Ireland is finally applying for CERN membership

14 Nov 2023

The Large Hadron Collider. Image: CERN

If CERN approves, Ireland could become an associate member of one of the biggest research centres in the world, which would open new doors for Irish researchers and businesses.

Ireland is moving to join the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) as an associate member, a move that has been pushed by Irish academics for years.

Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Simon Harris, TD, said he secured Government approval today (14 November) and that CERN is expected to consider the application in mid-December.

The goal is for Ireland to become an associate member by late 2024, which would bring various benefits for the country’s researchers and various industries.

CERN – the organisation behind the Large Hadron Collider – is one of the biggest scientific research centres in the world, bringing together around 18,000 researchers. However, Ireland is one of only three EU countries that is not a member.

Membership with CERN would let Irish citizens apply for jobs with the research centre, while Irish academics could apply for CERN research projects. It would also let companies in Ireland bid for contracts with the research centre.

Harris described the Government’s approval as a “milestone moment” and noted that Irish academics have waited for this development for “decades”.

“We will continue to work with the academic community to make the necessary preparations for the Irish researchers to participate effectively at CERN from day one of Irish membership,” Harris said.

If CERN reviews the membership request in December, it is hoped that the organisation will send a fact-finding task force in March next year, before the CERN council makes a final vote on whether to admit Ireland in June.

There have been discussions about Ireland becoming a member of CERN for years, but costs have long been cited as an issue. An associate membership is expected to cost roughly €1.9m per year for an initial period of five years.

Full membership for Ireland would cost around €13.5m annually, along with a once-off €16.8m payment that can be spread out over 10 years, according to previous estimates.

Last year, a group of Irish researchers and university representatives renewed calls for Ireland to apply for associate membership of CERN. Two months later, Ireland’s Seanad passed a motion calling on the Government to join the research centre.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic