The Future of Technology Regulation - Ireland as a Hub for EU Technology Regulation
Marker Hotel, Wednesday, 8 February 2023
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Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon.
Thank you, David [Widger, Managing Partner], for your introduction and welcome.
I want to thank A&L Goodbody for organising today’s conference and asking me to deliver the opening address.
This is a useful and timely gathering of the leading Irish digital and technology regulators, along with tech companies, Irish businesses, and civil society as we embark on a significant journey of change in the regulation of technology.
Today’s conference demonstrates Ireland’s credentials as a leading global digital hub – a great place for continued investment; a digital front-runner; and the location of some of the most important regulators in the digital sphere in Europe.
Many of the topics you will cover today were also discussed at our very successful Digital Ireland Conference last November. Both Ireland’s position and credentials as a hub for digital regulation is already well established. We are a leading country at the very heart of European and global digital developments, and it is my and the Irish Government’s ambition for Ireland to remain a digital frontrunner.
At the outset, I want to acknowledge that it is currently a challenging time for the tech sector, in particular for employees in this sector.
I sympathise with all those who have received bad news in recent weeks and months. The Government will assist those affected as they seek alternative employment or other opportunities.
At a time of record high employment levels in Ireland, there is still high demand for tech, marketing and other skills in the Irish economy, and there is a strong pipeline of new investments from overseas and within Ireland, but that is not to dismiss the genuine worry of many at this time.
While the focus of today’s conference is primarily on tech regulation, I think it is important to set out the context of the Government’s overall approach and ambition for digital in Ireland.
Embracing digital technologies is crucial for our continued economic progress as well as for meeting the demands of our people in a modern society. While that statement may seem obvious to many in this room it is a statement of enormous challenge for many Irish businesses and citizens at this very moment.
As outlined in the recently published White Paper on Enterprise, digitalisation is at the heart of Ireland’s enterprise policy between now and 2030.
A competitive, innovative and resilient enterprise base will provide high-quality jobs and employment opportunities for people to live and prosper in all parts of the country.
Businesses can harness digital technologies in many ways – including to better understand their customers, reduce their costs to reduce their emissions, and improve their products.
To grasp the opportunities of digital and technology in business, we have four main objectives:
- sustaining Ireland’s attractiveness as a location of choice for cutting edge global technology businesses.
- driving a step change in digital adoption across enterprise.
- nurturing digital start-ups; and
- ensuring a modern, cohesive and well-resourced regulatory framework for digital.
However, the digital economy in Ireland is running at two different speeds.
While a small proportion of the enterprise base has fully embraced digitalisation, there is an urgent need to accelerate and enhance digital adoption right across Irish businesses and indeed, the public sector.
As we have laid out in our National Digital Strategy, we want 90% of SMEs to have achieved basic digital intensity by 2030 and 75% of all enterprises to be using cloud, AI and big data.
As a leading European and global digital hub, ranked 5th in the EU Digital Economy and Society Index, we must continue to drive the agenda and strive to keep pushing ahead with our ambitions.
Unlocking our digital potential will both help us to stay ahead of the curve on innovation, productivity, and sustainability.
This is vital for both the economy as a whole but more importantly for individual businesses who face competitive markets.
Beyond all the economic reasons and rationale, we should keep in mind that the adoption of digital technologies can also help improve the lives of our workers and business owners.
As a Government we will work with stakeholders to engage with businesses – large, medium, and small - to make sure they do not postpone the decisions they need to take now in relation to the kinds of investments they need to make to retain their competitive advantage – investments in both digital and green technologies. That support must come in the form of financial grants, loans, mentorship, and other initiatives.
Ireland has a strategic advantage in terms of digitalisation with our rich ecosystem of multinational and indigenous technology companies and we have incredible expertise within those companies and in academic institutions which we must harness to its fullest.
Tech investment in Ireland
The technology sector is extremely important to the Irish economy, accounting for €52 billion, equivalent to 16% of gross value-add in the Irish economy and employed 140,000 people, equivalent to 6% of total national employment.
Within that figure, IDA’s technology client companies employ approximately 58,000 people in the tech sector ranging from manufacturing, R&D, supply chain and a variety of European and global functions.
This sector is playing a major role in driving digitalisation of the Irish economy, and we are seeing particular growth in sectors such as Cloud Computing, Cyber Security and Microelectronics.
We know that part of the attractiveness for tech companies locating in Ireland is our position as regulatory hub. So, in addition to the talent, our track record and pro-business environment – Ireland will continue to promote and defend our status as a base for regulation.
I hope that you can appreciate the scale of Government’s ambitions in digital and technology from what I have outlined.
Underpinning these ambitions is the importance and necessity of a strong, coherent and stable digital regulatory framework.
This is a prerequisite to our ambition to be a leading digital country.
As you know, Ireland is the lead regulator of the global tech companies which are headquartered here for major EU digital regulations.
We will continue to advocate for and strongly defend the “Country of Origin” principle and one-stop-shop mechanism.
This is not just our position for digital regulation, but for all aspects of the internal market as we believe this is the best way to protect the EU Single Market and allow innovative companies to grow and expand.
The Government has continued its investment in building a world-class data protection regulatory regime.
The Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC) is a bloc leading partner in enforcement on behalf of citizens in the EU.
In 2022 the Irish DPC imposed two thirds of the fines - more than €1billion - issued across the EU, EEA, and UK on foot of detailed and comprehensive investigations.
The Government has committed to an increased budget to the DPC for 2023 of €26.2m will allow further expansion of resources, beyond the 200 staff currently employed.
Turning to the Digital Services Act, we have a clear and robust roadmap to establish our Digital Services Coordinator. Indeed, we were one of the first Member States to select who will be our Digital Services Coordinator, which will be Coimisiún na Meán.
Work is well under way to equip Coimisiún na Meán with appropriate resources to fulfil this important role. Minister Catherine Martin recently announced Jeremy Godfrey as the incoming the Executive Chairperson along with three Commissioners – and I know Jeremy is due to be a panellist later today.
Legislation too is being prepared in my department to formally designate and empower Coimisiún na Meán to take on the Digital Services Coordination function.
We will continue to be a strong voice in Europe for a balanced and optimal approach to digital regulation for society and the economy in areas such as data, digital markets, digital services, cyber security and AI.
Ireland will continue to argue for openness in digital matters as we do in trade, and encourage a holistic view of regulation at the EU level.
On AI specifically, we are fully engaged in the negotiations on the EU Artificial Intelligence Act, which sets out harmonised rules for the development, placement on the market, and use of AI systems in the EU.
There is encouraging progress on this Regulation, and we expect that it will be adopted by early 2024. A strong regulatory framework provides business and citizens with the assurance that those AI systems we interact with on a daily basis are safe and that our rights, as a user, are protected.
We are also engaged in parallel negotiations on the AI Liability Directive and the Council of Europe Convention to ensure coherence and legal certainty for business and consumers alike in regulating this evolving sector.
To conclude, I would like you to take away three key messages:
- Digitalisation is critical to Ireland’s continued and future competitiveness, productivity, to our sustainability. and economic growth.
- We are ambitious to remain a digital front-runner and global tech hub.
- We know well the many practical challenges and obligations of providing a coherent and well-resourced regulatory framework.
As we move to the future of tech regulation, we understand those challenges but we are well able to face them all.
I wish you well in the rest of the conference and thank you again to A&L Goodbody for inviting me to open it.
Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir.