Irish politicians call for associate membership of CERN

19 November 2019
A cross-party committee of the Irish legislature last week unanimously advocated strengthening ties with CERN, where Irish physicists already participate in the LHCb experiment (pictured) and elsewhere. Credit: M Brice/CERN-201812-329-2

A cross-party committee of the legislature of the Republic of Ireland has unanimously recommended joining CERN. In a report published last week, the Joint Committee on Business, Enterprise and Innovation recommended that negotiations to become an Associate Member State begin immediately. The report follows the country’s Innovation 2020 science strategy, published in 2015, which identified CERN as one of four international research bodies which Ireland would benefit from joining. Since then, Ireland has joined the other three organisations, namely the European Southern Observatory, the intergovernmental life-science collaboration ELIXIR, and the LOFAR network of radio-frequency telescopes.

Ireland is one of only three European countries that do not have any formal agreement with CERN, said committee chair Mary Butler. “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.” CERN already enjoys a productive relationship with physicists in Ireland, with University College Dublin a longstanding member of the LHCb and CMS collaborations, Dublin City University working on ISOLDE, University College Cork contributing civil engineering expertise, and theorists from several institutions involved in CERN projects. In January 2016, Ireland notified CERN of its intention to initiate deliberations on potential associate membership.

“I welcome this report and endorse its recommendations, which are pragmatic and cost-effective,” says Ronan McNulty, leader of the LHCb group at University College Dublin, and witness to the committee. “Delivery of these recommendations would enormously improve Irish academic links to CERN and create a new landscape for training the next generation of scientists and engineers, as well as developing business opportunities in the technology sector, and beyond.”

Ireland has a strong particle-physics community and CERN would welcome stronger institutional links

Charlotte Warakaulle

The report envisages a “multiplier effect” for return on investment to the Irish economy as a result of joining CERN. Although around 20 Irish companies already have contracts with CERN, it notes that they are at a competitive disadvantage as the laboratory prioritises companies from member countries. Under associate membership, says the report, contracts with Irish companies could rise to one third of the country’s financial contribution to the laboratory, which for Associate Member States must be at least of 10% of the cost of full membership. The cost of full membership, which yields voting rights at the CERN Council and eliminates the investment cap, depends on a country’s GDP, and would currently be estimated to be of the order of €12.5 million per year in Ireland’s case.

“We note the positive report from the committee, which clearly sets out the opportunities that membership or associate membership of CERN would bring to Ireland,” said Charlotte Warakaulle, CERN’s director for international relations. “Ireland has a strong particle-physics community and CERN would welcome stronger institutional links, which we believe would be mutually beneficial.”

The Irish government will now consider the committee’s findings.

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