Ireland-Northern Ireland cross-border innovation policy mix

There are several publicly funded instruments and initiatives acting on a cross-border basis and an all-island scale. Individual initiatives by different organisations are not tracked and therefore difficult to estimate. The main public instruments are managed by InterTradeIreland, but there are other noteworthy programmes with a cross-border dimension:

• InterTradeIreland delivers a range of company support programmes for cross-border trade and innovation, which are all working cross-border by design and funded by Irish and Northern Ireland authorities, with a total annual budget for programmes of around EUR 8.5 million. [1]

Table 7.6. Snapshot of governance characteristics: Ireland-Northern Ireland (United Kingdom)

(Ireland-Northern Ireland in bold)




National political capitals

Yes, each side Yes, at least one


Dublin is the capital city of Ireland. Belfast is the capital city of the Northern Ireland region, but is located far from the UK capital of London.

Longevity of public co-operation

>20 years 10-20 years

<10 years

Formal cross-border activities for innovation, notably through InterTradeIreland, began after the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement of 1998.

Innovation policy competencies

Balanced, strong Balanced, weak Unbalanced

Many decisions for innovation-related instruments are under the remit of the two jurisdictions. While Northern Ireland has a notable degree of autonomy within the United Kingdom as a devolved administration, it does not manage the full range of instruments as is the case in Ireland with full powers in innovation policy.

Political commitment

Balanced, strong

Balanced, weak Unbalanced

Strong political commitment exists at a very high level in the Ireland, Northern Ireland and the UK governments, due to the unique political and historical circumstances.

Institutionalisation and legitimacy

Present, strong Present, weak Not present

InterTradeIreland is the dedicated institution responsible for the promotion of business development and co-operation on a cross-border basis. This is a unique asset for a cross-border area.

Actors in governance

Public sector

University/research actors Firms

Mix of actors (triple helix)

The strong public commitment has not yet been matched by as strong a bottom-up engagement from universities or firms.

Funding sources

Mainly public Mixed public/private Mainly private

InterTradeIreland, as well as bodies responsible for EU funds in the two jurisdictions, finance these efforts. Some additional resources from the constituent entities for a specific programme (for example Innovation Vouchers) or a multi-lateral R&D programme with the United States also provide public finds. Private co-financing for participation in InterTradeIreland programmes is generally 50%, but often lower in the case of European Territorial Co-operation programmes.

There is a broad base of joint actions in the cross-border innovation policy mix. This is unusual for cross-border areas and is due to the presence of a dedicated agency. Experimentation is supported by both InterTradeIreland but also European Territorial Co-operation projects that address the immediate border area. Most of these projects tend to be fully publicly funded: this situation creates a difficulty to ensure full adequacy of projects to firm needs, additionality and sustainability after the public funding period. Alignment of policies, such as for the Innovation Voucher programme, is an example of the utility of incorporating the cross-border dimension into respective jurisdiction programmes where relevant. The importance of greater bottom-up engagement of firms, higher education institutions and other intermediaries needs to be further promoted.

The use and effectiveness of instruments implemented, notably by InterTradeIreland, demonstrate that there is a potential for innovation-oriented co-operation on the island. Given the large number of universities, institutes of technology and public research institutions on both sides, opportunities for research co-operation to reach critical mass do exist. Cross-border company networks and clusters in common areas of expertise are also part of the largely untapped opportunities. One more option for new cross-border cooperation relates to the promotion of multinational corporation engagement in innovation partnerships across the island.

Table 7.7. Cross-border policy instruments: Ireland-Northern Ireland (United Kingdom)



(Budget amounts annual figures, ITI=InterTradeIreland)

Strategy and policy development

Benchmarking and policy learning

  • - I TI supports this task to a certain extent by bringing together both jurisdictions in its Board
  • - Steering groups on public procurement and FP7/Horizon2020

Analytical exercise (like mapping of clusters or value chains, technology foresight exercises)

- First-stop shop line, advisory guide, market reports, statistics and studies on cross-border trade and innovation (ITI)

Joint branding of cross-border area


R&D support

Joint public research programmes

  • - US-Ireland R&D Partnership Programme: single proposal/peer review for collaborative research across three jurisdictions (multi-national competitive process: EUR approx. 3.5 million per year, average annual budget since 2006)
  • - EU Framework Programme preparation: advice, information and funds for preparatory steps to participation (ITI)

Joint research infrastructure, shared access to research facilities


Cross-border private R&D funding programmes (generic and thematic)

- Innova: funding for private collaborative R&D (ITI: EUR 1.7 million)

Technology transfer and innovation support

Cross-border innovation advisory services (vouchers, intermediaries)

  • - Fusion: partnership between SME and higher education institutions through graduate placement (ITI: EUR 3 million)
  • - Challenge: coaching and mentoring programme for SMEs to raise their innovation capabilities (ITI; EUR 0.15 million; all-island)
  • - All-island innovation programme: conferences and events on innovation, in partnership with universities
  • - Interreg funds sometimes used for this instrument

Advisory to spin-off and knowledge-intensive start-ups


Other technology transfer centres and extension programmes


S&T parks and innovation networks

Cross-border science, technology parks and incubators

- Interreg funds sometimes used for this instrument

Cluster or network initiatives

- Interreg funds sometimes used for this instrument

Human capital

Scholarships/student exchanges


Joint university or other higher education programmes

  • - Universities Ireland: exchange of policy and other information
  • - Innovation Academy: for entrepreneurship courses among doctoral students at universities on both sides (run by Trinity College Dublin, University College Dublin and Queen’s University, Belfast)

Talent attraction, retention or mobility scheme; cross-border labour market assistance


Other instruments

Financing (venture capital funds or angel networks)

  • - HALO/HBAN: Business angel programme based on business angel syndicates across the island; on the basis that this provides more critical mass and allows the development of more focused expertise through specialised syndicates (e.g. in Medtech) (ITI: EUR 0.4 million)
  • - Equity network and seedcorn business competition: support for companies to secure venture capital funding, business competition (ITI: EUR 0.82 million)

Public procurement

- Go2T ender: support for public procurement by SMEs (ITI)


- Innovation awards: a public-private partnership between ITI and the Irish Times to increase awareness of innovation. The Irish Times is a daily broadsheet newspaper that is circulated in Ireland and Northern Ireland

  • [1] The Innovation Vouchers scheme is a shared programme between Invest NorthernIreland and Enterprise Ireland, with a EUR 4 million annual budget. • The US-Ireland R&D Partnership programme promotes joint research activities.The programme is supported by research funding bodies in each of thethree jurisdictions. The average annual budget since 2006 has been aroundEUR 3.5 million. InterTradeIreland plays the role of facilitator. • European Territorial Co-operation (Interreg), including also Western Scotland,funds some innovation-oriented projects, with an annual average ofEUR 3.7 million during the latest seven-year programming period.
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