The Government has, for years, teased the notion that Ireland was edging closer to becoming a member of CERN, the European organisation for nuclear research and operator of the famous Large Hadron Collider.

However, nothing has come to pass for Ireland and it is now one of only three European countries without some type of agreement with the organisation.

Last month, the Oireachtas Committee on Business, Enterprise and Innovation recommended immediate plans for CERN membership after hearing the findings of a report putting forward the case.

“Innovation 2020’s vision is for Ireland to be a global innovation leader driving a strong sustainable economy and a better society,” Mary Butler, TD, wrote in the report’s forward. “If Ireland is to deliver on this vision, membership of organisations such as CERN, which are at the forefront of innovation, is critical.”

The report’s authors called on the Government to immediately apply for membership, with the cost to the State of full membership coming in at €12.5m per year – a figure determined by a country’s GDP.

However, Ireland would initially have to join as an associate member for two to five years. If Ireland were to join as an associate member, the minimum contribution would be around €1.25m per year. Ireland can only be an associate member for a maximum of five years, and the transition to full membership would require a one-off payment of around €15.6m.

Three direct benefits
The authors of the report said there would be three direct returns from membership for Ireland’s academic and business sectors.

The first would be training and placements for Irish university students, teachers, scientists, engineers and computer scientists. The second would be Irish academics gaining access to fellowships and staff positions at CERN. The final return would be a significant boost to Ireland’s sci-tech companies through CERN contracts.

“Around 20 Irish companies currently have contracts with CERN,” the report said. “However, as CERN prioritises companies from its member countries, Irish companies are at a competitive disadvantage.”

It added that CERN contracts are not just limited to sci-tech companies, but also in areas such as accountancy and translation services, as well as food producers for its campus restaurants.

TU Dublin was one of a number of academic organisations to welcome the report, with its president Prof David FitzPatrick commenting: “The benefits of membership will enable Ireland to be at the forefront of the technologies that are emerging from the scientific research underway at CERN. These technologies will be influential in the future development of a wide range of industries.”

Colm Gorey
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