The Government should appoint a dedicated junior minister for small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) to develop policy in the area.

That is one of the key recommendations in a new report about how best to support SMEs, compiled by the Seanad Public Consultation Committee.

The report also calls for entrepreneurial education in primary schools and specific supports for female entrepreneurs, including a national strategy.

Capital gains tax rates and reliefs should be reviewed and improved, it says, to make them more helpful to small businesses and bring them in-line with international norms.

Collaboration, cohesion and communication among the various organisations and bodies delivering supports and initiatives to SMEs should also be promoted and encouraged it states.

A task force should also be created to develop a detailed coordinated strategy for the creation and growth of SMEs in traditional sectors, it recommends.

The report was produced following consultation with 93 key stakeholders and extensive research in the sector.

The study identifies both the opportunities and challenges experienced by Irish SMEs, and highlights relevant successful policies in other countries.

Among the challenges identified by the committee are Brexit, the recruitment of staff, increases in the cost of doing business and the tax system, which it was claimed puts smaller businesses at a disadvantage.

The rising costs of rent, insurance and rates, difficulties in accessing credit, and ongoing delays in rolling out the National Broadband Plan are also mentioned.

The report says the SME sector is the backbone of the economy, with firms operating across a wide range of sectors.

Although there has been a clear national industrial policy of attracting inward investment in targeted high-tech and emerging sectors for over five decades, it says, a coherent and comprehensive strategy on Irish SME development has been lacking.

"As a sector, it is a diverse and vibrant, and accounts for over 99% of active enterprises in Ireland and over one million employees," said Committee Chair, Senator Paul Coghlan.

"SMEs are the main source of jobs in the Irish economy and it is important that our Government and Parliament do everything possible to support a sector which is such a key source of employment."

Other recommendations contained in the report include the development of a national tool that captures data on talent and skills needs.

It also suggests that an online portal of information on professional or vocational training abroad that equates to the Irish education system be created, in order to assist in hiring skilled foreign workers.

Senator Coghlan said he hopes the recommendations will be taken on board by the Government.

Senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh, rapporteur of the Public Consultation Committee on Small and Medium-sized Business in Ireland, said: "The overall aim of this Seanad Public Consultation Committee process was to create the basis for an integrated national strategy proposal document supporting the fostering, growth and sustainability of indigenous Irish SME's in becoming a solid foundation for the long-term success of the Irish economy and our people."