Saturday, January 16, 2010

Annual Ball, and first ever Lifetime Achievement Award.

We held our annual ball last night in the Burlington Hotel in Dublin,  with about 650 people attending.  A special occasion in our 175th year,  and I was particularly delighted that Dermot McCarthy Secretary General Taoiseach's Office,  and his wife Rosemary,  were able to join us,  along with past Presidents,  and the Presidents of our regions and societies.

I was also grateful to our many sponsors of the raffle which was,  as usual,  quite extensive.   Domhnall Blair and Rita Pollard together did excellent work in organising the event,  and I felt that the staff of the Burlington - not least the kitchen staff - did a wonderful job in their hospitality,  catering and care for us on the evening.

I had the privilege yesterday evening of doing something that no other President has done in 175 years:  that is to honour one of our members with a Lifetime Achievement Award.   This particular individual graduated from UCD in 1968,  joining T Garland and Partners,  and then Clondalkin Concrete (owned by Roadstone) in September 1969.   He then served for Clondalkin/Roadstone/CRH for 40 years,  retiring just last November.   He was a specialist in concrete technology and was quality and technical problems specialist,  before turning to a high successful sales representative and manager in 1970s.

This individual has a long association with our Institution.   His father was involved in the purchase of 22 Clyde Road,  and as child for his father,  one of his first services to the Institution was to clean the fireplaces of our new headquarters!   He served with the Young Engineers Society,  during and immediately after College,   and was one of the youngest ever members of Council in 1970.   He has since served many times on Council and Executive.   He has been involved in both the Civils and Structures Division;  a member of the Ethics Board; a member of the Benevolent Fund;  a member of the Membership and Qualifications Board;  and a member of various task forces including membership, transactions,  marketing and corporate plan.   He has also been the organiser of our annual ball for many years,  including last night.

So,  for 55 years of service with Engineers Ireland,  we awarded Domhnall Blair the first ever Lifetime Achievement Award!

I also gave a short speech on the occasion of our 175th year,  as follows:

On Thursday, August 6, 1835, a meeting of civil engineers was held at the offices of the Board of Public Works, then located in the Custom House, Dublin, presided over by Colonel John Fox Burgoyne (1782-1871), chairman of the Board. At that meeting, a society was founded, having as its objective ‘the promotion of science in general, but more particularly as connected with the profession of Civil Engineers’. Over 175 years, that society has evolved to become Engineers Ireland, the voice of the engineering profession representing 24,000 members across all disciplines.

This is a particularly appropriate time to mark the profession’s outstanding heritage of service and achievement. In the nineteenth century, the professional engineer had a highly visible role in society and in the re-shaping of a landscape that had been largely unchanged for centuries.  We are now entering a period when recognition of engineering is on the rise again, but this time it is our economic landscape that must be changed.

In the formative era of the organised profession in Ireland, the Irish public witnessed railways, roads and bridges appear across the country, often where none had existed before. These engineering accomplishments were imposing and hard to miss. Not surprisingly, awareness of the profession and a respect for the contribution of engineers was widespread in those years.

In recent decades, the achievements of the profession have been no less distinguished but their visibility frequently has not been as high. There have been groundbreaking engineering advances in biomedicine, in software and computing, in pharmaceuticals and medical devices, to name just a few sectors vital to the Irish economy. While underpinning the economy, the role of the professional engineer often has not achieved the broad, public recognition it had in the past. Even professional civil and transport engineers, whose achievements in the last two decades arguably rival those of their pioneering nineteenth century forerunners, have not received the credit their accomplishments deserve.

Now, as we mark 175 years of engineering achievement, there are signs that professional engineers and their value to society are becoming visible to the broader public, once again.

The great challenges of this new decade are many.  Very much at the forefront are economic recovery,  climate change, energy security and environmental management. As has been all too evident in recent months, these are no longer issues that we can dismiss as topics for international conferences and the technology pages of our newspapers. They are now confronting the public with an alarming immediacy.  A weak economy,  unprecedented floods, record snowfalls and breakdowns in water supply across the country, have caused misery for households and undermined already hard-hit businesses.  While our energy supply has not yet experienced serious shortages (and for this no small credit is due to our members who manage supplies at our leading energy utilities) nevertheless, as the recent experience of disruption in gas supply to industry in the UK shows, we cannot afford to be complacent.

Clearly, society needs solutions urgently. It needs innovative thinkers.  It needs problem solvers. It needs professional engineers.

In our leadership role,  our profession assumes responsibilities. Professional engineers understand the critical importance of health and safety in all aspects of engineering works and projects.  It is vital that we have the highest standards when engaging with the public,  including consultancy work.   We have recently updated our code of ethics,  and I would encourage you to consult this if you are unfamiliar with its details (it is available on the Engineers Ireland web site). We must make sure and certain that the public’s trust in professional engineers and engineering is not shaken, as it arguably has been in other professions. 

Our profession has a vital position to play in re-building the Irish economy and indeed re-energizing national pride.  Sustainable high-end employment,  creating wealth and also support for the more vulnerable members of our society,  is just not going to happen without engineers in Ireland delivering new and innovative offerings – products,  services,  processes and re-designs – for the international market.

I believe that it is one duty of each Chartered Engineer to actively outreach to society at large.   It is important that the public at large understand the leadership and responsibility inherent in professional engineering.  Each one of us should consider how we can actively promote the profession:  this can be for example via volunteer work via Engineers Ireland;   media work,  including both local and national media channels;  schools and the STEPS programme;  and influencing local and national policy.

This year there will be many events to mark the illustrious history of Engineers Ireland, including a three-part series of articles in the Journal to mark key milestones.  It is a history of endurance and achievement, survival and growth, in the face of past adversities including sporadic periods of economic deprivation, famine, and war.

As we look back and celebrate the story of a remarkable national institution of which we are all proud to call ourselves members, we know that the continuation of that story - the future of the Irish Engineering - is in our hands.

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