I was appointed Minister for Trade, Employment, Business, EU Digital Single Market and Data Protection on 20th June, 2017 having previously served as Minister for Employment and Small Business since the 19th May 2016. I was first elected to Dáil Éireann in 2002 and have retained my seat in each subsequent Election. I served as Chairman of the Dáil Sub-Committee on Overseas development 2010-2011. In the last Dáil, I served as Chairman of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade from June 2011 to February 2016. Prior to being elected a TD, I was a Councillor in Clare County Council.
Does it seem like a logical background to what you do now?
Throughout my career as a public representative, I have always been acutely aware of the importance of enterprise to Ireland’s economic well-being. I have always been particularly conscious of the need for Government to create the conditions that encourage and support businesses to take advantage of opportunities, nationally and globally, that allow them thrive and grow. This is something that my current portfolio allows me to do and I also use every possible opportunity to promote the high levels of excellence and innovation that I witness every day across all sectors of enterprise.
From early in my career, I have recognised the potential for technology to improve efficiency, increase competitiveness and redefine our ambition of what can be achieved. (Back in the 80s, I was one of the first proud owners of an Apple McIntosh computer!). Since then, technology has transformed the world of work and I am very proud that, backed by strong Government initiatives, Ireland is among the digital frontrunners in the EU. I am anxious, (not only as Minister for the EU Digital Single Market but also as Minister with responsibility for Trade and Business) to maximise the extent to which Ireland can continue to take advantage of the opportunities that the digital age offers.
The EU Digital Single Market (DSM) strategy, launched in June 2015, will go a long way towards enhancing Europe’s position as a world leader in the digital economy. Ireland supports the overall DSM agenda and the Government see’s obvious synergies between digital policy initiatives at EU level and national policy. I am firmly of the view that a stronger and more coherent DSM is essential to open new growth opportunities for our Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and I hope to, as Minister, underline the benefits to SMEs that the DSM brings in terms of market access and opportunities for growth.
1 min pitch for what you are doing now?
I chair the Interdepartmental Committee on the Digital Single Market which is tasked with ensuring a whole of government approach and cross government coordination of the DSM agenda. I have also been assigned a leading role in the development of the New National Digital Strategy by furthering proposals on how to develop the optimal digital ecosystem for SMEs and increasing Ireland’s digital competitiveness. While the National Digital Strategy will have broader scope than the Digital Economy, it will be an opportunity to take into account this continuous digitalisation of the economy and aim to ensure SMEs optimally embrace digital technology and ultimately enhance enterprise digital competitiveness. Furthermore, I am working, alongside the Data Protection Commissioner’s Office, to ensure that Irish businesses are adequately prepared for the challenges and opportunities presented by the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which will come into effect on 25th May.
In plain language, what will this AI declaration achieve?
EU Member States were given the option to sign the Artificial Intelligence (AI) Declaration at Digital Day 2018, which took place in Brussels on 10th April. The Declaration seeks to secure commitments from governments and key stakeholders from industry, academia and civil society to support the European initiative on Artificial Intelligence, in particular to engage in the European AI Alliance. The European AI Alliance will be a broad community of all relevant stakeholders including from industry, academia and civil society. Working in a cohesive partnership, we will have the capacity to achieve considerably more in the field of artificial intelligence than we could ever hope to individually.
In what ways could it help Ireland?
Engagement in the European AI Alliance will allow Ireland to be at the very core of developments in AI across the EU and will increase our capability in the area. I, on behalf of the Irish Government. signed this Declaration on Artificial Intelligence because it will:
• Boost European and Irish technology and industrial capacity in AI and its uptake;
• Upskill & reskill EU citizens; and
• Ensure the appropriate frameworks exist in accordance with the fundamental principles of transparency and accountability.
Ireland already has a burgeoning AI ecosystem driven by a cohort of technological multinational companies and indigenous SMEs and supported by our third level sector. Our company ecosystem is delivering AI solutions across many sectors. These include travel, biopharma, video gaming and movie industries, and global ground transport. Supporting this European initiative and being part of the European Al Alliance can only strengthen Ireland’s AI ecosystem.
Why do you think it is such a powerful idea?
This Declaration paves the way for a comprehensive and integrated European approach on AI to increase the EU’s competitiveness, attractiveness and excellence in R&D in AI. It will encourage discussions with stakeholders on AI and support the development of a broad and diverse community of stakeholders in the European AI Alliance. Furthermore, it will contribute to the establishment of a dense network of Digital Innovation Hubs at European level and help foster optimal ethical and legal frameworks related to AI in order to ensure responsible AI deployment.
As we’re talking AI what do you think about the possibility of a Skynet / Terminator scenario?
This European Declaration is particularly timely because it proposes to address some of the common suspicions and misconceptions which are associated with AI. It proposes to contribute to the sustainability and trustworthiness of AI-based solutions, for instance by working towards improved information security, promoting safety and vigilance in the design and implementation, and increasing accountability of AI systems. Furthermore, it will ensure that humans remain at the centre of the development, deployment and decision-making of AI, prevent the harmful creation and use of AI applications, and advance public understanding of AI. Anecdotally, it is often stated that Artificial Intelligence could destroy more jobs than it creates. To address this the Declaration will allow for the exchange of views on the impact of AI on labour markets and discuss best practices on how to mitigate such impacts, including on the adoption of measures in education and practical training on skills to be acquired to allow citizens to benefit from AI and ensure social stability.
Anything else you’d like to add / we should have asked?
I will be hosting a Ministerial level meeting of the Digital 9 group in Dublin in May on the theme of AI. By hosting this group of like-minded member countries, I hope to underscore Ireland’s commitment to the digital agenda and to increase our visibility as a digital frontrunner.
How can people contact you & learn more about you?
You can find details on how to contact my office here.