Harris say benefits of joining Cern ‘significant’ as department prepares submission

Minister tells Dáil he has Taoiseach’s full support in bid to join nuclear research agency

Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris announced that his department will prepare a submission for Government to consider joining Cern, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research.

The State has been sharply criticised for its persistent refusal to join the Swiss-based scientific research organisation, one of the world’s leading laboratories.

“The costs of joining Cern are significant but so too are the benefits,” Mr Harris told the Dáil.

The Minister told TDs that for the past two year,s he had “travelled the country and listened to researchers and employers and it is clear they want to be at the table”.


Speaking during a Dáil debate to mark Science Week, the annual celebration of science in everyday life, Mr Harris said he had spoken to Taoiseach Micheál Martin “and I know I have his full support”.

Scientists and business leaders have repeatedly called for the State to join the organisation and three years ago the Oireachtas Committee on Business, Enterprise and Innovation strongly recommended membership if the State’s ambition to be a global leader in innovation is to be realised.

Cost has been cited as a deterrent and some critics have also suggested that Ireland’s strong anti-nuclear stance may have been a factor.

Joining Cern as a full member would cost the State approximately €13.5 million a year, with a once-off payment of €16.8 million.

The State also has the option of associate membership costing about €1.5 million annually, giving researchers and the high-tech industry access to the organisation’s resources and expertise.

Cern is based outside Geneva, Switzerland and its primary focus is on particle physics, although it plays a significant role in developing new technologies including in MRI scanners and radiation therapy in hospitals, touch-screens and the world wide web. It also built the Large Hadron Collider tunnel, the world’s largest particle accelerator.

Mr Harris said that “my department is currently examining this at present and I look forward to be back here shortly discussing it again”.

Fianna Fáil Senator Malcolm Byrne, a long-term campaigner for Ireland to join the Swiss-based agency welcomed the Minister’s announcement.

He said that if Ireland joined Cern it would be a “major boost for Irish scientist and researchers and open a whole host of opportunities”.

He added that “Cern is arguably the world’s greatest scientific laboratory and certainly engages some of its greatest scientists, engineers and technicians” and almost every other European country is either a member or associate member.

“I hope to see a proposal for membership moved quickly through Government,” he said.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times