Representation in Ireland

Research and Innovation

Research and innovation are key components in securing Ireland’s economic future and they’re at the heart of the European Commission’s policies to boost jobs, growth and investment.

Successful research and creative innovation not only has huge potential to stimulate economies, it also improves health, transport, security and the environment for Europe’s citizens.

That’s why the European Commission is driving forward initiatives to stimulate more investment in research, development and innovation.

The Innovation Union (IU), a Europe 2020 flagship initiative, was created to improve access to finance for research and ensure that innovative ideas can be turned into products and services that create employment and stimulate financial growth.

The IU’s financial instrument, Horizon 2020, has been a great success but increased global competition means Europe now needs to invest even more to retain its position as a major player in international science and technology.

A few examples of successful research and innovation funding:


Ireland has transformed itself over the past 40 years into one of Europe’s top innovation nations.

The Industrial Development Agency (IDA) has helped attract 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.

But innovation isn’t confined to big business. In fact, Ireland is the EU leader in innovation from SMEs as well as in employment and sales impacts according to the European Innovation Scoreboard 2018. The country finished in ninth position overall, ahead of the EU average.


Graph showing Ireland's progress on the EU Innovation Scoreboard

However, Ireland needs to remain competitive and is addressing its R&I challenges through a cross Government Strategy for Research and Development, Science and Technology called Innovation 2020.

The EU’s initiative for putting research and innovation at the heart of the European Union's policies to boost growth and jobs is the Innovation Union (IU). It was launched in October 2010 by Ireland’s Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, who was then Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science.

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.


Horizon 2020 is the financial instrument for implementing the Innovation Union. It has around €80 billion of funding available over seven years (2014 to 2020) – in addition to the private investment that this money will attract.

By the end of 2017, Ireland had secured funding of €424 million in Horizon 2020 funding. Ireland also received around €600 million under the previous EU Research Framework Programme FP7.

The European Commission is proposing to increase investment to almost €100 billion in the next research and innovation programme, Horizon Europe.

EU support for research and innovation encourages cooperation between research teams across countries and disciplines, which is vital in making breakthrough discoveries.

This means Irish researchers can be part of, or even take the lead in, projects that can deliver on EU priority goals like smart technologies, sustainable transport or ‘green’ energy sources.

Being part of the European Research Area (ERA) is another way Ireland can contribute significantly to global research and development. The ERA is one of the cornerstones of the Innovation Union and 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.

The ERA enables researchers from around the world to work together more effectively to tackle global challenges such as climate change, food and energy security, and public health.

Ireland has its own National Roadmap that sets out how the country will engage with the ERA through the Irish Innovation 2020 strategy for research and development, science and technology.

Survey data in the Research and Development Budget 2016-17 shows that the Irish Government spend on R&D was €719m in 2016 and allocated funding for R&D was estimated at €768m for 2017.

Figures from Eurostat show that R&D expenditure as a percentage of GDP in Ireland fell from 1.20% in 2006 to 1.18% in 2016. The EU average for 2016 was 2.03% but Horizon 2020 has a target of 3%.

Funding for Ireland

During the EU’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) from 2007 to 2013, over 470 Irish SMEs received combined funding of more than €130 million for approved projects.

On top of that, Irish based researchers got grants exceeding €420 million through the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions fellowship programme that supports researchers working across all disciplines at all stages of their careers.

More recently, Ireland received €475 million in Horizon 2020 funding from 2014 up to September 2017, and the current funding programme runs until the end of 2020.

Higher Education Institutes accounted for just under €255 million while industry benefitted from just over €160 million, of which €98.6 million was awarded to SMEs.

SMEs can now get EU funding and support for breakthrough projects under a revamped SME Instrument.

This was rolled out as part of the European Innovation Council (EIC) pilot in 2017. It brings together the parts of Horizon 2020 that provide funding, advice and networking opportunities for those at the cutting edge of innovation.

The EIC pilot connects the SME Instrument, the Fast Track to Innovation (FTI), Future and Emerging Technologies (FET Open) and Horizon Prizes to provide a 'one stop shop' for funding of innovators/innovations in the EU.

It supports and funds SMEs with radically new ideas and a good business plan to develop products, services and business models that could drive economic growth.

Support is delivered in stages, with business development coaching and a lump sum of up to €50,000 available per project in Phase 1 to explore and assess the technical feasibility and commercial potential of a breakthrough innovation. If the project has enough potential it can proceed to Phase 2 and may qualify for additional funding of between €500,000 and €2.5 million, or more in some cases.


Infographic on funding to Ireland under the SME Instrument

Irish funding beneficiaries

Ireland has more than doubled its Horizon 2020 funding compared with the first two years of FP7. Funding increased from €120 million to €273 million according to an early evaluation of the programme commissioned by the Irish Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation.

Irish researchers are now being urged to capitalise on the opportunity of the Horizon 2020 work programme for 2018-2020, which has a budget of €30 billion.

Ireland’s success rate in applying for research funding is above the EU average and Irish SMEs are ranked amongst the best in the EU for innovation.

Recent successful applications from Ireland include ones from Cork-based Metabolomic Diagnostics Ltd, UCD spin-out company ATXA Therapeutics Ltd and Aurigen Medical Ltd. They’ll each receive up to €2.5 million from the European Commission's SME Instrument to finance innovation activities like demonstration, testing, piloting and scaling up as well as 12 days of free business coaching and acceleration services.

Meanwhile two other Irish SMEs, Thalman Health of Cork and Vizlegal of Dublin were selected for funding under Phase 1 of the SME Instrument and will each receive €50,000 for feasibility studies as well as free coaching and business acceleration services.

Another Irish SME, Dublin-based Deciphex Ltd, is getting support to access the market faster under the Commission's Fast Track to Innovation scheme. Projects selected under this scheme receive around €2 million each and Deciphex is working with SMEs from Belgium and Switzerland on its project to use Artificial Intelligence to transform drug and chemical safety testing.