The state’s spend of €14m a year on a membership fee for the European Space Agency is “extraordinary”, claimed a member of the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee.
A total of €17m a year is spent by the Department of Enterprise on international membership subscriptions for different organisations, PAC heard yesterday.
A review of membership fees is under way by the department, its secretary general told the committee.
John Murphy defended the spend and said membership of the space agency helped Irish businesses get jobs and access to lucrative programmes.
He said the €14m membership fee was calculated on a GNP basis.
But PAC member and Independent TD Shane Ross criticised it and said he was “amazed”.
“It’s an awful lot of money, it’s about €300,000 a week,” he said.
But the secretary general said that tens of millions of euro of investment had been returned to Ireland because of the agency membership.
“We get a significant amount of value through companies that are engaged in supplying services and components for the European space industry.
“We get substantially more than that back in terms of the contracts that Irish firms can access and obtain,” he told PAC members.
In 2010, the ESA placed contracts worth over €9m with 20 Irish companies and research groups in relation to the space industry, he added.
ESA-related sales had grown from €18m in 2008 to €35m in 2010, it was added, and most of those companies were export-led.
Mr Murphy also said that companies would be “significantly disadvantaged” getting those contracts if Ireland was not a member of the ESA.
The department chief said the membership was worth the payment.
“A rough estimate is we’re getting two euro back for every euro we put into it in terms of the business it generates,” he added.
The department total spend of €17m, also includes membership of the World Intellectual Property Organisation.
The protection of intellectual property was a significant issue for foreign companies moving to Ireland and the membership helped that, said Mr Murphy.
Membership of the European Molecular Biological Laboratory also costs the state €1m a year.
Fees for conference memberships for the biological laboratory group also cost another €190,000, the committee heard.
Mr Murphy said this membership among others was under review.
The review will look at the overall benefit to Ireland of the memberships. The secretary general added:
“What we will be looking at is to what extent are these research programmes of real benefit to Ireland, specifically for creating business opportunities for Irish firms.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved