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What is the ESF?

What is the ESF?

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). For further information on the ESI Funds in Ireland visit their dedicated website



The European Social Fund created in 1957, is the European Union’s main financial instrument for investing in people. The specific objectives of the ESF are to help prevent and fight unemployment; to make Europe's workforce and companies better equipped to face new challenges and to prevent people losing touch with the labour market through investment in education, skills and employment support. 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).


Activities supported by the PEIL include: 

  • Training for the unemployed
  • Training for people with disabilities
  • Education/training for early school leavers  
  • Social Inclusion programmes
  • Employment programmes

Further information on the activities supported through the PEIL 2014-2020 can be found here.