There are growing calls for Ireland to join the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (Cern) in order to capitalise on €300m worth of commercial projects as well as encouraging more Irish students to enter the scientific field.
Irish science bodies, IT organisations, business representatives, and politicians have echoed the call of Cork senator Colm Burke, who said Ireland needs to become a full member of Cern or risk missing out on €300m of contracts.
Founded in 1954, the Cern laboratory near Geneva was one of Europe’s first joint ventures and now has 22 member states.
There are 21 European countries, as well as Israel, in Cern, whose main area of research is particle physics — the study of the fundamental constituents of matter and the forces acting between them.
Cern is also home to one of the world’s most impressive feats of engineering, the Hadron Collider, the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator with a 27km ring of superconducting magnets.
Cern has thousands of staff laboratories and has hosted tens of thousands of fellows from the scientific and engineering fields.
It is also involved in advanced cancer therapy, IT, biomedical, and other research. The World Wide Web began as a Cern project in 1989.
Membership can cost up to €10m annually, which is thought to be the overriding reason why Ireland has not become a member.
Cern director general Fabiola Gianotti has said in the past that the organisation wants Ireland to join.
Mr Burke said: “Joining would be a huge boost to science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM). Membership of Cern would send a clear signal to Irish scientists and students and the wider international scientific that Ireland is committed to advanced scientific research.”
He added: “Annual membership is around €10m but it would be money well spent. Being a member of Cern would also allow Irish companies to compete for very lucrative contracts to supply the organisation.”
The Institute of Physics in Ireland, which has long campaigned for Ireland to join Cern as well as the European Southern Observatory, said there is a compelling case to join.
Policy adviser Sheila Gilheany said it is “very keen” to see Ireland join both organisations. The institute has said a person employed in an physics-based industry in Ireland contributes an average of €138,273 a year in value added.
IT@Cork chairwoman Caroline O’Driscoll said it is imperative that Ireland join in order to encourage the STEM subjects among students.
“Yes, there is a cost to it but the benefits would pay that membership fee back in spades,” she said.
“Science matters, especially in the modern, knowledge-based economy. When you think of the access Irish people would get, it would hugely complement the scientific sector, including our major pharma and biopharma presence.”
Ireland MEP Seán Kelly said €10m is “peanuts” in comparison to what would be gained from membership.
“We should have joined long ago. Now with Brexit looming, we need to be in Cern more than ever.
“The fees are a narrow excuse. If we are serious about promoting STEM, we have to be mixing with the best in the world.”
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