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3. Government policy and the role of key institutions

This section considers the means by which IT innovation has been encouraged or allowed to develop in Ireland, the degree to which the government has actively intervened, and the role of institutions in promoting IT.

The Context of IT Development

The major impetus and vehicle for promoting IT in Ireland has been the government's industrial development policy. As outlined in section 2, industrial promotion to foster economic growth and employment became a priority in the 1960s following the publication of the government's first Programme for Economic Expansion in 1958. The Industrial Grants Act of 1956 empowered the Industrial Development Authority to give grants throughout Ireland to new industrial projects, including foreign enterprises.

Whilst the main framework for attracting industrial development was through the existing sectoral categories (food, drink and tobacco, textiles, chemicals, etc.), there was a realization that science and technology would lead "to greater production capabilities and to new and better products and processes.... Industrial strategy, if it is to be effective, must ... ensure that the resources of science and technology are fully used." In the Programme for National Development 1978-1981, electro-technology is cited as a major example of a specific area of industrial importance "which is expected to burgeon dramatically in the immediate future." The programme went on to state that the National Board for Science and Technology (NBST), the Industrial Development Authority (IDA), and the Institute for Industrial Research and Standards (IIRS) would be promoting concerted programmes in these areas. 13

The Computer Policy Advisory Committee

The Computer Policy Advisory Committee (CPAC) was established by the Minister for the Public Services with the following terms of reference: "To advise the Organisation Division of the Department of the Public Services on national policy issues regarding overall computer development within the country." Membership of the CPAC was drawn from the public services, universities, banking, industry, and one IT-related company, Cara Data Processing Ltd.

The committee recognized the already rapid growth in capital investment in computers, from IR£8 million in January 1970 to IR£40 million in January 1975. Anticipating future growth in the usage and importance of computers in the public and private sectors, the CPAC considered that the formulation of a national computer policy was desirable. This was justified on the grounds that it would then be possible "to influence computer development and usage so as to maximize the considerable potential benefits which would otherwise not be achieved or to minimize the adverse effects which would arise."14

In its report, the CPAC pointed to the absence of any national computer policy in any coordinated sense. Individual organizations such as government departments, banks, and universities were acting for their own needs. At the twelfth meeting of the CPAC a document was drawn up setting out details of national informatics institutions, covering countries such as Japan, France, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Sweden, Spain, and Brazil. The document outlined the objectives and activities of these institutions.15 In its report Towards a National Computer Policy the CPAC stated why a national computer policy was desirable:

(a) to develop the computer industry's potential;

(b) to encourage the use of computers by incorporating them in education and training at all levels and in all sectors;

(c) to ensure adequate communication/information-processing facilities to facilitate existing and prospective users;

(d) to safeguard the legal and social rights of individuals;

(e) to encourage the application of computers in all sectors of the economy;

(f) to ensure a coordinated approach on issues of centralization or decentralization of computer facilities and resources;

(g) to provide a basis for assessing the impacts of policies by countries and organizations, monitoring environmental and technological change, and measuring the results of decisions;

(h) to encourage an acceptance of recognized qualifications for computer personnel;

(i) to encourage industrial development by industrialists attracted only to countries with communication/computer infrastructure plans;

(j) to promote coordination between development in the public and private sectors as well as cooperation between Ireland, North and South, and between Ireland and other countries.

The document also contained long-term and short-term recommendations that would assist the formulation of a national computer policy.

Proposal for a Central Computing Council

The case for coordinating the overall development of computing in the economy was also made in the report undertaken for the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI).7

It was envisaged that a central computing council would develop a nation al strategy to be responsible for

• planning and forecasting;
• training and education;
• promoting development in individual sectors;
• information dissemination;
• research;
• liaison with international bodies;
• standards and standard documentation;
• maintaining an index of application programmes;
• privacy/security/ethics issues.

The National Computer Centre (NCC) had been established in Britain in 1966 to promote an increased and more effective use of computers in Britain. It was envisaged that Ireland would not require such an extensive organization, which employed 200 people in 1970, but would benefit from access to the expertise and knowledge that the NCC, and similar bodies, possessed.

None of the recommendations in the ESRI and CPAC reports were implemented. Instead the government proceeded on a more ad hoc basis to encourage the individual semi-state organizations, notably the Industrial Development Authority, the National Board for Science and Technology, the Irish Export Board, and the Institute for Industrial Research and Standards, to take a leading role in promoting IT development and nurturing innovation.

The Manpower Consultative Committee

The Manpower Consultative Committee (MCC) was set up in November 1978 to advise the Minister for Labour on the role of manpower policy in economic and social development. The MCC is a tripartite body representative of government departments, employer organizations, and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.

In recognition of the complexity and potential growth of computer-related occupations, the MCC undertook a report on computer-related manpower. Noting that, according to a National Manpower Service survey, there were approximately 5,400 people employed in automated data-processing occupations in early 1980, the committee felt that further surveys should be carried out in 1982 and 1985. The report confirmed that there were specific shortages of both systems analysts and computer programmers. It also estimated that there were vacancies for about 250 software staff. Chapter 2 of the report contained projections for future demand. A forecast of 30,000 employees in the electronics manufacturing sector by 1985 is mentioned.45

The Manpower Consultative Committee also investigated other IT-related topics concerning employment and education/training and these will be covered in sections 8 and 9. It is important to note that key committees, such as the MCC, and state-sponsored bodies like the IDA report back to specific ministers and departments. There is no central coordinating agency with overall responsibility for IT-related issues, which span industrial investment, product development, exports, training, and education.

The Role of State-Sponsored Bodies

The Industrial Development Authority (IDA)

The IDA became an autonomous state-sponsored organization in April 1970 with responsibility for the furtherance of industrial development in Ireland. It carries out promotional programmes at home and abroad; provides grants and other financial facilities to new and existing manufacturing and technical service industries; provides training grants towards the costs of training workers; constructs and administers industrial estates; acquires industrial sites and constructs advance factories; promotes joint ventures and licensing agreements; undertakes national and regional planning; evaluates the implications of EC proposals and policies.

The IDA has been instrumental in promoting the electronics sector in Ireland. However, it was not until the latter years of the 1970s that electronics was noted as a target industrial growth sector. The IDA's Regional Industrial Plans 1973-1977 were concerned more with creating 55,000 new jobs "in accordance with the regional patterns specified in the plans." This represented a target of 11,000 jobs per year between 1973 and 1977. Hence, locational rather than sectoral projections were emphasized.16

This changed with the publication of the IDA Industrial Plan 1977-80 and the IDA Industrial Plan 1978-82, after which no further plans were published. According to the IDA sectoral strategy for 1977-1980, "electronics and computer industries" were "targeted" as a key development subsector, along with mechanical engineering, textiles, consumer, healthcare, and chemical products.17 It was recognized that the IDA should support electronics, which would require highly skilled personnel, including graduates and technicians. The IDA plan for 19781982 identified electronics as a growth sector. Its strategy was to encourage investment in:

• minicomputers,
• computer peripherals,
• medical electronics,
• integrated circuits, including microprocessors and memory devices,
• electronic scientific instruments.

The IDA made direct approaches to key firms in these sectors and between 1976 and 1977 had agreement for 19 new electronics industries with employment potential of 6,000 and anticipated fixed asset investment of over IR£50 million. According to the IDA, "Ireland is now emerging as one of the major locations in Europe for the fast growing electronics industry.''18

The achievements of the IDA in the electronics sector and the promotion of international services are reviewed in sections 4 and 5.

The Irish Science and Technology Agency (EOLAS)

The NBST (now merged with the Institute for Industrial Research and Standards as EOLAS) was established in 1977 as a state-sponsored agency to undertake a wide range of planning, promotional, advisory, and review activities. From the outset it identified IT as a key sector. In 1981, with equal funding from the European Communities and the Irish government, the NBST produced an extensive report on Microelectronics: The Implications for Ireland. The objective was to examine IT and its applications, to assess employment opportunities and potential impact on existing industry, and to report on conclusions and recommendations. Some of the recommendations related to:

The report was followed, in 1985, by the issue of a brochure aimed at industrialists and potential investors called Innovation. A Guide.20 This outlined the stages in innovative projects from idea (for product or process) through to marketing the result, with actual examples of how state agencies could assist (e.g. IDA for grants information, Revenue Commissioners about tax relief, IIRS for design/development assistance). The brochure referred interested potential clients to a "Walk-In Information Centre" run by the IDA.

The NBST has also been involved in (European) Community research programmes such as ESPRIT (Research into Information Technology), STAR (Special Telecommunications Action for Regional Development), and, most recently, STRIDE (Science and Technology for Regional Innovation and Development in Europe).21

The Institute for Industrial Research and Standards (now merged with NBST as EOLAS) had been set up in 1946 to provide:

(a) technical advisory services to support the continued efficient operation of industry;

(b) services designed to assist the growth and development of industry by the identification and provision of new technological investment opportunities.

Services are provided under contract to clients.

Coras Trachtala (CTT)

The Irish Export Board, CTT, was established as a statutory corporation in 1959. It provides a variety of assistance, services, and incentives for merchandise exporters and exporters of certain services, including IT-related services.

Foras Aisleanna Saothair (FAS)

The Training and Employment Authority (FAS) was formed in 1988 by the merger of the Industrial Training Authority (AnCO), the National Manpower Service, and the Youth Employment Agency. Since its inception in 1967, FAS (formerly AnCO) has aimed to provide training to help meet national objectives. It is responsible for apprenticeship, non-apprenticeship skills training, and in-company industrial training. The role of FAS in IT-related training will be considered in some detail in section 10.

This section has provided an overview of the state's involvement in IT in Ireland. It has shown how attempts to produce an integrated national IT policy were unsuccessful. The roles of important state-sponsored institutions such as the IDA, EOLAS, and FAS in promoting IT were also considered.

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