Check Against Delivery
Thank you, Cllr Martin Harley (Cathaoirleach of Donegal County Council) and Richard [(Curran)(Conference MC)] for your introduction and welcome. I would also like to thank ATU, Donegal County Council, Derry City and Strabane District Council and Catalyst for inviting me to be here today.
I am delighted to be here in this unique cross-border North West City Region – and to be participating in this conference which is part of an initiative that aligns with the North-West Regional Enterprise Plan – and its strategic objective to develop cross-border relationships and Shared Island initiatives.
I understand that some of you in the audience have travelled from overseas to be here today, so I’d like to warmly welcome you to Ireland. I hope you have a great stay.
The title of this conference is Navigating the Future of Regulation, and the word navigating is an apt one. I believe we are at a major crossroad in the regulation of emerging technologies that play such a major role in our lives.
Challenges and regulation of emerging technologies
I’m sure we are all in agreement that emerging technologies and digitalisation are greatly improving the everyday lives of the people of Ireland by providing access to information, broadening communication, transforming healthcare and education, developing business opportunities, and better access to government services for everyone. However, we must also acknowledge that there are challenges that need to be addressed.
For instance, it's evident that social media usage can fuel the dissemination of disinformation and harmful content on the internet, negatively affecting public discourse and electoral processes. This issue isn't limited to Ireland, it's a global concern, especially for the well-being of children.
Furthermore, as our personal and sensitive data become more reliant on digital storage and transmission, the risk of cybersecurity threats like hacking, data breaches, and cybercrime escalates.
The advent of digital technology also raises ethical dilemmas concerning privacy, data ownership, and the development of Artificial Intelligence. Addressing these concerns is imperative if we are to ensure that the use of emerging digital technology is in alignment with societal values. Regulation stands as a crucial tool in the Government's arsenal for tackling these issues.
The EU has been ahead of the curve in developing a regulatory framework for digital and is setting global standards with its groundbreaking regulations for online digital services and AI among other things. Ireland has played an active role in the shaping of these regulations. These new regulations encompass a spectrum of objectives, including bolstering online safety, governing the handling and movement of data, fostering the ethical and safe progression of artificial intelligence, enhancing cybersecurity, and encouraging competition within digital markets. These regulations are either in the negotiation phase or already in effect.
I recognise the magnitude and speed of these regulatory changes, which can pose challenges for businesses needing to adjust. This challenge underscores why the Government has made it a core objective within Harnessing Digital, our National Digital Strategy published last year, to ensure a modern, cohesive, and well-resourced regulatory framework. This framework is fundamental to achieving all our other objectives.
Inter-departmental co-ordination mechanisms have been established across the government to identify intersections and synergies among new digital laws that fall under the purview of various Departments. For instance, my Department leads a weekly interdepartmental group dedicated to examining all EU digital negotiations comprehensively. Additionally, a monthly Senior Officials’ Group on digital was set up with the specific mandate of shaping the regulatory framework to ensure seamless and consistent implementation of digital regulation.
As these regulations take effect, the Government will maintain an ongoing review of resources. This will ensure that our regulators possess the necessary skills and staffing levels for effective implementation and proactive coordination, particularly in cases where their roles intersect.
European approach and Ireland’s role
Ireland, within the European context, will continue to advocate for a balanced and optimal approach to digital regulation. This approach strives to strike the right harmony between essential regulation and the need to nurture innovation and foster competitiveness. We appreciate that the pace of technology advancement, especially in areas such as Generative AI, can cause concern. Forthcoming EU regulations such as the AI Act will most certainly be helpful in continuing this level of innovation in an ethical manner and limiting the potential risks involved. We will leverage our internal capacity, work with national research and industry expertise and collaborate with our European and Global partners to ensure that digital progress is maintained in a responsive, lawful and responsible way.
For businesses, we understand the importance of regulatory certainty, the ‘Country of Origin’ principle which means that a business activity is regulated in the EU by the Member State in which it is established therefore avoiding the need to comply with 27 different legal regimes. The One-Stop-Shop mechanism resulting from it, is a central element in the smooth functioning of the Single Market. Along with most EU countries, we believe that this is the best way to protect the single market and European innovation, and to provide certainty for industry.
Given the large number of technology companies that are headquartered in Ireland, retention of the country-of-origin principle also means that the Irish regulators will have a pre-eminent role in the pan-EU digital regulatory framework. We fully appreciate the impact that principle has on Member States and their regulators, to meet the challenge of regulating providers established in their home Member State on behalf of the people right across the EU – we are determined to meet that challenge.
We are committed to providing the necessary legislation and resources to ensure the smooth implementation of EU legislation in Ireland.
Future plans and benefits
I mentioned earlier that I believe we are at a crossroads in the regulation of emerging technologies and while there has been a lot of successful work done so far, we understand the need for continued effort and progress along that road. We must not become complacent but instead strive to adapt and advance in the rapidly evolving digital landscape.
Our national digital strategy underscores our determination to take proactive measures and articulates our aspiration to lead in the digital domain on both the European and global stages. To realise this vision, we're committed to propelling the digital transformation of SMEs and upholding Ireland's appeal as a hub for leading digital enterprises. This entails crafting regulations that stimulate innovation and competition while safeguarding society's legitimate interests, formulating policies that equip our citizens with essential digital skills for active engagement and optimal utilisation of emerging technologies. Furthermore, we emphasise ensuring robust connectivity for our businesses and citizens, along with expediting the digitisation of our public services.
Advancements along these trajectories will yield sustainable high-quality jobs, heightened productivity, increased innovation, and the delivery of superior public services. Here in Ireland, embracing technology is not only valuable in its own right; we also see it’s potential in realising our climate action aspirations. That is why our Climate Action Plan aims to leverage the digital transformation to address Ireland’s economic and societal challenges, in particular the twin transitions of climate and digital. Our Green and Digital ambitions re-enforce each other.
Thus, a successful and comprehensive focus on various forms of emerging digital technology holds immense potential. Our national digital strategy is a commitment to realising this potential.
To conclude, in the realm of developing and enacting digital regulation, Government is wholly dedicated to establishing a modern, cohesive, and well-resourced regulatory framework. A key challenge for the future regulation of new and emerging technologies is reconciling three objectives: ensuring we can harness the societal and economic benefits they promise, while simultaneously protecting our citizens from harmful uses and abuses of the technology and also fostering innovation in these technologies in Irish enterprise.
However, I know that all stakeholders have a role to play in developing and navigating the future regulatory environment and I am sure that there will be many interesting thoughts and discussions today on that front. With that, I would like to wish you well in the rest of the Conference.
Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir.