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Research and Innovation


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 the risk of falling behind its international research competitors in America 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 Directorate-General for Research and Innovation.


Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Richard Bruton TD with former Research 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 and the country performs above average when it comes to the EU’s overall innovation performance.

In fact Ireland ranked first in the economic effects dimension of the European Commission’s Innovation Union Scoreboard , published in September 2014.

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.

In October 2010 the Innovation Union (IU) was launched by Ireland’s Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, who was then Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science.
It’s 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 currently 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 statistics €467 million was spent on research and development in Ireland during 2013. 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) means Ireland can contribute significantly to global research and development. The ERA was created to promote growth and jobs by helping Europe to 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. The Irish Government has targeted 14 areas of scientific research that have the greatest potential to create jobs. The Irish State’s investment in research and development was €733 million in 2013 and early estimates indicate the figure for 2014 will be slightly less at €724 million.

Investment in research and development by companies based in Ireland increased to 13.6% in 2013 - well above the world average (4.9%) and EU average (2.6%).
Under Europe 2020 the European Union has set a target of investing 3% 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 latest 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, EU Member States and European Industry is investing around €22 billion to boost innovation in potentially high growth sectors that will generate high quality jobs.

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

Irish participants in existing JTIs have already received over €12.5 million from the EU research budget.

Graph showing breakdown of Horizon 2020 budget


Funding for Ireland

Ireland has an excellent track record in research and innovation and almost 2,000 participants from this country received over €620 million in grants for research and development through the EU’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7).

FP7 ran from 2007 to 2013 and it has now been replaced as the EU’s funding programme for research and innovation by Horizon 2020.

A total of 473 SMEs received combined funding of over €130 million for FP7 approved projects, with almost 390 Marie SkÅ‚odowska-Curie Actions Fellows getting total grants of over €420 million.

The success rate of Irish applicants for FP7 funding was 22%, slightly above the EU average of 20.5%.

On 1 January 2014, the European Union’s new research and innovation programme, Horizon 2020, came 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 just under €80 billion in current prices was secured for Horizon 2020 under the Irish Presidency of the EU in June 2013. Most of 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 €30 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 Industrial Leadership pillar, under which it's proposed to spend €17 billion. This pillar contains specific supports for SMEs and for enabling industrial technologies such as nanotechnologies, biotechnologies and ICT.

Irish SMEs had the highest success rate at 20% in the first wave of Horizon 2020 grants under the SME Instrument, which is worth €3 billion. Ten Irish SMEs out of a total of 155 from 21 countries (EU Member States or countries associated to Horizon 2020) each received €50,000 in funding to finance feasibility studies to develop their innovation strategy.

Table showing EU countries with top innovation index score

Irish Success Stories

  • Irish marine researchers have achieved some notable successes in international research and innovation. This success is reflected in our marine researchers securing €5.5 million of Horizon 2020 funding in 2014.

    The funding will allow Irish research bodies to co-ordinate three significant projects linked to co-operation between the EU and the US and Canadian governments on targeted seabed mapping.

    The funding is a vote of confidence in Ireland's marine researchers, with 12 out of 36 projects with Irish partners funded and a further 15 qualifying to be considered for funding.

    Click here for more details on this project.
  • Marine science is being carried out in Ireland across State, third-level and SME sectors under the Government's marine strategy - Harnessing Our Ocean Wealth.

    Managing marine research and creating effective synergies between science, policy and industry can be a challenge but an EU-funded project co-ordinated in Ireland is helping to change that.

    The project, MarineTT, aimed to bring marine research to the surface and it was a collaboration between AquaTT from Ireland and EurOcean from Portugal.

    The MarineTT project developed a knowledge gate, which lists information gathered during a project. Over 500 knowledge outputs from 128 marine projects are in the knowledge gate already. It’s open to all stakeholders, enables transparency and reduces duplication in research, which saves on time and resources.

    Click here for more details on this project.
  • Trinity College, Dublin (TCD) is a major Irish player in international research. The university was awarded the most funding of any higher education institution in Ireland under FP7.

    A total of €76.2 million in FP7 funding was received by Trinity academics for leading international research and innovation. Notable projects include a major 18-month study into ground-breaking treatment for Alzheimer's led by Professor Brian Lawlor.

    Professor Lawlor is hopeful that collaborating with Alzheimer’s experts from ten countries will prove successful, given the fact that there have 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 more details on this project.
  • Dr Susanne Barth from Teagasc is leading research into the benefits of producing biofuel from perennial grasses to make them an attractive alternative source of energy.

    The GrassMargins project is co-ordinated by the Agriculture and Food Development Authority, Carlow, and it has received EU funding of €2.9 million out of €3.9 million of total costs.

    Perennial crops require less intensive farming practices and less energy to grow than traditional biofuel crops, which not only need to be planted each year, but typically require more fertiliser, herbicides and pesticides. “Perennial grasses have been extensively used in Europe and the US but mainly in regard to combustion processes,” says Dr Barth.

    “We are looking at selecting and breeding new varieties suited for use on marginal land, and identifying optimal growing environments to make them more economically viable as biofuel raw materials.”

    Click here for more details on this project.
  • One promising area in the fight against cancer is the use of nanotechnology – the manipulation of matter at an atomic and molecular scale for specific medical aims.

    Each year, there are 3.2 million cancer cases reported in Europe, and more than 1.7 million cancer related deaths.

    The NAMDIATREAM team, led by Trinity College Dublin, is developing a nanotechnology-based toolkit to enable early detection of cancer.

    The project is benefiting from EU funding of €11.9 million out of €16.5 million of total costs.

    Click here for more details on this project.
  • Trinity 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 more details on this project.

Click here for more success stories involving Irish participants.

Useful links

Central Statistics Office, Ireland:

Last update: 17/12/2014  |Top