The difficult times that Ireland has found itself in as a result of the recession have required a great deal of belt-tightening, with every citizen required to do his or her part towards reviving the ailing economy.
As well as protecting Ireland’s interests on the seas, the Irish Naval service is aiming to add to its public service by turning itself into a “knowledge institution” and engaging in maritime research through the MERC³ initiative, which will research ways in which Ireland can harness the huge potential offered by its marine resources.
The Marine and Energy Research Campus and Commercial Cluster, a joint venture between the Naval Service, University College Cork, and Cork Institute of Technology, is a new campus for research into the marine and ocean energy sectors, located in Ringaskiddy, adjacent to the National Maritime College of Ireland and the Irish Naval Service headquarters.
The initiative came about when Commodore Mark Mellett, now Flag Officer in Command of the Naval Service, the head of the Irish Naval Service, alongside partners in UCC and CIT, began looking at, “a number of niche areas that were important in the context the national interest; technology in the maritime domain, the whole opportunity in terms of renewable energy, and issues such as maritime security, shipping and transport."
They came to the conclusion that there were, “quite a few strands of potentially important research areas that the state wasn’t quite pursuing in a coherent manner," according to Commodore Mellett.
After, “joining all the dots together,” the concept of a creation, initially of a campus and then of a cluster was born, and MERC³ was launched in March 2011.
In joining up with the two academic institutions, the Naval Service brings a wealth of experience as the largest professional maritime institution in the State to the consortium.
“I could see clearly that I would never be able to compete in the context of large aircraft carriers or large submarines or Tomahawk missile deploying ships, but what I could compete with was the common resource which is most critical to every organisation and every navy and that’s people.
"We could actually transform the people of the navy in terms of their smartness and the key to that is education and training.
“By pursuing this concept we are first of all satisfying the agenda of developing the navy into a knowledge institution, but also we have the added benefit in terms of relevance to society, of serving as a stimulant for the maritime economy."
Part of the work done in the MERC³ campus is the provision of resources to small and medium enterprises in the maritime sector. Among the companies collaborating with the Naval Service are SEFtec, who deal in maritime safety and firefighting safety, and Cathx Ocean, who develop specialist underwater lighting.
A major focus point for the MERC³ campus will be renewable energies like wave and tidal power and also offshore wind power. The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland has predicted that up to 52,000 jobs could be created in Ireland in the area of wave power by 2030, and Cdre. Mellett is quick to stress the role that could be played by the Naval Service in achieving this target.
“Ireland sits just approximate to the richest source of wave energy in the world, and already we have six of the top renewable energy device companies [such as Wavebob.] Their prototypes are most likely to drive the first generation of productive wave energy devices.
“The whole knowledge in the domain in terms of the anchoring arrangements, the siting, the marine spatial planning, the governance aspects, the legal aspects, the security aspects, they’re all areas in which the navy has competence and expertise.
“By working with the companies who are actually going to be involved in the placement of these wave farms, there is a huge opportunity for the navy to act as a public good in terms of future
renewable energy infrastructure.”
Although the Irish Naval Service will never lay claim to the largest warships or the greatest arsenal, Cdre. Mellett is determined that in developing it as a “knowledge institution”, the Irish
Navy will use its human capital to provide the greatest benefit to Ireland’s people through aiding its economy.
“The national recovery plan has put an onus on us all to actually be innovative and smart in terms of how we use resources that are becoming difficult to fund. In the navy, we’ve clearly
identified the centre of gravity of the enemy is the economic deficit. So any way we can attack the economic deficit, and one way to attack that is to create jobs.
“I’m confident that in the very near future the first foreign direct investment client will be announcing jobs as part of the MERC³ initiative, and that’s proof that the concept is right because that will actually start creating real jobs from a concept that is being driven by education and public sector institutions.
“The navy’s ultimate vision is to be the smartest, most innovative and responsive naval service provider in the world. We don’t want to be the second smartest or the third smartest, and
it goes back to the original point, the key piece of the navy in terms of it’s future is its people, so if we can have smart people who are actually doing smart things with technology, we can do a lot
more with less.”
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