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Government advisory group on planned €1 billion 'innovation district' in Dublin hasn't met in over a year

The advisory group hasn’t met since July 2019.

The Grand Canal area of Dublin could be turned into an 'innovation district'.
The Grand Canal area of Dublin could be turned into an 'innovation district'.
Image: SIPA USA/PA Images

THE GOVERNMENT ADVISORY group for the billion-euro ‘innovation district’ in the Grand Canal Dock area of Dublin has not met for over a year. 

The last meeting of the group, which includes senior figures from government, businesses and the third-level sector, took place on 10 July 2019 – over 12 months ago. 

The advisory group, launched by then-Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in July 2018, was intended to “develop proposals” for the area alongside Trinity College Dublin, which is spearheading the plan for a new city centre campus that would focus on enterprise and entrepreneurship. 

Membership includes Secretary General at the Department of the Taoiseach, Martin Fraser, and Owen Keegan, the CEO of Dublin City Council, as well Martin Shanahan, the CEO of IDA Ireland, as well as University College Dublin President Andrew Deeks. 

Trinity College Dublin’s Provost Patrick Prendergast is also a member. 

The government is expected to commit €150 million towards the project, with the entire plan set to cost €1.1 billion.

A spokesperson for the Department of the Taoiseach confirmed to TheJournal.ie that there have been no meetings since July 2019, but cited the Covid-19 pandemic as the reason for a delay in meeting. 

In 2018, the group met in September, November and December, while in 2019 two separate meetings took place in February and July. 

In January, the government published a report into the district, which set out a vision that would see Ireland become the tech capital of Europe. 

“One of the recommendations contained in the report is to reconstitute the Advisory Group to oversee next steps in the development of the wider Innovation District, however, as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Advisory Group has not yet been reconstituted,” the spokesperson said. 

The report states that a new governance group should be created to help oversee the project, but noted that “the Governance Group initially can be viewed as a continuation of the [Grand Canal Innovation District] Advisory Group and will continue to be chaired by the Department of the Taoiseach”.

“This will ensure that this project of national significance, which has the potential to change how Ireland is seen by companies and entrepreneurs internationally, will be driven forward,” the report said. 

Since that report was published, no meetings have taken place of either the advisory group or any new governance group. 

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, the Chief Innovation and Enterprise Officer at Trinity College Dublin, Diarmuid O’Brien, stressed that the fact the group hadn’t met did not mean that work had slowed on the project. 

O’Brien said that Trinity College Dublin staff had been working on the project steadily since the launch of the report in January and that they hope to apply for planning permission for early stage building works in the next six weeks. 

At the launch of the report in January Prendergast called it a “truly great day for innovation in Ireland”. 

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The new campus, centred at the heart of the innovation district, will take years to build. 

He said that the formation of a new government and the Covid-19 pandemic have contributed to delays in the governance group meeting.

“It wasn’t really a group that from a governance perspective was managing a large-scale capital project,” he said. Instead, it was about “validating the strategic vision”. 

“The project wasn’t reliant on that group meeting on a monthly basis to make it work.”

However, he also acknowledged that it would be good for a reformulated governance group to meet as soon as possible. 

He also said that the college would soon be sending a report into government about the next stages of the report to re-engage with the new taoiseach. 

O’Brien said that he did not yet know the new government’s views on the project, but that he believed and hoped that it would still back the project, despite the economic uncertainty caused by the pandemic.

“We’re not envisaging any shifts,” O’Brien said. But he said that the response to that report by the government would indicate whether there has been a “shifting of the landscape”.

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