What is the European Social Fund?

The ESF is one of the four European Structural and Investment (ESI) Funds in Ireland. The ESF is the longest established ESI Fund. The other Funds are the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD), and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF). 

The European Social Fund provides €10 billion annually across the European Union. Each country in the European Union avails of this funding to improve job prospects for millions of people and create a more inclusive society. It co-funds local, regional and national employment-related projects throughout the European Union.

By the end of the current round Ireland will have received over €7 billion from the ESF since joining the EU in 1973.


How does it work?

The Partnership Agreement sets out the policy context within which European Structural and Investment Funds allocated to Ireland will be applied. It outlines Ireland’s development needs and defines national priorities to support the National Reform Programme (NRP) and the achievement of national targets for delivering the Europe 2020 Strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.

ESF Operational Programmes are planned by Member States, together with the European Commission, and then implemented through a wide range of provider organisations both in the public and the private sectors. These include national, regional and local authorities, educational and training organisations, voluntary organisations and the Social Partners (i.e. trade unions and works councils, industry and professional organisations) and individual companies. The ESF Policy and Operations Unit within the Department of Education and Skills has the responsibility for overseeing all matters relating to the ESF in Ireland.

For the period 2014-2020, ESF investments within Ireland will be delivered through the Programme for Employability, Inclusion and Learning (PEIL).



The key areas of investment chosen for the ESF in Ireland revolve around activation of the unemployed, social and labour market inclusion, education and training and youth employment. 

ESF grants are not available directly from the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science. The ESF supports a range of courses, schemes and projects across the country but this assistance is channelled through a number of Government Departments and Agencies, which were selected following a comprehensive consultation exercise. These Bodies include the Department of Justice, the Department of Social Protection, the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, the Department of Rural and Community Development, SOLAS, the Higher Education Authority and the Department of Defence.

Funding from the ESF may mean new courses provided, additional places on courses, no fees or assistance provided for students or trainees.