AGM Acceptance Address by President Peter Quinn, 31 May 2018

AGM Acceptance Address by President Peter Quinn, 31 May 2018

01 June 2018 at 08:45

Distinguished guests, fellow members of the Institution, family, a chairde, ladies and gentlemen:-

May I begin by thanking you all, sincerely, for your presence here this evening in 22 Clyde Road, the headquarters of our Institution. Since the founding of ‘The Institution of Engineers of Ireland’ in 1835, I believe I am the 126th President and the first to hail from ‘Among the green bushes of sweet Tyrone’. This fact, amongst many others, makes it a momentous distinction and a singular pleasure to accept the Presidency of the Institution.

This year, for the first time, the number of our members exceeded 25,000, and to each one, a particular ‘thank you’ for conferring on me the honour of being your President. It is an honour for me and my family, my community, for my native heath and parish of Clonoe, and for all our people by the shores of Lough Neagh.

Like both my parents and all my siblings, my formal education started in Kingsisland Primary School. Then it was a two-mile walk from my rural home but light years from the wonderful place of learning it is today. My mother loved English and poetry whilst my father always said “a good education is easily carried”. He had returned from America and the Great Depression of the early ‘30s. He appreciated the heights of the challenges that lay ahead of us and he encouraged us to study. Somehow, they funded my entry to ‘The Academy’, or Saint Patrick’s Academy, Dungannon. I revelled in the opportunities it presented and relished the education I received in the Acadamh.

Fast-forward to the present day and I find myself on the Board of Governors of the Academy, and Project Sponsor on the construction of a new £28.0M school due to open in September. I am acutely aware of the privileged life I’ve been gifted, and I welcome the opportunity to put a little back into my community and my old Alma Mater. The seeds of my good fortune of the past 50 years were sown in those hallowed halls.

Amongst many other lessons imparted in the Academy was the importance of service to others. I pledge myself, here and now, to exert my utmost to be of service to the Institution of Engineers of Ireland and to each of its members, and to promote its best interests during my term as President.

My first real introduction into civil engineering was perfectly timed and very persuasive. Prime Minister Terence O'Neill's vision of a modern Northern Ireland in the 1960s manifested itself in the creation of the new city of Craigavon. In the summer of 1972, I was employed by Public Works as a ‘chainman’, setting-out the earthworks for the twin attenuation lakes in Craigavon. The storm run-off from the new cityscape posed a threat of flooding on the River Bann and the ‘balancing lakes’ provided an amenity space and a storm-holding facility. Those summer days on an earthworks site amidst the drag-box scrapers and super-sized excavators confirmed my opinion that I should apply to study Civil engineering at The Queen’s University of Belfast.

I graduated from Queen’s in 1977 with a Bachelor’s degree (but no Sigerson medal!!) and I have since thoroughly enjoyed my working life over the past 41 years. I started working immediately with Charles Brand & Son Ltd, a renowned heavy civil engineering company based in east Belfast. My first appointment was to Cloghan Point Jetty and the berthing dolphins in deep waters off the Antrim coast. Those were the mooring stations for oil tankers to supply Kilroot Power Station. Marine works and Urban-motorway construction in Belfast followed and, as the Troubles in Belfast in the late 1970s intensified, Anne and I decided it was time to get our passports out.

A two-year assignment to Nigeria in the early 1980s with JV Duffy from Shankill, County Dublin, brought my privileged life into sharp contrast with the environment into which I had been rapidly immersed. We constructed roads and bridges, installed water and electricity supplies and travelled extensively across the northern States. I worked with people of all nationalities and enjoyed the wonderful experience that the country presented.

Those experiences in Nigeria left a lifelong impression on me and I am forever grateful to those wonderful people I encountered. I’m acutely aware that the remotest areas of drought-ravaged Africa are barely a day’s journey away. We engineers are capable of effecting so much change, and the need for our positive interventions is enormous.

On returning to Ireland, an 18 year-long appointment to Monaghan County Council engaged me in the construction of roads, housing, water supply and wastewater treatment facilities. Daily interaction with the people of ‘the Farney County’ in challenging times left me with an abiding appreciation for their work ethic and their resourcefulness. Together we built roads and bridges and installed water supplies and wastewater treatment plants.

Improving financial times in the 1990s saw me move to Project Manager roles on national roads and water treatment plants for Group Water Schemes.

The mutual respect shared between the technical and administrative staff and the generosity of the people of Patrick Kavanagh’s famed county gives me frequent cause to return there and enjoy their company. In my year as President I plan to extend that outreach to all Local Authority engineers across the country. I am confident of the mutual benefits that will flow from that engagement.

It was during those years in Monaghan that I first engaged with Engineers Ireland, or, ‘The Institution of Engineers of Ireland’ as we were then known. With Con, Damien, Liam and their wives, year after year Anne and I danced our way through the regional functions in Virginia and on to the National Ball in Dublin. We became familiar with great stalwarts of the Institution, PJ Rudden, Finbar Callanan, Domhnail Blair, and many others. I am sure it was those relationships that, years later, gave me the confidence I needed when I presented at Clyde Road to represent the Northern Region.

It was also during my time with Monaghan County Council that I went back to Queen’s University to ‘tidy up’ some unfinished business, and in 1985 I became a Chartered Engineer. Being a Chartered Engineer for the past 33 years has been extremely important to me. At one level, it’s the gold standard of our professional achievement, but - much more importantly - that credential has given me authority to exercise good influence across a range of work and social related issues. Whether on school Boards of Governors, my local parish committees, or in the court room, my Chartered status has been accepted as a badge of integrity.

For the past 18 years I have served the people of Tyrone and further afield through PG Quinn Ltd, Consulting Engineers. More important than any financial benefit, it has been rewarding in allowing me to engage with my community and permitting me to put my experiences and engineering expertise at the disposal of those who share with me the ethic of community building.

The Institution and my Chartered status facilitate my deep-seated desire to serve the community where I live and work.

It’s that same willingness to serve, fostered in my childhood home and in the Academy in Dungannon, that brings engineers from all over the country, as in Ulster, to the committees of our Regions, Sectors and Divisions. I applaud and salute every one of our members for their voluntary work on which the Institution depends for it to function effectively. This Institution gives to them, as to you, a vehicle through which we make an impact on society. It’s not what the Institution does for them, but what membership of the institution allows them to do that is so crucial to our mission and objectives.

To my fellow members in the Northern Region, I am aware of the unique competition to which you are exposed from our fellow institutions in the various engineering disciplines. Facing that head-on, year after year the committee and members have made enormous efforts to grow our membership and present an inspiring programme of events. To each and all of you, I thank you on behalf of the Institution.

I have had the pleasure of chairing the Liaison Committee meetings for the past couple of years and, from my past experiences, I appreciate the efforts of the delegates. I was always well supported by Máirín and Sinéad and I thank them, too, for their sterling work. During my term as President, I plan to visit the Regions to better understand the issues that are most important to them and how they may be assisted.

My long association with the Northern Region saw me, as chairman in 2011, hosting a most successful National Conference in Belfast. The opportunity this presented for many members to explore the city was not lost, and the Titanic Quarter experience and the City Hall dinner event were truly memorable. That success was due to teamwork and collaboration between the staff here at Clyde Road and the Regional committee. That work continues now year-on-year and I thank the organising committees, staff and volunteers for the effort and enthusiasm they place in the Conference.

Likewise, one other notable aspect of the Institution’s activities where the voluntary contribution of our members is exceptional, is in the interview process for the Chartered Engineer qualification. As an interviewer over many years, I hail and thank all my fellow interviewers - at home and abroad - and the Membership team at Clyde Road for facilitating that vital process. In that regard, Shirley and Debbie have been superb ambassadors for the Institution. On behalf of all of us, I want to express deep gratitude to them and their team for what you have done over the years.

The poor quality of infrastructure in Ireland has been identified as the most problematic factor for doing business in this country. Project Ireland 2040 proposes a strategy, backed by investment of €116 billion, to guide development and investment for the next 20 years. By 2040, for the first time since ‘The Great Hunger’ and the formation of Engineers Ireland, the population on the island is predicted to reach 8.0 million. Planning for an extra 1½ million people, their homes, places of work and the infrastructure required to support this growth, whilst at the same time ensuring environmental quality, poses many challenges. Contrast those objectives with the fact that, since 2011, the numbers of building and civil engineering graduates in Ireland continues to fall year-on-year – 45% over the past 5 years.

We in Engineers Ireland believe that the expertise, gathered from our 25,000-strong membership base across every discipline, will be vital to the planning and delivery of strategic national infrastructure. Engineers Ireland recognises our responsibilities and the enormity of the task we face in this regard. Not for the first time can it be said, ‘the harvest is great, but the labourers are few’. It is a time of great challenge and great opportunity. It is also an exciting time to be an engineer.

My engagement with Clyde Road down the years has brought me into contact and created opportunity for life-long friendships with many of you here present. I am deeply grateful for your friendship and acknowledge the support given to me by all the staff, by fellow officers, members on Council, Executive and the Finance Committee.

I thank the Director General, Caroline Spillane, for her efforts on behalf of the institution and for her support, always readily given. I also want to recognise and record the support of the past DG, John Power, not just to me personally, but also for the Northern Region. To the directors, Caríosa, Lisa, Michelle, Dee, Damien, Shirley and John and to our Policy Officer, Richard Manton, I look forward to continuing to work with you for the Institution during my term. When I recall all of those whom I have met and with whom I have had the privilege of working, the words of William Butler Yeats come to mind;

‘Think where man’s glory most begins and ends,
And say, my glory was I had such friends.’

To my predecessors, Bill Grimson and Dermot Byrne, ‘friends’ now - more than ever before - I will need your support and good counsel. To my friend and immediate past-President, Kieran, a thousand thanks to you and your family for your ongoing and enormous contributions down the years to this institution. To my successors-in-line, Marguerite and Maurice, I pass on the warning – “time flies”!

Throughout my life, my career choices almost inevitably have had impacts on and implications for those closest to me. Firstly, I thank my parents for the sacrifices they made in funding and encouraging my education. Even before the daily trek to the Primary School in Kingsisland, their spirit of generosity, their values and priorities were instilled in me, exhorting me to achieve my best not just for myself but for the betterment of all. Truly, I got my most important education at my parents’ knee. Their principles are shared with my family, and I thank my brothers and sisters for their support along life’s journey.

To my wife, Anne, and our three sons, John, David and Aidan, I apologise for the hours and the separation that work and career have forced upon us over the years. I am immensely proud of every one of you and I thank you for your constant encouragement. To Lisa, my first daughter-in-law, and to Judeena and Cara; I’m afraid my sons have inherited their father’s love of engineering and travel. So, you too are well warned! I particularly want to thank David and Judeena for travelling from New Zealand to be here on this very special occasion for me and for all of us.

Again, I thank all the members for the accolade of being the 126th President of Engineers Ireland. Reverting back to the Yeats quotation, you are where our glory most begins and ends, and my glory is in your friendship. Whatever adventures we may have in the time to come, I am sure I shall never forget the emotions of this evening nor be able to properly express my gratitude to you, colleagues and companions, for this supreme honour.

Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir agus beir Beannacht.