Read the recent Inaugural Speech (on 31 May) by Dermot Byrne, President, Engineers Ireland

Read the recent Inaugural Speech (on 31 May) by Dermot Byrne, President, Engineers Ireland

15 June 2016 at 16:59

Annual General Meeting, 31 May 2016


Distinguished guests, fellow members of Engineers Ireland, ladies and gentlemen, friends.

I am deeply honoured to be standing here before you as your newly elected President and I look forward to 'carrying the torch' on behalf of the profession for the next year.

I want at the outset to pay tribute to my predecessor Bill Grimson for the amazing work he has done as President - and indeed for the enormous contribution he has made over the past two decades in roles such as Chairman of our CPD Standing Committee and Chairman of our Membership & Qualifications Board. It has been a pleasure for me as Vice-President to work with Bill - and indeed with his predecessors John O'Dea and Regina Moran - and I know that Bill will be there for me – with advice, encouragement and support – during my term.

This time last year Bill selected three themes  ‘Civic Engagement’, ‘Trust’ and the ‘Image of Engineers’ as areas  deserving extra reflection and attention during his term of office.  Based on his earlier Presidents Review,  I think we can all agree that he has fully achieved what he set out to deliver on these important concepts. 

I would also like to welcome Peter Quinn as incoming Vice President.  I look forward to working with my fellow Officers - Vice President Kieran Feighan, Peter and Bill and all the members of Council and Executive Board over the coming year.

I thought it might be helpful to give you a brief sense of my background and career. I graduated as an electrical engineer from UCD back in 1972/3. Back then there were two options for an electrical engineer coming out of college - the ESB or the Post & Telegraphs.  How times have changed! 

My full time career was spent in two great companies: ESB and latterly EirGrid.  Two companies that always have a focus on the customer and on the importance of their contribution to society. 

More recently I have had the privilege of working as a Non-Executive Director with some great people at Element Power and at Intellectual Ventures, and also of chairing the Energy Research Strategy Group for the Department of Communications, Climate Change and Natural Resources.   I also chair the board of VITA, an Irish development agency working in East Africa (principally Ethiopia and Eritrea), working with communities and families to alleviate poverty and the effects of climate change.

In recent months, together with my fellow Officers and with Council, I have been working with the Director General, Caroline and her team, in developing a strategy to guide our organisation for the next 3 years.

The development of this strategy comes at an inflection point in Ireland’s recent history. A new Government has taken office, with aspirations of a new kind of political engagement, to take Ireland forward into a new period of economic and social progress. At the same time, economic growth – though fragile - remains consistent, though the challenge now is to ensure that the dividend is distributed proportionately across the regions and to all communities.

In this context, our strategy needs to strongly reflect the feedback we have received through our extensive consultations up and down the country with members and stakeholders. Themes emerging from the process so far centre on the concepts of ‘innovation’, ‘inspiration’, ‘integration and ’celebration’.   These are themes very close to my own heart, and you will be hearing a lot more from me over the year in relation to these!

We are being encouraged by our members and stakeholders to focus and prioritise our efforts on significant initiatives of relevance such as ensuring :

  • That we inspire our children from the very earliest age to consider engineering as a career. 
  • That our academic institutions work with industry, to ensure the engineers of the future have a full range of relevant skills.
  • That we support, recognise and celebrate the important role that apprentices, technicians and professional engineers continue to make to our economic recovery.
  • That we promote and enhance the profile, value and contribution of the profession.
  • That we support our members, to ensure their capabilities keep pace with the current standards of others in the same field through Continuing Professional Development activities.  And,
  • That we encourage engineers to contribute to solving major societal issues, in Ireland and in the developing world.

On this last point, in my role as chairman of Vita, I have seen at first hand the struggle that so many families in the third world have to put food on the table,  to have clean water to drink, to educate their children, and to live sustainably in their environments.  A total of 1.3 billion people in the world, mainly in Africa, do not have access to electricity, something that we all take for granted.  The ensuing problems of de-forestation, water scarcity, famine, and the flow of migrants that we see day-in day-out crossing the Mediterranean, are all only going to be exacerbated by Climate Change over the coming decades.  I know that there are many Irish engineers working overseas to make a difference, for Concern and for other agencies. 

In the context of a theme of  'Celebration',  I would like over the coming year to recognise and celebrate their  contribution; likewise to celebrate the work of engineers in our armed forces, especially the work that the Navy is doing in saving so many lives in the Mediterranean.  And perhaps to 'Inspire' more engineers to get involved in this important work.

A cornerstone of our new Strategy will be a commitment by the organisation to play an active and constructive role in our new, consensus-driven model of policy decision-making. We believe that our expertise, gathered from 23,000 engineers across every discipline of the sector, is vital to the planning and delivery of Strategic National Infrastructure.

As a partner for Ireland, it is our hope to work with the new Government, as well as with public and private sector bodies, in advancing the policy proposals we generate, including our vision for a single Strategic National Infrastructure Unit that draws together coordinated actions across Government.

Engineers Ireland will be a vocal advocate for the progressive shift towards a carbon-free society. That the Government has recognised ‘climate change’ in the job title of the Minister (Minister Naughten who we were delighted to have had with us here today) is, I hope, more than a symbolic gesture of support for our collective responsibility to secure our energy future.

We look forward to contributing actively to the formulation and implementation of ideas in this new, democratised era, that gives more say to experts working in partnership with decision-makers.  President Higgins, in his address to our national conference last month said that "Engineering interacts with all other forms of life.  The future of the profession will see engineers at the centre of planning, not simply asked to join in the execution of particular tasks, but in designing transformation."   In my term as President, I intend to make it a priority that Engineers Ireland actively promotes the expert voice of the engineer in debates of national significance.

Already we are seeing progress on this agenda: - the recent request to assist the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government on the consultation process for the new National Planning Framework is just one example of where we are increasingly being called upon to advise.

Work on refining our strategic plan, which will encompass these and other ideas, is continuing at pace.  I look forward to receiving a final draft from the DG for discussion at our June Council meeting.

Before I conclude, I would like to thank the staff of Engineers Ireland for their unwavering dedication to best practice across all aspects of the organisation.  The 2015/16 Presidential term was one of great developments and change which has helped us to improve our organisation as a whole, and I look forward to continuing and sustaining this progress in the coming 12 months.

As President I pledge to give the role my total focus and attention.  It is an enormous honour, and this evening and this occasion are of great significance for me and for my family.

Thank you.