Driving force and key actors for the Ireland-Northern Ireland cross-border area

The main driving force for building the cross-border area is shared political will to capture the peace dividends, including innovation-driven economic growth. This could be supported by creating greater critical mass of innovation-related assets. For example, the Irish and the Northern Ireland authorities are supporting research centres in similar fields: ICT, life sciences, nanotechnology, agri-food and aerospace. In total there are more than 100 centres in Ireland alone, which suggests that there are likely opportunities for synergies and complementarities across centres on an all-island basis. While the industrial structures do differ, studies have noted opportunities in common areas of specialisation to support collaboration as well as complementarity. Bringing together actors with complementary expertise and linked to different networks and markets could be an opportunity for mutual benefit. While political recognition is not an issue for Ireland since the all-island area includes its capital, many innovation-related resources for Northern Ireland are managed by UK authorities. The need for joint external branding is less of a consideration than in other cross-border areas since some potential FDI investors already take an all-island view, and that approach is used by both sides for tourism.

The key actors for policy in the cross-border area are the Irish and Northern Ireland (UK) governments, which have devolved some aspects of economic development promotion with a cross-border dimension to InterTradeIreland. Respective counterparts are Invest Northern Ireland and Enterprise Ireland. Local authorities (the beneficiaries of European Territorial Co-operation - Interreg - funding) lead efforts for the actions in the “immediate border” area. Bottom-up initiatives play a minor role in the development of cross-border efforts. The so-called “triple helix” appears thus to be unbalanced, with strong public sector involvement but a weaker role for the other two legs, the private sector and higher education/training sector. To address this, InterTradelreland uses its convening power to bring triple helix partners together and to co-develop programmes.

Higher education and research establishments and firms can therefore play a greater role in innovation in the cross-border area. The main barriers for cross-border linkages among research and technology centres and with companies are: the lack of information on the potential available on the other side of the border and the weak internal incentives for cross-border collaboration. For universities, differences in arrangements for intellectual property, technology transfer management and the organisation of academic studies remain important hurdles for cross-border co-operation in technology transfer and education. For scientific collaboration, their vision is on a global scale. The limited degree of openness of innovation-active companies further hampers the development of cross-border partnerships for innovation.

Table 7.5. Snapshot of the rationale and relevance for cross-border collaboration: Ireland-Northern Ireland (United Kingdom)



Relevance for cross-border co-operation (strong, moderate, weak, not present)

Economies of scale

Combine resources for efficiency of investment, larger labour markets or access to wider business and knowledge networks to increase critical mass; often used to overcome peripherality


Political recognition

Increase the recognition and strengths of areas that are far from capitals to better negotiate and compete for resources from higher levels of government



Build on diversity of assets in terms of research, technology and economic base, as well as supply chain linkages



Increase internal recognition of the cross-border area as well as its external attractiveness to firms and skilled labour


Border challenges

Address the day-to-day challenges associated with flows of people, goods, and services (including public services) across the border


Note: The assessment of relevance relates to the actual relevance in current cross-border collaboration, not necessarily to the potential relevance.

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