ERCIM News No.42 - July 2000 [contents]

Jane Grimson, Trinity College. Representative on ERCIM’s Board of Directors

“We see membership of ERCIM as crucial to the policy of growing our R&D base”

Ireland is currently enjoying unprecedented economic growth. GDP is increasing at a rate of 8% per annum for the past 5 years, over three times the EU average. Unemployment has fallen from 20% in the mid-1980’s to around 5% today. For the first time in over 150 years, the population is increasing. There are many factors which have brought this about starting with the removal of very high, protectionist trade barriers at the end of the 1950’s, encouragement of foreign investment, membership of the European Community in 1973, and investment in education.

In the 1980’s there was a specific move to encourage inward investment principally by US multinationals in the electronics, software and pharmaceutical sectors. The main advantages which Ireland offered were access to European markets, an English-speaking, well educated, young labour force, low corporate taxation, and a good telecommunications infrastructure. This policy has proved to be a spectacular success and has been a major driving force behind the so-called ‘Celtic Tiger’. Intel, Dell, HP, Motorola, IBM, Xerox all have major manufacturing plants in Ireland and thanks largely to the fact that Microsoft’s European software localisation plant is located near Dublin, Ireland is now the second largest exporter of software in the world. Current government policy is focused on establishing Ireland as the e-commerce hub of Europe.

The big challenge for Ireland is to sustain this growth – to ensure that the multinationals sink deeper roots, to encourage growth of indigenous industry, and to address the growing skills shortage in the “high tech” sector. The government is acutely aware of the serious implications of the skills shortage in the software sector, in particular, and has provided significant funding for the provision of additional places in third level colleges and universities. Almost 6% of Ireland’s third level student population are studying computing – the second highest proportion among the OECD countries. Furthermore, over the next 5 years, the plan is to increase expenditure – both by government and by industry – on Research and Development (R&D). Starting from a very low base only 5 years ago, the government is committed to an expenditure of 2.5 billion Euros on R&D over the next 5 to 7 years. 711 million Euros will be invested in a Technology Foresight Fund to support basic research in two key areas – Biotechnology and Information and Communications Technology (ICT).

Ireland is a small economy on the periphery of Europe; we cannot expect to become a world leader in research across the whole of the ICT sector, but, as we have already demonstrated, we can develop expertise in a number of key areas. In the global research ‘market’ of today, it is unlikely that we will achieve this in isolation and we see membership of ERCIM as crucial to the policy of growing our R&D base. ERCIM provides a network of world class research, a melting pot of innovative and exciting ideas. Creativity and innovation, the essence of research, like the gene pool, require diversity to be vigorous and thrive. ERCIM brings together a heterogeneous mixture of cultures, expertise and experience in the software area. Ireland’s computing research community has much to gain from joining ERCIM and looks forward to playing an active role.