The Minister for Research and Innovation, Seán Sherlock TD, has announced that he will consider the merits of Ireland joining CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, in the context of an overall review of Ireland’s membership of international research organisations.
The Minister has asked his Department to carry out a review of Ireland’s international engagement on research and innovation, in particular the costs and benefits of membership of international research organisations, including CERN. This review will take into account both the overall funding constraints on money available for research and the Government’s prioritised areas for investment in research and innovation.
Based in Switzerland, CERN is the home of the Large Hadron Collider. Its experiments have led to developments in particle physics, including the confirmation of the Higgs Boson. CERN is also famous as the birthplace of the World Wide Web, when Tim Berners Lee worked there in 1989.
Ireland is the only country in Western Europe which does not participate in CERN, and as a result Irish institutions and researchers cannot participate in its research. It’s been suggested that the situation owes something to political reluctance to be involved with anything with the word ‘nuclear’ in its name, given our history of neutrality and the connotation of nuclear with military use.
In fact, CERN has nothing to do with military research and organisations such as the Institute of Physics in Ireland have long campaigned for a change in policy.
Non-membership of CERN … … sends a clear signal that in reality Ireland is not fully committed to transforming itself to a knowledge based economy.
The Minister said:
The Government’s priority in the area of science, technology and innovation is to implement the recommendations of the National Research Prioritisation Exercise which will see the majority of public research funding aligned with priority areas where we are most likely to get economic and social returns, particularly in the form of jobs.
Ireland’s membership of international research organisations must be predicated on whether the benefit of membership, in terms of support to Irish researchers, companies and jobs, justifies the cost involved. I am conscious of the calls by some researchers for Ireland to apply for CERN membership. The last time a review of the benefits of Ireland joining CERN was undertaken, the conclusion was that it was not the best use of resources. Since then, resources have become even scarcer, but it is timely to have a fresh look at the opportunities and the costs associated with membership.
Any decision about joining CERN must take into consideration the opportunity costs involved, as payment of any fees would have to come from existing funding, meaning that less funding would be available for our existing research priorities. I have an open mind on the matter and it will really come down to what represents best value for taxpayers’ money. I have asked my Department to consult with CERN, the relevant research and enterprise agencies and with the academic/research community and to bring forward an assessment within the coming months.