way we can maximise the economic and societal benefits from digitalisation and its transformative effects.  

Around the world an increasing security threat is that of cyber-terrorism and cyber-crime, and cyber attacks. 

So we have asked the IDA to establish a cyber-security cluster in the southern part of the county, to generate a critical mass of information and research. We’ve also strengthened our own National Centre dealing with cyber-crime. 

There are solutions, but we have to firstidentify the threats, isolate them, and neutralise them. 

As we know, digitalisation is having a profoundly disruptive effect on economies and in particular the labour market.  It is estimated that over the course of the next two decades around two out of every five jobs in Ireland are likely to be impacted in some way by automation and of course some of them will cease to exist. 

There are positives with the spread of new technologies – including the creation of new jobs and new businesses and new wealth, and indeed new occupations. 

I believe the next generation must be given the skills to seize these opportunities and these technologies bring and understand their significance and potential from an early age. 

ICT skills will become the currency of the future.  So over the next ten years we will invest €2.2 billion in our educational infrastructure.  And as part of the new Human Capital Initiative we are investing €300 million in higher education over 5 years. 

The Government recognises that the world of work is changing every day, so we need to change with it.  Through our new economic policy, Future Jobs Ireland, we are working to future proof our economy and enterprise.  

Ireland is approaching full employment so we can’t rest on our laurels - we know that many of those jobs will cease to exist in the years to come. So we need to make sure that we’re ahead of the curve when it comes to finding the jobs of the future; the businesses of the future and the wealth of the future as well. 

Enhancing productivity, increasing labour market participation, developing new skills and attracting talent.  We are also taking advantage of opportunities arising from innovation and technological change as well as the transition to the low carbon economy. 

At a European level and within the European Union we are active growers of the Digital Single Market.   

The incoming Commission, headed by Ursula von der Leyen, has declared its ambition to make Europe fit for the Digital Age.  

Europe has been in the vanguard of data protection thanks to the introduction of GDPR which is raising standards world-wide. 

We also need to upgrade the liability and safety rules for digital platforms.  

The internet has been an extraordinary force for good, but it can also be abused.  

In Ireland we are now at an advanced stage of developing proposals for an Online Safety Commissionwith enforcement powers, which will ensure that these services have structures in place to keep users safe online, especially children. 

However we realise that the World Wide Web is no respecter of national boundaries and so we must work with like-minded nations.  

Last year, working with other nations,especially New Zealand and France,Ireland adopted the Christchurch Call to extinguish terrorist and violent extremist content online. 

Next week in New York, at the UN General Assembly, I will discuss with other Heads of State and Government how to take the Christchurch call forward.  

We are committed to the development of industry standards and regulatory practices consistent with a free, open and secure internet. 

The development of a safer internet will be accomplished by governments acting in conjunction with online service providers.  Using judgment to decide what is acceptable and what is not.  

We have to make digital connectivity work for everyone: parents, businesses, public servants and, most importantly, citizens.  

I think that the conversations that you will be having throughout this Summit and beyond will shape the future of technology and policy. So we look forward to hearing what you have to say. 

Thank you all for attending the Summit and thank you to the members of the Government Data Forum for co-hosting it with us and to all our partners for bringing people together. 

I hope that you all enjoy the event, and for those of you visiting from outside the country, I hope that you enjoy your time in Dublin and Ireland.