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Ireland signs Accession Agreement ahead of becoming a member of the European Southern Observatory (ESO)

Today, 26th September 2018, Minister of State for Training, Skills, Innovation, Research and Development, Mr John Halligan T.D. signed the accession agreement which will facilitate Ireland becoming a member of the European Southern Observatory (ESO), the leading international astronomical research organisation in the world. Following the signing of the agreement, an instrument of accession will be deposited in the French Foreign Ministry in Paris from which date Ireland will be a full member of ESO.

Speaking at the signing, Minister Halligan welcomed this important step in Ireland’s membership process: “I am delighted to have signed this membership agreement with the European Southern Observatory.  This represents the culmination of significant work by the Government and ESO as well as the Irish astrophysics community. As a member of the leading astronomical research organisation in the world, Ireland has an opportunity to gain access to excellent research, innovation, collaboration and industry contracts. This significant investment in our scientific community demonstrates the Irish Government’s continued commitment to research and development in both our academic and industrial sectors.”

Xavier Barcons, Director General of ESO commented “We are delighted to warmly welcome Ireland to the European Southern Observatory. With its thriving astronomical community and well-developed high-tech industry, Ireland will help strengthen ESO’s position at the forefront of global astronomy. Irish astronomers will gain access to a suite of the world’s most advanced ground-based telescopes, such as the Very Large Telescope, ALMA, and the upcoming Extremely Large Telescope. Furthermore, Irish industrial partners will have the opportunity to be part of the development of ESO's next generation of state-of-the-art instruments."

Following the signing Minister Halligan announced Professor Tom Ray as Ireland’s astronomer delegate to ESO Council. Professor Ray will attend Ireland’s first ESO Council in October 2018, together with a Department of Business Enterprise & Innovation official as Ireland’s delegates. Ireland’s nominee for ESO’s Science and Technology Committee will be confirmed by ESO Council in October. 

Notes for Editors

The European Southern Observatory (ESO) is the leading international astronomical research organisation in the world. Founded in 1962 ESO headquarters are in Munich, Germany and it currently has 15 member states. Ireland will be the 16th. ESO operates a variety of world-leading optical and radio telescopes which are all located in the Southern hemisphere, in the Andes mountains of Chile.

Ireland will join ESO in October 2018, thus financial cost is calculated on a pro-rata basis from the annual membership cost for 2018. Ireland will pay €750,000 in 2018, and approximately €3.5 million in 2019, both figures include the annual membership cost and special contribution payment.

All new member states are required to pay a once-off ‘special contribution fee’ calculated based on Net National Income (NNI) of the member state and ESO assets. For Ireland this has been agreed as €14.66 million. The Accession Agreement sets out the details of the special contribution for Ireland, which is based on eleven instalments.

ESO is currently constructing its flagship project, the €1 billion European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT). The E-ELT will have a primary mirror 39m in diameter and will be the largest optical telescope in the world when it becomes operational in 2024. 

The Government committed to initiate negotiations with ESO for Ireland’s membership as an action in Innovation 2020, Ireland’s strategy for research and development, science and technology. International cooperation in research and innovation plays an important role in the development and sustainability of a world-class research and innovation system. International cooperation maximises the impact of international and national investment in research and innovation and develops international relations. 


The Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation (DBEI) plays a key role in implementing the Government’s policies of stimulating the productive capacity of the economy and creating an environment which supports job creation and maintenance. The Department also has a remit to promote fair competition in the marketplace, protect consumers and safeguard workers.