From the late 1990s onwards, the Irish Government embarked on a strategy of significantly enhancing the scientific, technological and innovative capacity of the country, as part of its aim to develop as a knowledge and innovation-based economy. In a way, these endeavours were built on many years of support from the European Union (EU) mainly through its Structural Funds, and were originated at a period when the so-called ‘Celtic Tiger’ growth spurt seemed to have slowed down, if not ended. Ireland has seen, since 2000, the release of a series of national policies targeting investment in science and technology.
The National Development Plan 2000-2006, which sets out an overall development strategy for the country, has as one of its objectives the consolidation and improvement of Ireland’s international competitiveness. It has been argued that this stage saw a policy shift towards funding research in universities and other third level institutions, as a means of maintaining sustainable national economic growth. Following the implementation of the NDP, the Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) was founded in 2001 to undertake and support strategic research of world class status. As well, the Programme for Research in Third Level Institutions (PRTLI), administered by the Higher Education Authority (HEA), was further expanded, representing a significant commitment of State resources to research in higher education.
The importance of science, technology and innovation (STI) was emphasised again in the Strategy for Science, Technology and Innovation 2006-2013, which represents Ireland’s first comprehensive strategic approach to developing STI on a whole of Government basis. The Strategy seemed to have proposed a wider perspective on STI than what was addressed in the NDP six years ago. In particular, the Strategy called for actions not only in delivering world class research, which was strongly recommended in the NDP, but also in areas such as capturing, protecting and commercialising ideas, strengthening R&D for enterprise, innovation and growth, and facilitating all-Island and international R&D collaboration.
In March 2012, the Research Prioritisation Steering Group launched the Report of the Research Prioritisation Steering Group. The idea of the Report was to build on the strengths that have emerged from considerable public and private investment in STI during the last decade, and to target the priority areas that will become the focus of future State investment in research and innovation. In total, the Steering Group identified 14 priority areas, incorporating input from the research community, the enterprise sector and research funding departments and agencies.
It could be therefore concluded that the approach of developing R&D undertaken by the Irish Government has become more ‘holistic’ on the one hand and more ‘specific’ on the other hand. A ‘holistic’ view addresses the importance of various types of innovation actors in the economy, including universities, enterprises, and public and private research organisations; furthermore, it highlights the close interactions and collaborations between those actors. A ‘specific’ view attempts to identify the key research areas that have the greatest potential to deliver sustainable economic return; and it guides the concentration of Irish research and development effort aligned with national priorities.
To a certain degree, the ‘holistic’ aspect of Ireland’s R&D development approach is actor-based, while the ‘specific’ aspect is sector-based. The ‘holistic’ aspect forms the foundation of the approach, which clearly states the role of innovation systems. The ‘specific’ aspect forms the strategy of the approach, which calls for collaborations in a number of specified areas.