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Got an idea for the future of science in Ireland?

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The Creating Our Future initiative is seeking 10,000 ideas on which to base Ireland’s next science and research agenda.

The Government of Ireland is hosting a ‘national brainstorm’ to guide the future of science and research in the country.

First announced last month, a nationwide conversation about research and innovation has officially kicked off today (28 July) at CreatingOurFuture.ie.

The online portal aims to collect 10,000 ideas from a broad section of the Irish public. It will be open for submissions from now until the end of November.

‘Nobody has a monopoly on good ideas’
– SIMON HARRIS, TD

“Covid-19 has highlighted, like never before, the vital role that research has played in mitigating challenges facing the country,” said Minister for Research, Innovation and Science Simon Harris, TD. “But we have many more challenges and opportunities that research rigour and analytical excellence can help us with to build a better future for Ireland.”

Harris added: “Good ideas and curiosity are the starting point for most research, and nobody has a monopoly on good ideas. So, we are asking everyone to submit that idea that they have been thinking about, or have a conversation with their neighbours, host an event with a researcher or in your local community to think about what might make a difference and let us know.”

Events will be held across the country until the Creating Our Future ideas portal closes, inviting and encouraging citizens and communities to engage with the project.

The national initiative is itself an idea borrowed from similar efforts in other countries. A key inspiration was a programme driven by FWO, the Flanders research foundation. Launched in the spring of 2018, its Question for Science campaign received 10,559 responses, and has returned answers to more than 1,500.

These questions formed the basis of the Flemish Science Agenda, a strategy for science and innovation that is built on societal issues and citizens’ curiosity. Questions asked of FWO included ‘What is the effect of the 24-hour economy on psychological health?’ and ‘How can we avoid war and violence?’.

The Irish effort is hoped to deepen relationships between the Irish science community and the public it serves, and the resounding call from organisers is for all to participate.

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“This is an important opportunity to contribute to shaping future research. I encourage everyone to get involved,” said Taoiseach Micheál Martin, TD.

“This isn’t for any one section of society, we want to engage everyone in conversations in communities across the country, to inspire curiosity and generate ideas for research that will shape our future.”

All responses submitted to the portal will be collated and shared with an independent expert panel of researchers and civil society leaders.

There is also a Creating Our Future advisory forum chaired by Nokia Bell Labs global head of external collaboration programmes, Julie Byrne. In this role, Byrne brings researchers together for collaborative work and she herself has almost 30 years’ experience in engineering, tech and research.

“Over the coming months we will have many conversations about research across the country to gather ideas from our communities that research can tackle to create a better future for all of us,” she said. “I encourage everyone to get involved so that we capture ideas from all communities across the country.”

The results of the campaign will be published in a report by the end of 2021. This will go on to inform Ireland’s future strategy for research, innovation, science and technology.

Previously, Science Foundation Ireland’s director of science for society called on Irish citizens join a mass public debate about lessons learned throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dr Ruth Freeman spoke at Future Human in 2020 about the importance of including the voice of the public in shaping the future of science.

“Giving people more of a say in their future is clearly the right and democratic thing to do, and it might just make for better science as well,” she said.

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Irish payroll tech company BrightPay merges with UK’s Relate

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The two companies will get funding from investor Hg to hire more employees and innovate new technologies across Ireland and the UK.

Irish payroll management tech company BrightPay has announced a merger with London-based accounting software company Relate Software in a bid to integrate services for SMEs across the two islands.

Based in Co Meath, BrightPay has been operating in Ireland for more than 25 years and employs more than 70 people in the country. It provides payroll software services to more than 330,000 employers in Ireland and the UK.

Upon merging, BrightPay CEO Paul Byrne and Relate co-founder and CEO Ray Rogers will remain investors and become co-CEOs of the new entity. The other co-founders of each company will also continue to invest in the new business and develop products.

Byrne said that Relate’s track record in the sector will help them become the leading service for many businesses and accountancy firms.

Private equity investor Hg, which focuses on software and service businesses in Europe and North America, will become the majority investor in the combined business. “Their deep sector knowledge has proven invaluable to us and will be instrumental in fuelling the further growth of BrightPay/Relate,” Byrne added.

New hires and technologies

The merger will benefit from the combination of BrightPay’s expertise in payroll software with Relate’s experience in accountancy management tech. Together with Hg, the new business will invest in new technologies such as cloud and automation to improve their services.

Rogers, founder and CEO of Relate, said: “Combining products from both businesses will provide a compelling offering for our customers, with the scope and backing for further innovation and development.

“I’m looking forward to working with Paul and am also excited to welcome Hg, a leading software investor with a track record of supporting growth in Irish software businesses.”

While details of the transactions have not been disclosed, the combined business will have more than 190 employees with plans to hire more people across Ireland and the UK.

“Both BrightPay and Relate are very highly regarded businesses and champions in their field,” said Jonathan Boyes, Hector Guinness and Thomas Martin of Hg in a joint statement. “The two companies bring together core operational strengths whilst also unlocking a high-quality, complementary suite of products to a newly combined customer base.”

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New UK broadband rules will make it easier to switch supplier | Broadband

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The UK media regulator, Ofcom, has introduced a new service to make it easier for customers to switch broadband supplier to get a better deal.

Ofcom hopes the new process, One Touch Switch, will encourage people to seek out better deals after research found that more than two-fifths of people were put off switching broadband suppliers because of the hassle.

People can already switch between providers that use Openreach’s broadband network – such as BT, Sky and TalkTalk – through a process requiring a customer to only contact their new supplier.

However, until now customers looking to change networks or technologies – such as between Virgin Media’s network and a provider on Openreach or other smaller networks such as Hyperoptic or CityFibre – had to deal with both the new and old supplier simultaneously.

Ofcom research found that a quarter of customers making such a switch faced attempts by their provider to stop them. The One Touch Switch process aims to eliminate these issues, including customers having to sort out the end and start dates of their old and new services.

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“Household finances are strained at the moment, so switching broadband provider could help keep your bills down,” said Lindsey Fussell, the network and communications group director at Ofcom. “We’re making it as easy as possible for you to break up with your broadband provider and take advantage of the deals on offer.”

Ofcom said the new rules will also mean that suppliers will have to compensate customers if they are left without internet for more than one working day during a switch. All suppliers must introduce Ofcom’s new simplified switching process by April 2023.

The regulator has introduced a range of measures in recent years to make sure customers have access to the best deals. These include cracking down on the so-called “loyalty penalty” by which customers who stick with their broadband, mobile or pay-TV supplier are not offered the same discount deals as new customers.

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India, Japan flex cyber-defence muscles as China seethes • The Register

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India and Japan have each flexed their cyber-defence muscles in ways that China can’t miss.

Japan’s flex was the Monday launch of a national cyber-security policy that for the first time names China, Russia, and North Korea as sources of heightened threat. The policy also calls for Japan’s Self Defence Force to increase its digital capabilities.

The new plan was released as expected under Japan’s policy of refreshing its defensive plans every three years. The theme for the policy is “Cybersecurity for all” and chief cabinet secretary Katsunobu Kato said its aim is to ensure that no part of Japanese society goes without the protections it needs.

Kato said the plan was also developed because Japan’s government “recognised a threat” and therefore a need to strengthen its online defences. The policy documents list many recent infosec incidents – such as the attack on SolarWinds and Microsoft’s Exchange flaw – as the sort of thing Japan needs to counter.

India’s flex came from vice-president M. Venkaiah Naidu, who on Monday visited a military museum and remarked that India’s security forces should “prepare themselves to dominate not only in a conventional war but also establish their superiority in the new and emerging areas of conflict such as information and cyber warfare along with the increasing use of robotics and drones in the battlefield”.

“The nation is assured that any misadventure by an adversary will be given a befitting reply by the Indian Army,” Naidu said.

While the position of vice-president is largely ceremonial – the officeholder is backup to the head of state, but actual power resides with Parliament – Naidu’s words have weight. Doubly so as he stated India faces “both symmetric and asymmetric threats from outside and within” and then asserted India’s sovereignty over Jammu & Kashmir and argued that previous arrangements that gave the territory autonomy were temporary.

Mentioning Jammu & Kashmir is significant, as the disputed India/China border is in the territory. The territory is also the subject of a dispute with Pakistan.

Kashmiri separatists, which India labels Pakistan-supported terrorists, and China, will all have noticed the veep urging India to arm itself in the kinetic and digital realms.

China has certainly noticed last week’s meeting of “The Quad” – the grouping of Australia, the USA, Japan, and India – and its announcement of plans to develop infosec standards it hopes the world will follow.

China’s foreign ministry has labelled The Quad a “closed and exclusive clique” informed by “outdated Cold War zero-sum mentality and ideological bias”.

Spokesperson Hua Chunying addressed the issue at a press conference in response to a question from Russian news agency TASS. “For some time, these countries have been keen on insinuating China with the so-called ‘rules-based order’, playing up and inciting the so-called ‘China threat’ theory, and driving a wedge between regional countries and China.”

Te actions of Japan and India actions suggest the wedge is working. ®

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