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News : Irish Last Updated: Jun 30, 2009 - 8:39:59 AM


Cowen announces appointment of 28-strong insider-dominated Irish innovation taskforce - - to rubber-stamp Government policy?
By Michael Hennigan, Founder and Editor of Finfacts
Jun 29, 2009 - 5:02:44 AM

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Taoiseach Brian Cowen

Taoiseach Brian Cowen on Sunday announced the appointment of an innovation taskforce to advise the Government on Irish science strategy and on steps to realise the much talked about “smart economy.”  It seems at first glance to be designed to rubber-stamp existing public policy - -  with the group dominated by insiders.

Cowen said the taskforce will advise the Government on options to increase innovation and entrepreneurship and to ensure that investment in science, technology and research translates into high-value jobs and sustainable economic growth.

Taskforces are very popular in the Irish governance system and the usual task is to give the impression of action. In this case, the group selected is dominated by third level officials who are currently in receipt of spades of taxpayer cash.

One of the appointees, Ned Costello , chief executive, Irish Universities Association, recently wrote a paen to existing policy in the Irish Times, to which Finfacts provided some inconvenient truths in response:

Irish Economy: Achieving economic success requires more than investing in creativity

A current Finfacts article illustrates the lack of credible data on the outcomes of the spending so far:

Innovation Ireland: Science Foundation claims 8 spinout companies from university research; Enterprise Ireland claims over 100

UCC economists Declan Jordan and Eoin O'Leary, who have published research in recent years, which questioned the overreliance on university-led innovation, have understandably been omitted from  the committee. This is Ireland after all and politicians do not like turbulent outsiders. Dr. Jordan knows something of the world beyond academia, having worked as a manager at a leading Irish treasury and financial consulting firm in the International Financial Services Centre (IFSC) and as treasury manager with Intel Ireland.

Dr Chris Horn, co-founder of Iona Technologies is a good selection as he may provide an insight into the inability of the home-grown  high tech sector to prosper.  Iona Technologies was a spinout from Trinity College and is now owned by a US firm of more recent vantage.

The new taskforce will  support the development of the Innovation Alliance between Trinity College Dublin and University College Dublin and will be complemented by the work of the Green Enterprise Taskforce recently announced by Minister for Enterprise Mary Coughlan and Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Eamon Ryan.

Announcing the membership of the taskforce, the Taoiseach said: “While weathering the worst global recession of our lifetime, it is imperative that we position Ireland so that we can take advantage of the global upturn when it comes.

“In December, I launched Building Ireland’s Smart Economy, the Government’s framework for sustainable economic renewal. We need to think smart, work smart, and be smart in order to build our future.

“The Ireland of the future will be a smart, high-value, export-led economy. It will have some of the world’s leading research-intensive multinationals, a number of which will be Irish-owned. It will have thousands of innovative small and medium enterprises,” the Taoiseach said.

“These companies will be creating the products and services of tomorrow and providing high-quality employment for our people.

“The country will have smart, efficient and citizen-oriented public services. It will be energy independent and have high-quality living environments with smart transport solutions. That is the future that I want us to achieve.”

Cowen said the lesson “from severe global recessions in the past” is that as well as weathering the economic storm, countries need to restructure their economies to target the next wave of economic growth.

Building Ireland’s Smart Economy identified “a range of measures to transform Ireland into the ‘innovation island’,” he said. “Today, I am pleased to announce the appointment of the Innovation Taskforce which will assist Government in making this vision a reality.”

Minister of State for Science, Technology and Innovation Conor Lenihan said the knowledge and expertise of the taskforce members would “contribute to ensuring that we have the necessary research, innovation and commercialisation structure to become one of the world’s leading locations for business innovation.”

Whether the insider dominated 28-strong taskforce provides something more substantial than ministerial blather, remains to be seen.

I doubt it.

With Cowen's leading civil servant in the chair, it will be politeness all-around when at this perilous time, iconoclasm and the courage to tell little emperors, they've no clothes, is so badly needed. 

Innovation taskforce: membership

Dermot McCarthy, secretary general, Department of the Taoiseach (chairman)

Lionel Alexander, vice-president general manager of Hewlett Packard (Manufacturing) Ltd and chairman of the Government’s Enterprise Feedback Group

Prof Don Barry, president, University of Limerick

Dr Hugh Brady, president, University College Dublin

Damien Callaghan, investment director, Intel Capital

Michael Carmody, president, Institute of Technology Tralee

Dr Steven Collins, co-founder chief technical officer, Kore Virtual Machines

Ned Costello, chief executive, Irish Universities Association

Joe Harford, chairman of the Government’s High Level Action Group on Green Enterprise

Dr John Hegarty, provost, Trinity College Dublin

Dr Chris Horn, co-founder of Iona Technologies

Dr Brian Kelly, founder chief executive, Celtic Catalysts

Dr Burton Lee, director, European entrepreneurship programme, Stanford University; managing partner, Innovarium Ventures

John Lynch, chief executive, Merrion Pharmaceuticals

Tara MacMahon, IP lawyer

Dan MacSweeney, chief executive, Carbery Group

Bryan Mohally, vice-president of supply chain operations Europe, Johnson and Johnson

Mark O’Donovan, director, Raglan Capital

Barry O’Sullivan, senior vice-president, Cisco Systems

Dr Paul Roben, president, Celtic Consulting

Anna Scally, partner, KPMG

The taskforce will also include the heads of Enterprise Ireland, IDA Ireland, Science Foundation Ireland, the Higher Education Authority and representatives from the departments of Education and Science, Enterprise, Trade and Employment, and Finance.

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