Review of Irish Membership of International Research Organisations

We have been commissioned to investigate the following International Research bodies and examine the case for Irish membership.  Given that there are budgetary constraints it is not possible to be a member of all of them. So some choices may be necessary. 
If you would like to contribute to the debate please send us an email at: 


a.       Current memberships

COST - European Co-operation in the field of Scientific and Technical Research .
Click for more information: COST

EMBL - European Molecular Biology Laboratory.  Click for more information: EMBL

EMBC - European Molecular Biology Conference. Click for more information:EMBO

ESA - European Space Agency.  Click for more information: ESA

EUREKA - an intergovernmental network to satimulate applied research collaboration between European companies. Click for more information: Eureka

b. International research organisations Ireland which are currently operating and which Ireland is not a member include the following:

CERN – European Organisation for Nuclear Research, operating particle accelerators and detectors in Geneva, Switzerland, enabling the study of the basic constituents of matter.  Click for more information: CERN

ESO – European Southern Observatory, with headquarters in Garching, near Munich, Germany, operating a suite of the world's most advanced ground-based astronomical telescopes in Chile.  Click for more information: ESO

ESRF – European Synchotron Radiation Facility, an x-ray light source facility, in Grenoble, France. Click for more information:  ESRF

ILL – Institut Laue-Langevin, an international research centre, in Grenoble, France operating one of the most intense neutron sources in the world.  Click for more information: ILL 

 c.   A number of other international research projects that are under development including:

CTACherenkov Telescope Array measures gamma-rays that provide a window to the discovery of the nature and constituents of dark matter.  Click for more information:  CTA

ELIXIR –its goal is to orchestrate the collection, quality control and archiving of large amounts of biological data produced by life science experiments. Click for more information:  ELIXIR

ESS – European Spallation Source, a high-power neutron facility being built at Lund, Sweden.
Click for more information:  ESS

LOFAR – Low Frequency Array, an array of radio telescopes being constructed in Europe; an Irish component is being proposed for location at Birr, Co. Offally. Click for more information:  LOFAR

SKA –the Square Kilometre Array, a very large radio telescope system with facilities being built in Australia, Africa and other locationsClick for more information:  SKA


 Short Summary on the IROs

COST - Framework for European Collaboration in S&T   (Ireland is a member)

 COST is a long-established EU framework for supporting transnational research cooperation. Researchers in any of the 36 Member countries can participate in COST ACTIONS, which are networks around a particular theme. These COST Actions, of which there are over 300, are classified into 10 scientific domains, which cover the entire research spectrum, including: Biomedicine, Food, Forestry, Materials, Chemistry, Earth Systems, ICT, Transport and Social Sciences. COST does not fund the research conducted within these actions, but it does fund the ‘networking tools’ required to support the collaboration process. The eligible costs include partner meetings, workshops, conferences, training schools, short-term scientific missions (STSMs) and dissemination activities.

The main benefit of participating in COST is the opportunity for Irish researchers to join international networks of peer researchers, working on topics of mutual interest. COST actions are open to all organisations, public or industry and also open to researchers at all career stages. The actions are proposed by member countries and must have a minimum participation of five COST Countries. They typically have a four-year duration. Consortia formed for COST actions often go on to make applications to research funding programmes such as Horizon 2020.

Cost of Irish membership:  is linked to Horizon 2020 and its budget comes largely from this source. Spending on each COST action per member country is approx. €5k - €6k per annum.   Ireland contributed €33,000 in 2014.

Further information is at:

European Molecular Biology Laboratory - EMBL     (Ireland is a member)

The European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) was established in 1974 to strengthen basic research in molecular life sciences in Europe. It has 21 member states and several associate members. It is a prestigious Research Institute which also offers associated services to member country researchers. EMBL has 1400 research and admin staff at Heidelberg and 4 other sites around Europe. The main research themes are:

  • Cell Biology and Biophysics
  • Developmental Biology
  • Genome Biology
  • Structural and Computational Biology
  • Bioinformatics

Opportunities for Irish researchers from EMBL include:

  • participation in research collaboration as a partner in EMBL projects, or as a post-grad or post-doc researcher in EMBL labs.
  • training of scientists and students through courses, conferences and workshops.
    • access to, and training on, advanced instrumentation including, advanced microscopy, Chemical biology, Flow cytometry, Transgenics, Protein expression and purification and ‘omics’.
    • Access to a range of bio-informatic services through the European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI),

EMBL also develops and patents new technologies which are licensed through their affiliate company Emblem. Interaction with EMBL is facilitated in each member state through Alumni Associations. Ireland is represented on the EMBL board by SFI.

The cost of Irish membership:  €1.15m. per annum.

Further information:

European Molecular Biology Organisation - EMBO     (Ireland is a member)

The European Molecular Biology Organisation (EMBO) is the implementation agency for The European Molecular Biology Conference (EMBC) - an inter-governmental organization established to promote and support molecular biology in Europe. EMBO is run by leading life scientists (and currently has over 1700 members) who guide the services funded by EMBC and executed by EMBO.

The EMBC / EMBO activities include a disparate range of education and training, awareness-raising and publishing activities in all areas of molecular biology. They include:

  • Long-term Fellowships (500 post-doctoral fellows/ year).
  • Short-term Fellowships (200 short-term graduate and post-graduate fellows/year).
  • Young Investigator Programme which helps new researchers to set up their laboratories. 250 scientists have been supported since 2000.
  • Courses, Workshops, Symposia and Lecture Programmes. Funds 75 events per year; and approximately 8,000 scientists participate.
  • Science Policy Programme: Developing a coordinated European life science research policy
  • Publishing Scientific publications: EMBO Journal, EMBO reports, Molecular Systems Biology and EMBO Molecular Medicine.    Among the top 30 scientific publications in their field.
  • Other special programmes on Women in Science; Strategic Development Installation Grants (to support new research labs in peripheral countries).

The cost of Irish membership:  €210,000 per annum.

Further information:

European Space Agency      (Ireland is a member)

The European Space Agency (ESA) is an international organisation with 20 European Member States.  Its mission is to shape the development of Europe’s space capability and ensure that investment in space continues to deliver benefits to the citizens of Europe.  It does so by using the financial and intellectual resources of its members to undertake programmes and activities which would be beyond the scope of any single European country.   ESA's purpose is to support and promote cooperation in space research and technology and their space applications.  ESA develops the launchers, spacecraft and ground facilities needed to keep Europe at the forefront of global space activities. ESA's programmes are designed to find out more about Earth, its immediate space environment, our Solar System and the Universe, as well as to develop satellite-based technologies and services, and to promote European industries.  ESA also works closely with space organisations outside Europe.

ESA's headquarters are in Paris which is where policies and programmes are decided. ESA also has 7 operational sites in different EU countries, each of which has different responsibilities (e.g.  tracking,  technology, astronauts etc)  ESA also has a launch base in French Guiana and ground/tracking stations in various parts of the world.

The ESA research programmes consist of core programmes to which all members contribute, and also optional programmes in which member countries can participate if they wish.  These programmes are

Cost of Irish membership:   €17.3m  per annum

Further information from:


European Organisation for Nuclear Research - CERN    (Ireland is not a Member)

CERN is the world’s premier physics laboratory whose primary mission is to understand the fundamental nature of the universe. Its work is directly relevant to Theoretical physics but has proven application and relevance in sensor technology, microelectronics, computing and health, materials engineering, and imaging atomic structures. CERN operates the world’s most powerful particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), which records particle collisions for physics analysis. CERN’s Antiproton Decelerator (AD) is an ‘antimatter factory’ – serves atomic physics experiments that measure the properties of antimatter. The ISOLDE Facility for the production and study of radioactive nuclei uses radioisotopes to produce better semiconductor materials by studying doping, diffusion, and radiation damage, and to investigate materials for use in spintronics.

The benefits of Membership of CERN would be that Ireland would be more centrally involved in the management of CERN activities. This could enhance the opportunity for Irish researchers to participate in CERN scientific programmes, fellowships (150/year), doctoral programmes (~45/year), technical student programme (120-140 people per year in IT and engineering) training programmes, educational outreach programmes for schools and for student training, and also the opportunity for Irish researchers to work directly in CERN, which employs about 2,500 staff.

Founded in 1954, the CERN laboratory was one of Europe's first joint ventures and now has 21 country members. Members contribute to the capital and operating costs of CERN programmes, and are represented on a governing council. Full membership fees (based on GDP) would be approx €10m per annum. Associate membership is also available.

Cost of Irish membership:  approx €10-11m per year (based on GDP). Part-time membership, is available for €1m per annum. 

Further information at:

European Southern Observatory - ESO    (Ireland is not a member)

 The European Organisation for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere, usually abbreviated to European Southern Observatory (ESO), is an inter-governmental organisation with 15 Member States. It operates astronomical observing facilities and promotes cooperation in astronomical research. ESO Headquarters (& technical/administrative centre) is in Germany and its 3 observatory facilities are in Chile:

  • The La Silla site has optical telescopes, including the world's foremost extrasolar planet hunter- HARPS (High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher), a spectrograph with unrivalled precision.
  • The Paranal site hosts the Very Large Telescope array (VLT)- the flagship facility of European astronomy.
  • The Atacama site hosts the Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array (ALMA) - the largest ground-based astronomy project in existence.

The Scientific fields and applications of ESO activities include Astrophysics, fibre lasers, dynamic scheduling software, data archiving/ mining, and automated data reduction pipelines, and optics.

Membership benefits include access to ESO facilities, data, expertise and partnering opportunities; training and school outreach; and Fellowships.

Cost of Irish membership: approx. €1.6m per annum plus a once-off fee of ~ €13.1m. (based on GDP)

Further info at:

European Synchrotron Radiation Facility - ESRF         (Ireland is not a member)

ESRF is a research facility jointly supported by 20 countries and located in Grenoble, France. It employs 600 people and hosts ~ 3500 visiting scientists each year. A synchrotron produces many beams of bright X-ray light which are used to illuminate and interact with samples of material being studied. There are 10 synchrotrons in Europe but ESRF is the most powerful synchrotron radiation source. ESRF Research focuses on the use of its X-ray radiation in fields as diverse as protein crystallography, earth science, palaeontology, materials science, chemistry and physics.

In addition to its own research, ESRF also provides visiting scientists with access (‘beam-time’) to its X-ray source for their research. It provides a flux, energy range and resolution unachievable with conventional laboratory radiation sources.

The ESRF research and services are relevant to fields such as Chemistry, Physics, Materials Science, Biology, Geosciences, Meteorology and Anthropology and are used by a wide variety of industrial sectors including: pharmaceuticals, consumer products, petrochemicals and microelectronics. The facility shares a physical site with 2 other Organisations in this survey - the neutron source Institut Laue-Langevin (ILL) and the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL).

Cost of Irish membership: Still to be determined

Further information:

Institut Laue Langevin - ILL   (Ireland is not a member)

Institut Laue Langevin provides scientists with a very high flux of neutrons feeding 40 state-of-the-art instruments, which are constantly being developed. The facilities and expertise are annually used by 1,500 visiting scientists from 40+ countries. Experiments proposed by member country scientists (often in collaboration) are selected by a scientific review committee, and 800+ are performed annually.

ILL scientists (chemists, physicists, biologists, crystallographers) are specialists in magnetism and nuclear physics, and neutrons and their combined know-how is made available to member country scientists (and their research partners). ILL can tailor its neutron beams for a variety of applications, but its research focuses primarily on fundamental science in: condensed matter physics, chemistry, biology, nuclear physics and materials science. The ILL also collaborates industrial enterprises seeking use of their facilities. Note that the European Spallation Source (an organisation in this survey) also offers access to a neutron source of a different specification.

ILL is funded and managed by France, Germany and the UK, in partnership with 12 other countries (11 European and India).

Cost of Irish membership: An initial 2-year period at €845,000; followed by full annual membership at €1.4m plus €845,000 (beam-time). However, the €1.4m may be shared by a consortium of members seeking to pursue a common project.

Further information:


Cherenkov Telescope Array - CTA    (Organisation still in development)

CTA is constructing a unique instrument to explore the cosmos at the highest photon energies. It will serve as an open observatory to the astrophysics community and offer a deep insight into the non-thermal high-energy universe. It will provide an order-of-magnitude jump in sensitivity over current instruments.

CTA began as a collaboration of 1000 scientists and engineers from 170 research institutes in 28 countries. In 2012, funding agencies in 13 countries signed a ‘Declaration of Interest’ to participate in construction and operation of CTA. Construction, which is expected to begin in 2015, will consist of over 100 Cherenkov telescopes of 23-m, 12-m and 4-m dish size located at 1 southern and 1 smaller northern hemisphere sites. Scientific exploitation of the CTA observatories could start by 2016, with a partial array, while the construction is still in progress. CTA capacity will be used (~ 50/50) for Key Science Programmes (below) and Guest Observer Programmes which will be proposed by member consortia.

The Key Science Programmes aims can be roughly grouped into three main themes:

  • Understanding the origin of cosmic rays and their role in the Universe
  • Understanding the nature and variety of particle acceleration around black holes
  • Searching for the ultimate nature of matter and physics beyond the Standard Model

The headquarters of CTA is in Heidelberg, Germany.

Cost of Irish membership:  approx. €4m plus an additional fee for participation in collaborative research programmes.

For further information:  

Infrastructure for life science information – ELIXIR    (Organisation still in development)

ELIXIR is a major European initiative to support EU Life science researchers and industry in the management of research data. The technical services required by life-science researchers are undergoing fundamental change due to exponential growth in data volume, complexity and sensitivity. ELIXIR will provide a core set of technical services to deliver specific data solutions to the science and medical researchers. It is a pan-European research infrastructure which brings together national bioinformatics facilities and services to scale up Europe’s collective capability to manage biological data and its commercialisation.

The initiative is in response to the major increases in the volume of such data and the consequent increase in need for resources for its storage, access and analysis. ELIXIR will also provide training, and data systems for quality control, security, archiving, integrating, analysing and exploiting the large and heterogeneous data sets produced in modern life science research. It will also provide a range of other coordination initiatives, and provide training in computational biology.

ELIXIR is independently funded and governed by the ELIXIR Members through the ELIXIR Board. The legal framework of ELIXIR is a Consortium Agreement (ECA) which has been concluded among 11 Member countries and the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL). The central management function will be provided by the EMBL facility, the European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI).

The cost of Irish membership:  approx €50,000 to €80,000 per annum.

Further information: 

European Spallation Source - ESS   (Organisation still in development)

The European Spallation Source (ESS) is a planned materials science research facility using a new generation of neutron sources based on particle accelerators and spallation technology. It is relevant to any researchers using neutrons as a resource in their research, including Medicine, Life Sciences, Materials, Energy and Chemistry. ESS will provide neutron beams which are around 30 times brighter than existing facilities. It is currently a Swedish/Danish joint venture which will transition to a European Research Infrastructure Consortium (ERIC) and will be jointly owned by at least 17 European countries. The facility is being built in Lund, Sweden and the management will be located in Copenhagen. It will house a total of 22 instruments to serve the neutron user community. It is planned to start operation in 2019, and it will enable scientists to see and understand basic atomic structures and forces.

Major potential benefits for Irish organisations or researcher are:

  • Providing experimental supports to researchers from academia and industry
  • Symposia, conferences and workshops
  • Scientific liaison and outreach
  • Participation in the network of collaborators

ESS is also planning future support laboratories and facilities to enhance the possibilities for science using neutrons.

Cost of Irish membership: Still to be determined

Further information:

Low Frequency Array - LOFAR  (Organisation still in development)

 The LOw Frequency ARray LOFAR is a radio telescope working at the lowest frequencies accessible from Earth. LOFAR will be the first large radio telescope system which uses a huge amount of small sensors to achieve its sensitivity rather than a small number of big dishes. When completed, it will consist of 5,000 separate antennas all over Europe, including Ireland. It plans to survey the Universe at frequencies of ~10-240 MHz. LOFAR was initiated by ASTRON, the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy which is working with Dutch universities and with many international institutes. The Irish LOFAR station (I-LOFAR) will support Irish researchers in astrophysics and related ICT, and provide educational outreach in mathematics, physics, and technology.

The main benefits from LOFAR participation are:

o   Irish researchers may use LOFAR facilities and/or participate in research consortia. LOFAR has research groups in Computing, Digital & Embedded signal Processing; Mechanical, Radio and System Design & Integration.

  • Direct employment opportunities for astronomers, engineers, software developers etc
  • I-LOFAR will provide a platform for educational outreach in mathematics, physics and technology to students of all ages
  • A visitor programme for women working in astronomy and engineering research
  • Summer Research Programme for astronomy students (graduate or advanced under-graduate)

Cost of LOFAR in Ireland: 

LOFAR Telescope:   = €1.5 million

Annual running costs (including membership fee)  =  €200,000

For further information: ……. And

Square Kilometre Array - SKA   (Organisation still in development)

SKA – the Square Kilometre Array - will be a collection of thousands of radio receivers and dishes spread across two sites in South Africa and Western Australia. When the first phase is completed in 2023, the SKA will have a total collecting area equivalent to 15 football pitches. It will be the world’s largest radio telescope and a highly powerful tool for Astrophysics research.

A second phase, due to be completed in the late 2020s, is expected to be around ten times larger still. It will be built in the southern hemisphere, to avail of the best view of the Milky Way Galaxy and the low radio interference. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2018 for initial observations by 2020. It is expected to particularly contribute to study of pulsars, cosmic magnetism, the early stages of the Universe and the search for life in the Universe. It will be managed by the Jodrell Bank Observatory in England, and currently has 11 member countries – Australia, Canada, China, Germany, India, Italy, New Zealand, South Africa, Sweden, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. Further countries have expressed their interest and membership by Ireland is a possibility depending on the extent of interest and relevance.

Cost of Irish membership: Still to be determined


Further information is at: