Research and innovation (R&I) 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.
R&I policy is driving the European Union’s green and digital transitions and it contributes significantly to achieving each of the European Commission’s six headline priorities for 2020-24.
European research and innovation is also at the forefront of the EU’s response to the health, social and economic challenges caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
EU support for research and innovation allows Irish researchers to be involved with, or take the lead in, projects that are making breakthrough discoveries in science, health, transport, climate change and digital technologies.
Ireland’s own Research and Innovation Strategy, Impact 2030, was published in 2022. It outlines how Ireland intends to put research and innovation at the heart of unlocking Irish social, economic and environmental challenges across a variety of sectors.
Horizon Europe is the EU’s key funding programme for research and innovation over the 2021-27 period. It has a budget of around €95.5 billion that’s being used to help tackle climate change, to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and to boost the EU’s competitiveness and growth.
The programme is built around three main pillars – excellent science, global challenges and industrial competitiveness, and innovative Europe.
Five missions relating to climate change, cancer, oceans and water, carbon-neutral cities, and soil health, also form an integral part of Horizon Europe.
Ireland enjoys a strong track record in research funding through European Framework Programmes and received over €1.2 billion under the previous Horizon 2020 programme.
Some of the successes for Irish research funding under Horizon 2020 came through the European Research Council, from which just under €140 million was secured, and the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) from which Irish researchers at various stages of their careers were awarded more than €176 million. Irish SMEs enjoyed considerable success with Horizon 2020 funding, accounting for €307.2 million of the overall total.
According to the 2022 European Semester report for Ireland, the country’s research and development investment is relatively low compared to other Member States, and is not at the expected level for an economy at Ireland’s stage of development.
Skills shortages have been identified in several sectors, including IT, science, engineering, and health but the 2022 Semester report acknowledges that some progress had been made in implementing measures to stimulate research and innovation since the previous report.
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 get involved in or lead 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 was created to help Europe become the world’s leading ‘knowledge economy’ by developing a single, borderless market for research, innovation and technology across the EU.
Enterprise Ireland coordinates the network of national contact points for Horizon Europe in Ireland. The agency has a dedicated website where potential applicants can find out more about the programme and explore past Irish success stories.
The European Innovation Council (EIC) is Europe’s flagship innovation programme to identify, develop and support new technologies and game-changing innovations. About two-thirds of Europe's economic growth over the last few decades has been driven by innovation.
Ireland has transformed itself over the past 40 years into one of Europe’s top ten innovation nations. The country is classed as a ‘strong innovator’ Member State in the 2022 European Innovation Scoreboard, which provides an analysis of innovation performance in EU countries, other European countries, and regional neighbours.
The Industrial Development Agency (IDA) has helped attract billions of euro to Ireland in foreign direct investment (FDI) from companies in innovation related hi-tech sectors like Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), Pharmaceuticals, Digital Media and Social Media.
But innovation certainly isn’t confined to big business and EU provides funding and support to Irish start-ups and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with breakthrough innovation projects through funding sources such as EIC Accelerator.
Funding for Ireland
Irish researchers with viable proposals can search for funding opportunities on the Single Electronic Data Interchange Area (SEDIA), which is the single-entry point for finding and managing EU grants and procurement contracts.
Over 2,700 Irish organisations have been involved in Horizon 2020 projects, receiving over €1.21 billion in EU funding. Irish SMEs have been granted over €300 million of this total. 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.
Examples of EU-funded Irish projects:
- Eight Irish researchers were awarded starter grants totalling around €12 million in funding under the first European Research Council (ERC) Horizon Europe grants.
- In October 2022, UCD researchers became the first in Ireland to be awarded a Synergy Grant for STEM by the European Research Council (ERC). Professor Padraig Dunne, from the UCD School of Physics, will act as one of the Principal Investigators for project ‘HEAVYMETAL’ - which seeks to probe how neutron star mergers create heavy elements with the help of €11.3 million in ERC funding.
- Enterprise Ireland-backed Irish companies ATXA Therapeutics, Peregrine Technologies and Ostoform Limited were selected and approved for a total of €24.3 million in funding from the European Innovation Council (EIC) Accelerator Programme.
- Irish research organisations secured €34 million in funding to support early-career researchers through the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) under Horizon Europe.
- The Walton Institute, part of the Waterford Institute of Technology, is encouraging and facilitating the uptake of robotics in the agri-food sector.
- A University College Cork-led research project received €3.5 million in EU funding to develop a revolutionary way of converting waste heat into electricity.
- NUI Galway is leading a major project that is developing innovative, sustainable ways to manufacture ethylene using artificial photosynthesis.
- Dublin-based Deciphex is working with other SMEs from Belgium and Switzerland on its project to use Artificial Intelligence to transform drug and chemical safety testing.
The European Union was at the forefront of supporting research and innovation into combating pandemics long before the outbreak of Covid-19. In fact, between 2007 and 2019 €4.1 billion was invested in research into: epidemiology, preparedness and response to outbreaks, the development of diagnostics, treatments, and vaccines.
Within hours of the World Health Organisation declaring COVID-19 a global public health concern on 30 January 2020, the European Commission launched a €10 million emergency call for Coronavirus research projects.
The European Commission pledged just over €1 billion from Horizon 2020 for diagnostics, treatments, vaccines and research into all aspects of the pandemic and EU Research Ministers accelerated support to European research teams by endorsing the ten-point ERAvsCorona action plan to combat the coronavirus, including the funding of innovative approaches for researchers to deliver quick results.
The European Commission also launched a new European Research Area (ERA) corona platform to provide information, dedicated support and real-time updates on funding opportunities for coronavirus related research and innovation.
The development and distribution of effective, safe vaccines against COVID-19 has been a major success for the EU. Vaccination against COVID-19 started on 27 December 2020, with 70% of the EU adult population getting fully vaccinated by the end of August 2021. By June 2022, 86% of the EU adult population had been fully vaccinated.