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Research promotional imageThe process of recovery is underway in Ireland but there’s still a need for caution and vigilance as we work towards creating a strong economy fit to provide for our needs over the coming decades.

One of the key components in securing Ireland’s economic future is smart investment, and that’s why devoting time, money and resources into research and innovation is so important.

It’s also the reason why the European Commission is driving forward new initiatives to stimulate more investment in better research, development and innovation.

It’s an area that has the biggest potential to create new jobs and stimulate growth. And as well as economic benefits, successful research also improves the quality of life for all Europe’s citizens through the development of clean, efficient energy sources and green, integrated transport systems, which in turn help tackle climate change and protect the environment.

Successful research can improve health and well-being too, through advances in medicine, sustainable agriculture and food security solutions, but the European Union faces risks of falling behind its international research competitors in American and Asia.

Europe and Ireland need to invest more into research and innovation, and create an environment where our researchers and businesses can more easily create and thrive. You can find out how this is being done at the website of the Commission's Directorate-General for Research and Innovation.


Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Richard Bruton TD with Commissioner Máire Geoghegan-QuinnIreland has transformed itself over the past 40 years into one of Europe’s top innovation nations and through the Industrial Development Agency (IDA) has attracted billions of euro in foreign direct investment (FDI) from companies in hi-tech sectors like Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), Pharmaceuticals, Digital Media and Social Media.

Innovation performance in Ireland has remained strong in spite of the economic crisis. In fact Ireland ranked third of 28 Member States in the European Commission’s proposed new Indicator of Innovation Output, published in September 2013.

However, in its Economic Survey of Ireland for 2013 the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) says that while Ireland offers a supportive innovation environment for hi-tech multinational companies, innovation in Irish firms needs to be boosted.

Ireland’s Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, as Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science, has an important role to play in doing this by ensuring innovation is at the heart of all European Commission policies aimed at stimulating growth and creating jobs.

In October 2010 she launched the Innovation Union (IU) – an initiative that puts research and innovation at the heart of the European Union's policies to boost growth and jobs.

Innovation Union is one of seven flagship initiatives included in the Europe 2020 strategy that’s being implemented to build a smart, sustainable and inclusive economy for all of Europe.

The Innovation Union plan contains over 30 action points all geared towards achieving the following three aims:

  • Ensuring Europe is a world-class science performer
  • Removing bureaucratic delays and other obstacles to innovation that prevent good ideas getting to market quickly.
  • Revolutionising the way public and private sectors work together, by making it easier to create innovation partnerships between European institutions, national and regional authorities and businesses, both large and small.


According to IDA statistics €517 million was spent on research and development in Ireland during 2012. EU programmes help Irish researchers fund projects and collaborate with partners in Europe and across the world.

Being part of the European Research Area (ERA) helps Ireland contribute significantly to global research and development. The ERA was created to promote growth and jobs by helping Europe become the world’s leading ‘knowledge economy’. The idea is to develop a unified research area where researchers, scientific knowledge and technology circulate freely.

And that’s something we here in Ireland recognise as being crucial to our own future because under our own national Strategy for Science, Technology and Innovation (SSTI) we’ve set a goal to become leaders in research and development and innovation.

The Irish Government has also targeted 14 areas of scientific research that have the greatest potential to create jobs. These areas will receive the bulk of the €500 million currently available for research in the national budget.

Under Europe 2020 the European Union has set a target of investing 3 per cent of GDP in R&D. However, progress is slow with particular weaknesses in private investments.

The European Commission is working to address this under-investment. A key element of Horizon 2020 – the EU’s new research funding programme - is a proposal to join forces with the private sector and Member States to achieve results that one country or company is less likely to achieve alone.

The European Commission has also proposed an investment package worth around €22 billion to boost innovation in potentially high growth sectors that will generate high quality jobs.

Most of the funding will go to five public-private partnerships, called Joint Technology Initiatives (JTIs): innovative medicines; fuel cells and hydrogen; aeronautics; bio-based industries; and electronics.

Irish participants in existing JTIs have already received around €12.5 million from the EU research budget. A further €7.2 million has also gone to Irish organisations participating in biotechnology research activities and the Irish Aviation Authority is set to receive €2 million from its participation in another existing partnership that aims to modernise air traffic management.

Table: Ireland R&D Intensity Projections, 2000-2020


FP7 – Ireland's SMEs lead the way

Ireland has an excellent track record in research and innovation and since 2007 more than 1,200 applicants from this country have been awarded close to €500 million in grants for research and development through the EU’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7).

Ireland’s national target is to secure €600 million by the end of 2013, when FP7 is replaced by Horizon 2020.

Ireland is ranked first in Europe for having the highest degree of SME participation of the 28 EU Member States in FP7 funding programmes with 104 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) participating to date, followed by Belgium (95), Austria (80), and Estonia (76).

However, Ireland doesn’t fare so well when it comes to drawing down EU funds for research. Statistics from the European Research Council, which has a budget of €7.5 billion for research between 2007-2013, places Ireland in 17th place out of 25 countries that receive funding.

In 2012 €800 million in ERC grants were distributed to 537 successful applicants but only four were from Ireland.

Some Irish scientists are warning that Ireland risks losing out on EU funding and a scientific brain-drain unless there’s a focus on investing broadly in fundamental research.

To find out who can apply for funding, how FP7 is structured, what the funding schemes are and how to respond to a call, see FP7 in Brief.

Table showing budget execution for FP7 year on year since its inception in 2007

• The FP7 budget has increased year on year since its inception in 2007

Horizon 2020

Horizon 2020 - promotional imageOn January 1, 2014, the European Union’s new research and innovation programme, Horizon 2020, comes into force. It’s the new financial instrument implementing the Innovation Union, and it’s designed to make it easier for researchers and businesses, including SMEs, to collaborate on projects.

A budget of around €70 billion was secured by Horizon 2020 under the Irish Presidency of the EU in June 2013. The money will be used to boost research and innovation under the programme’s three pillars.

Over €24 billion is proposed to help fund the European Research Centre, vital infrastructures and future and emerging technologies under the Excellent Science pillar and almost €31 billion will be used under the Societal challenges pillar to help ensure research is directed at areas of most concern to citizens and business such as health, climate, food, security, transport and energy.

An innovative element of Horizon 2020 is its Competitive Industries pillar, under which it's proposed to spend over €17 billion. This pillar contains specific supports for SMEs and for enabling industrial technologies such as nanotechnologies, biotechnologies and ICT.

Irish Success Stories

Ireland has a robust and highly successful home-grown ICT sector, built on the substantial knowledge and research base of numerous Irish universities and ICT research institutes.

One of these is the Tyndall National Institute at University College Cork, which helped by its expertise in microsystems and nanoelectronics, boasts an impressive track record of involvement in and coordination of numerous FP7 projects.

Tyndall is currently coordinating three important FP7 projects, including one that’s developing technology that could be used to repair blood vessels or in devices to regulate the dilation of arteries. It’s also involved in three further photonics projects that are exploring applications in medicine and low-power telecommunications.

Tyndall is by no means the only player in Ireland's R&D asset base. The Waterford Institute of Technology, for example, specialises in aspects of trust, security and dependability for the future internet and has coordinated eight FP7 projects as well as leading a pan-European effort for clustering and knowledge exchange between EU-funded trust and security projects.

Trinity College, Dublin (TCD) is also a major Irish player in research and is currently coordinating two important projects that are part of the Clean Sky research programme. The first, WENEMOR, investigates the noise implications of a new aircraft engine design while the other, ALLEGRA, looks at reducing noise from landing gear that contributes about 30 per cent of aircraft noise.

TCD was also one of the biggest partners in the N4C project established to deploy and test new networking technologies for geographic areas of Europe that have poor ICT connections.

Here are some Irish research success stories:

  • Professor Valerie O’Donnell, from Co Wicklow, was awarded €3 million in funding from the EU's European Research Council (ERC) to carry out a research project to understand the role played by lipids (or fats) in the development of cardiovascular disease and dementia in genetically predisposed humans. Valerie, who is acting Dean of Research in the School of Medicine, Cardiff University, studied Human Nutrition and Dietetics in Kevin Street/Trinity College Dublin. Her project entitled ‘LIPIDARRAY - Development and application of global lipidomic arrays to inflammatory vascular disease’ will determine the total number and diversity of lipids in two types of blood cells that help us fight infection and prevent bleeding (macrophages and platelets). Click here for details.
  • Professor Brian Lawlor, from Trinity College Dublin is leading a five year project called NILVAD that aims to slow down or even halt the progression of Alzheimer’s Disease. Professor Lawlor is hopeful that collaborating with Alzheimer’s experts from ten countries will prove successful, given the fact that there’s been no new drugs for the disease since 2002. A pilot trial of the drug, nilvadipine, which is already approved for human use in cardiovascular disease, has shown that it could be safe in the treatment of Alzheimer’s. Click here for details.
  • Professor Fergal O'Brien of the Royal College of Surgeons is working on an project funded by the European Research Council (ERC) on regenerative medicine. This is a new field in science that focuses on helping people heal faster by developing cell, tissue, and organ substitutes to repair, replace or enhance biological function in affected areas. Prof O'Brien aims to revolutionise the healing of fractures and breaks and reduce treatment and recovery times for patients by creating innovative bioengineered alternatives to bone grafts and transplants. Click here for details.
  • Scientist Gillian Hendy from the National University of Ireland, Maynooth, left a job and postponed a wedding in Ireland to do research at the world-renowned Langer Lab (USA). During her time there, she has learnt whole new biological processes, braved hurricanes, and thanks to hard work could well have found a material that can speed up nerve regeneration in damaged limbs. Click here for details.

Click here for more success stories involving Irish participants.

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Last update: 11/10/2013  |Top