26 July 2017

The European Southern Observatory (ESO) in Chile is the world-leading facility for observational astronomy.

The astrophysics community in Ireland is united in calling for Irish membership of ESO, believing that this action would strongly support the Irish government’s STEM agenda (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths).

An essential element of the government’s plans for the Irish economy is to substantially grow its high-tech business sector. Physics is a core part of that base. Ireland’s physics-based sectors contribute €38 bn in gross value added (GVA), supporting the employment of 288,000 people. A person employed in an Irish physics-based industry contributes an average of €138,273 a year in value added. 

Astrophysics, in particular, is a key driver of both science interest and innovation. To support this, Irish scientists and engineers need access to the best research facilities and with this access come the benefits of spin-off technology, contracts and the jobs which this can bring.

Membership of ESO would bring significant rewards to Ireland including:

• Give Irish businesses the chance to compete for multi-million Euro contracts across a wide range of technologies, including imaging, detectors, computing and microelectronics
• Give Irish researchers guaranteed access to ESO facilities allowing Ireland to compete at the highest international levels and to align its research strategies with those of Europe - thus optimising Ireland’s chances of success in Horizon 2020
• Give Irish students outstanding opportunities for training
• Greatly enhance public awareness and understanding of science across a range of disciplines

 The government is currently finalising its Capital Expenditure programme for 2018-2021.

The potential economic and scientific benefits to Irish membership of ESO led to the inclusion of ESO in the Innovation2020 strategy document (2015), where a commitment was made to “initiate negotiations with ESO for Ireland’s membership options” by 2018. 
During negotiations with the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation last year, the current ESO Director-General was reported to have issued an offer to Ireland in which membership could be had at a reduced cost, but this offer will expire towards the end of July 2017 when the DG leaves his position. Because of this, Irish membership would cost the Irish exchequer more than 3 million more Euro if we do not avail of this offer now.

We urge the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation to commit Ireland to joining ESO at the earliest opportunity.

For more information about the ESO, see the IOP publication: Case for Irish Membership of ESO

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