Frequently Asked Questions

What is ESF+?

The ESF + is the EU’s main instrument for investing in people . It does this by improving access to employment opportunities , education and training and llfelong learning, enhancing social inclusion and tackling poverty.

For the 2021-2027 period, the ESF has been merged with the Youth Employment Initiative (YEI), the Fund for European Aid to the most Deprived (FEAD) and the directly managed Employment and Social Innovation (EaSI) Programme, to become the European Social Fund Plus (ESF+).

The aim of the ESF+ is to achieve high employment levels, fair social protection, and a skilled and resilient workforce for the future world of work, in line with the principles set out in the European Pillar of Social Rights.

In Ireland, ESF+ investment will be delivered through the Employment, Inclusion, Skills, and Training (EIST) Programme 2021-2027.

How can I avail of a grant from the ESF+?

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 various Departments and Agencies, which are selected following a comprehensive consultation exercise. Funding from the ESF+ may mean new courses provided, additional places on courses, no fees, or indeed grant assistance for students or trainees. Please see our regularly updated list of Calls for proposals to see if your organisation can benefit from ESF+ assistance: EU Funding Calls for Proposals – EU Funds

How are ESF+ objectives implemented in Ireland?

ESF+ objectives are implemented in Ireland through the Employment, Inclusion, Skills, and Training Programme 2021-2027. By the end of the current round Ireland will have received over €7 billion from the ESF+ since joining the EU in 1973. In the period 2021-2027, the ESF+ will seek to address issues relating to Employment, Skills and Lifelong Learning, Social Inclusion, Social Innovation, and Assistance to the Most Deprived.

What is the Employment, Inclusion Skills and Training (EIST) Programme 2021-2027?

EIST is Ireland’s ESF+ programme for the 2021 to 2027 period. The Programme involves a total investment of over €1.08 billion; €508 million from the EU and €573 million from the Government of Ireland. The programme has two different rates of co-financing. As ‘more developed’ regions, the Southern and the Eastern & Midlands regions will receive 40% in EU co-financing, while as a ‘transition’ region the North-Western region will receive 60% in EU co-financing. 

EIST contains five Priorities which were developed in line with the European Pillar of Social Rights, EU and national policy, and a stakeholder consultation process.

Priority 1 – Employment: Support labour market training and activation measures for all job seekers with a particular focus on younger workers, the long-term unemployed and those underrepresented in the labour market, including people with a disability.

Priority 2 – Skills and Lifelong Learning: Support increased access to inclusive education and training at all levels including through the enhanced provision of adult education and targeted support for learners from disadvantaged groups. Promote lifelong learning through support for upskilling and reskilling programmes in key sectors of the economy.

Priority 3 – Social Inclusion: Provide targeted support for individuals at higher risk of social exclusion, to facilitate their active participation in society and improve employability. Support actions designed to further the personal and social development of those at risk of poverty or social exclusion, in particular young people, and children.

Priority 4 – Social Innovation: Support social innovation and social experimentation measures including the development and testing of new ideas, approaches and policies designed to address this challenge. It will also support the scaling up of approaches tested on a smaller scale or in a different context. The overall aim is to develop new approaches to the challenges faced by disadvantaged groups and to develop the social innovation ecosystem in Ireland

Priority 5 – Assistance to the Most Deprived: help people take their first steps out of poverty by addressing their most basic needs i.e., food and basic materials for personal use. 

What is the Programme for Employability, Inclusion and Learning 2014-2020?

The Programme for Employment, Inclusion & Learning 2014-2020 was the only ESF Operational Programme in Ireland during the 2014-2020 programming period.

The Operational Programme contained four Priority Axes (five including technical assistance which funds the operational administrative and publicity of the programme) comprising some 20+ specific activities. The priority axes are as follows:

  • Priority 1: Promoting the attainment of sustainable and quality employment through relevant upskilling measures and supporting labour mobility.
  • Priority 2: Promoting Social Inclusion and combating discrimination in the labour market.
  • Priority 3: Investing in Education, Training and Life-Long Learning with a view to upskilling and re-skilling the labour force.
  • Priority 4: Youth Employment Initiative.


Originally, PEIL involved investment of €1.037 billion over the period 2014-2020, comprising €484.5 million from the European Social Fund (ESF), an equal amount from the Exchequer and just over €68 million from the Youth Employment Initiative (YEI). 

 In 2021, an additional investment from the EU Commission was allocated to the PEIL Operational Programme of €88.3m under REACT-EU (Recovery Assistance for Cohesion and the Territories of Europe) in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, bringing the total programme amount to €1.125 billion.

 Most recently, PEIL was amended to programme Ireland’s 2022 tranche of REACT EU funding, resulting in the creation of a new priority in the programme to assist with the basic needs and support of persons granted temporary protection, bringing the total programme allocation to €1.179bn.

What is the Youth Employment Initiative?

The Youth Employment Initiative (YEI) is tackling the high levels of youth unemployment and focuses particularly on young people under the age of 25 not in employment, education, or training.

 The EU launched it in 2013 to provide support to young people living in regions where youth unemployment was higher than 25%.

The YEI supports the implementation of the Youth Guarantee. Under the Youth Guarantee, Member States should put in place measures to ensure that young people up to the age of 25 receive a good quality offer of employment, continued education, an apprenticeship, or a traineeship within 4 months of leaving school or becoming unemployed.

For the period 2021-2027, , the EU institutions integrated the Youth Employment Initiative into the European Social Fund Plus (ESF+) Ensuing that  all Member States will have to invest an appropriate amount of their ESF+ resources to targeted actions and structural reforms to support youth employment, education and training.

  1. What is the European Employment and Social Innovation (EASI) Programme?

The Employment and Social Innovation (EaSI) programme is a financing instrument at EU level to promote a high level of quality and sustainable employment, guaranteeing adequate and decent social protection, combating social exclusion and poverty and improving working conditions.

For the period 2021 – 2027 the EaSI programme will become a strand under the European Social Fund Plus (ESF+).

  •  EASI aims to Strengthen ownership of EU objectives and coordination of action at EU and national level in the areas of employment, social affairs, and inclusion.
  • Support the development of adequate social protection systems and labour market policies.
  • Modernise EU legislation and ensure its effective application.
  • Promote geographical mobility and boost employment opportunities by developing an open labour market.
  • Increase the availability and accessibility of microfinance for vulnerable groups and micro-enterprises and increase access to finance for social enterprises.

The  Wheel About Us | EaSI Ireland ( is the National Contact Point for Ireland’s EASI programme.