The Minister of State for Training, Skills, Innovation, Research and Development, Mr John Halligan TD 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.

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.

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.

Ireland’s membership comes as the ESO is 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.

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