Engineers Ireland has launched a report on the country’s current infrastructure and recommendations for its digital future, including investment in education, research and broadband.
The engineering body’s report, The State of Ireland 2021, shows the country is performing well in many digital areas. For example, the Digital Economy and Society Index published by the European Commission ranks Ireland as the fifth highest among countries in the EU.
The report highlighted that Ireland has shown success in attracting multinational companies and workers to boost the digital economy, but it has a low ranking in investing in education and telecommunications, according to a report by the Institute for Management Development.
Engineers Ireland president Prof Orla Feely noted the importance of education in the engineering sector, as today’s engineers need to be “all-rounders” with the growth of digitalisation.
“Core IT skills are more important than ever and digital expertise on sensor networks, artificial intelligence, robotics, blockchain and virtual reality are becoming a basic prerequisite,” Feely added.
With all this in mind, here are the key recommendations Engineers Ireland has made for the year ahead.
1. Expedite the National Broadband Plan
The first premises was connected under Ireland’s National Broadband Plan at the beginning of last year, but the roll-out has faced roadblocks.
The project aims to connect more than 1.1m people across 544,000 homes, businesses, farms and schools in Ireland where commercial operators do not currently provide high-speed connectivity. It is slated to be complete by 2027 but delays have raised concerns about that deadline being met.
The Engineers Ireland report said there are many who need these services immediately and cannot afford a few more years of being “disconnected from the digital community”.
In order to speed up the process, Engineers Ireland recommended that the remaining areas that have larger populations are surveyed first.
“For those in less populated areas that will not be serviced by the plan for several years, we recommend that the Government investigate the viability of low-Earth orbit satellite broadband as an interim broadband solution for rural communities,” the report added.
It also recommended offering subsidies for satellite broadband while the national network is being built, such as tax credits.
2. Focus on the National Digital Strategy
The first phase of Ireland’s National Digital Strategy was launched in 2013, setting out practical actions to help boost the number of people and businesses engaging online through industry, enterprise, schools and education. The Government has been looking to build on this phase with a new strategy, and a public consultation on this was held at the end of 2018.
The Engineers Ireland report recommended that Ireland publish and implement the new National Digital Strategy to provide a “whole-of-government” approach to support the digital sector and encourage digitalisation across Ireland’s businesses and society.
3. Secure Ireland’s energy grid and supply
Last year, EirGrid predicted electricity supply challenges for Ireland in the coming years, in part due to “growth of demand driven by large energy users and data centres”. It added that data centres could account for a quarter of the country’s electricity usage by 2030.
Engineers Ireland said the country needs to accelerate its green energy projects to sustainably meet the growing power requirements. While these projects are being built, Ireland should push for approval for the planned 700MW interconnector between Cork and France.
“Greenlink, a 500MW interconnector linking the power markets of Great Britain and Ireland is planned for commission in 2024, but it may not be adequate to supply Ireland with enough power,” the report said.
Ireland should also explore the possibility of more interconnectors with the UK and France as well as other countries.
“As a hub for engineering and technical innovation, now is the time for Ireland to drive forward by expanding the capacity of our interconnectors and green energy networks to help future-proof national and European energy requirements,” Engineers Ireland registrar Damien Owens said.
4. Invest more in research and development
To help Ireland’s growing digital economy, Engineers Ireland believes the Government should offer more support for entrepreneurs and early-stage investors. This can also be done by investing more in third-level education technology transfer programmes.
“By subsidising more third-level courses that are made open-access and available online, the Government would provide access to digital upskilling and promote interest in digitalisation amongst the general public,” the report said.
It also recommended more funding for the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science to promote more research projects in higher education institutions.
Engineers Ireland noted the growing importance of cybersecurity and said there was a 413pc increase in the number of cyberattacks in Ireland from June 2020 to June 2021.
“The Government’s National Cybersecurity Strategy to 2024 should be implemented in full. It has a range of systematic measures to protect our nation, develop the cybersecurity sector, and deepen our international engagement on the future of the internet,” the report said.
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