13 Nov 2019, 10.30

The Joint Committee on Business, Enterprise and Innovation is today recommending Ireland seek associate membership of CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, as soon as possible. (It is necessary to join as an associate member before a country can move towards full membership.)

In its report launched today, The Case for Irish Membership of CERN, the Committee says that associate membership would bring scientific benefits and direct economic returns for Ireland.

In 2015, the then Government published Innovation 2020, Ireland’s five-year strategy on research and development, science and technology, which identified four international research bodies that Ireland would benefit from joining: CERN; the European Southern Observatory; ELIXIR – an intergovernmental organisation that brings together life science resources from across Europe; and the Low Frequency Array (LOFAR) – an international network of telescopes used to observe the Universe at low radio frequencies.

Committee Chair Mary Butler TD said: “We have since joined three of the four bodies with CERN the only one Ireland is yet to join. Currently, Ireland is one of only three European countries that do not have any formal agreement with CERN. Innovation 2020’s vision is for Ireland to be a global innovation leader driving a strong sustainable economy and a better society. If Ireland is to deliver on this vision, membership of organisations such as CERN, which are at the forefront of innovation, is critical.”

The Committee believes membership of CERN would provide Ireland with scientific benefits, including being at the forefront of innovation in a number of sectors, including manufacture of microelectronics, sensors and big data. Membership would also bring benefits in terms of knowledge transfer and international collaboration, the report outlines.

Deputy Butler added: “While concerns have been raised that Ireland may not be in a position to take advantage of all the potential benefits of membership of CERN, the Committee believes that joining CERN even as an associate member would create an environment that would encourage Irish researchers and businesses to take maximum advantage of these opportunities. The Committee has made a number of observations and recommends that negotiations start with CERN regarding associate membership as soon as possible.”

The Committee heard that the cost of full membership of CERN, which is determined by a country’s GDP, would currently be in the region of €12.5 million per year. There would also be a once-off payment of €15.6 million. If Ireland were to join as an associate member, the minimum contribution would be 10 per cent of the full membership fee, in the region of €1.25 million per year.

However, the Committee was also told by a number of witnesses that a 10 per cent contribution may be too low and that it would be preferable to join if the investment were in the region of 20 or 30 per cent. The return for Ireland would be capped at the amount contributed. There is no cap on return for full members.

Committee Observations

  • The Committee notes that membership of CERN would allow:
    • Irish based companies to compete for CERN contracts;
    • Irish citizens to apply for positions at CERN;
    • Irish students at all levels to access CERN training programmes.
  • The Committee notes and emphasises that the benefits of CERN are not limited to the direct financial return from CERN but include the benefits that would arise from the discoveries and advances made at CERN.
  • The Committee notes the significant advantage membership of CERN could have in attracting young people towards STEM subjects.
  • The Committee is of the opinion that the cost of joining CERN as an associate member does not appear to be prohibitive, and that there are options to pay the additional joining fee, for full membership, over a number of years. 

Committee Recommendations

  • The Committee recommends that negotiations start with CERN immediately with a view to Ireland becoming an associate member as soon as possible.
  • The Committee recommends that after three years as an associate member of CERN, the Department conduct a cost-benefit analysis of Ireland’s associate membership of CERN and assess whether there is a case to be made for moving towards full membership.
  • The Committee recommends that efforts should be made to fund the annual fee for associate membership of CERN from within the Business, Enterprise and Innovation Vote.

Established in 1954 and based outside Geneva in Switzerland, CERN is one of the world’s premier scientific laboratories. Its primary focus is on particle physics, but it also plays a vital role in developing the technology of tomorrow. Discoveries and developments at CERN helped develop technologies now found in MRI machines and radiation therapy in hospitals, touch-screens and the world wide web. There are currently 23 full members of CERN, with two additional countries in pre-stage to full membership, while a number of other countries have associate membership or observer status.

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