Ireland joining European Southern Observatory would boost SME sector – Hayes
Membership would enable Irish astrophysics’ sector to pitch for international high tech contracts
Careful consideration must be given by the Government to Ireland joining the European Southern Observatory (ESO), said Brian Hayes.
“The limited offer, which presents reduced fees, is due to expire very soon, and while the investment is not inconsiderable, the longer term benefits to the Irish economy must not be underestimated, he added.
“ESO is widely recognised as the most advanced, and scientifically productive, astronomical facility on the planet. For the last 10 years, ESO membership is regarded as the top priority of Irish astronomers.
“TCD, UCD, NUIG, NUIM, DCU, UCC all run astrophysics-related degree programmes, with an average of 10 students graduating in astronomy and astrophysics per institution, per year. Astronomy is an excellent motivator for the brightest students to enter STEM and provides an excellent source of transferrable skills, including analytical, computational, and problem solving.
“Irish membership in the ESO would include:
- Irish researchers being guaranteed access to its facilities
- Irish businesses being able to compete for contracts to develop and supply products and services to the ESO
- A number of training and collaboration for students and researchers within the astrophysics sphere
- The further promotion of Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths subjects through the ESO’s very successful outreach programmes
“In addition to the large research community already in position to maximize scientific return from ESO membership, Ireland also has the industrial capability to bid successfully for contracts that will be available. ESO recognises Ireland’s potential to compete and deliver on major international research and industrial projects, and in a bit to encourage us to join, have offered a reduced joining and membership fee, and an option to spread this cost over a 10 year period.
“This cost is not insignificant. Member states are charged membership fees based on its GDP, but the current Director General of the ESO is freezing our joining fee at the 2015 GDP rate. Therefore, the current entrance fee is in the region of €14 million euro, with an annual fee of circa €3 million. However, the ESO target is to have a minimum industrial return coefficient of at least 70% for each Member State, with no upper bound.
“The vision in Innovation 2020 is for Ireland to become a Global Innovation Leader driving a strong sustainable economy and a better society. Key to this vision is supporting excellent science, nurturing talent and delivering impact.
“Over the past 10 years, the 16 ESO member states have benefitted from contracts worth a total of €715 million. Can we afford on passing up a chance to share a slice of this pie?
“It is my understanding that the Department of Enterprise and Innovation is currently engaged in discussions on the Mid-Term Review of the Capital Plan. I would urge a close study of the long-term benefits ESO membership would pose to our SME sector – and a timely completion of this review as the discounted offer is due to expire when the Director Steps down from the ESO in a couple of months.”