The year 2020 was certainly a year of change, featuring not only the COVID-19 crisis, but also a general election and the formation of a new government. Richard Manton outlines some of the highlights of a year of advocacy that focused on national recovery, climate action, innovation and future engineering skills.

General election priorities

The general election was held on February 8, 2020. Reflecting the expertise of our members in finding practical and cost-effective solutions to many societal challenges, Engineers Ireland highlighted five policy priorities:

  • Implement Project Ireland 2040 and achieve value for money in infrastructure;
  • Take urgent action to make the country carbon neutral;
  • Build safe and sustainable homes and communities;
  • Invest in higher education and lifelong learning;
  • Future-proof our economy by preparing for the future of work.

We communicated these priorities through an Engineers’ Priorities for General Election 2020 brochure sent to more than 400 general election candidates and to Engineers Ireland members, who were asked to raise the priorities with candidates and canvassers.

We also released press statements, social media graphics and two of our spokespersons appeared on regional radio: Cormac Bradley on KFM and John Jordan on Midlands 103.

Climate and biodiversity emergency

March 4 was the first annual World Engineering Day for Sustainable Development, a UNESCO international day to highlight the achievements of engineers and improve public understanding of how engineering is central to sustainable development.

We were delighted that David Donoghue, former Permanent Representative of Ireland to the United Nations, launched our event to mark the day at 22 Clyde Road. He co-facilitated the complex UN negotiations that led to agreement on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The event will also included speakers from Intel, NASA, TU Dublin and NUI Galway.

In advance of the World Engineering Day, Engineers Ireland’s Council, which includes representatives of our engineering divisions and regional branches, passed a motion to declare a climate and biodiversity emergency, publicly recognising that climate breakdown and biodiversity collapse are the most serious issues of our time.

Council acknowledged the considered opinion of the scientific community that transformational action is required in the next 10 years to achieve meaningful outcomes.

President of Engineers Ireland Marguerite Sayers made the declaration, stating: “The planet has ecological limits and a finite biocapacity, a paradigm shift is required to realign humanity’s ecological footprint within this capacity. Indeed, with our existing technologies and fossil fuel dependence, we will fail to achieve our existing commitments. 

"Engineers Ireland is adding our voice to those of professional bodies and other organisations around the world by declaring a climate and biodiversity emergency.

"Engineers Ireland members will take action to address the impact of the climate and biodiversity emergency. In this most important of missions, we will collaborate with scientists, environmentalists, government, their advisers, public service, other professions and civil society.”

As a professional body with 25,000 members, we will act as a leading voice for sustainability. Under the environmental and social obligations of our Code of Ethics, our members shall, for example, promote the principles and practices of sustainable development and the needs of present and future generations, and shall foster environmental awareness within the profession and among the public. Later in the year, we published a Sustainability Framework, more below.

Marguerite Sayers former president, WE DayPresident Marguerite Sayers declared a climate and biodiversity emergency on behalf of Engineers Ireland on World Engineering Day for Sustainable Development

Future engineering skills

The ‘Engineering 2020: A barometer of the profession in Ireland’ report captured the latest trends in engineering employment and education. The report was based on surveys of more than 2,000 engineers, 1,000 members of the public, 150 engineering leaders and 90 academics. This extensive engagement was complemented by the analysis of data collected by state agencies and collaborations with educators and researchers.

This, the third instalment in the engineering series of baromete reports, featured a special chapter on engineering and the SDGs, including findings from research projects in TU Dublin and NUI Galway. The report concluded with four trends:

  • The demand for engineers continues despite Brexit concerns;
  • STEM education policy should take steps to close the gender gap;
  • Engineering skills of the future will be both ‘digital’ and ‘human’;
  • The SDGs can popularise engineering and achieve a better world.

David Donoghue, former Permanent Representative of Ireland to the United Nations, launches the Engineering 2020 barometer report

COVID-19 and a new government

As COVID-19 took hold in the spring, engineers worked to support those at the frontline of the global pandemic as they responded through the delivery and development of medical supplies and innovations for healthcare workers and wider society.

Additionally, Ireland’s utility companies and their engineers are ensuring that essential services such as water, electricity, gas and broadband continue to be provided to sustain healthcare, businesses and support families, including older people and workers at home. We have been shining a light on this engineering excellence.

 During the government formation talks in April, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael agreed a policy framework for the new government and set out 10 missions. Engineers Ireland engaged in the process by offering proposals to help Ireland recover and rebuild, such as capital investment, housing, climate action, education, digitalisation and regional development.

Our engagements during this time and the remainder of the year took place online through video conferences, webinars and email – made possible of course by the sterling work of engineers at home and abroad.

In June, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green party agreed a Programme for Government, Our Shared Future. This was a positive development from Engineers Ireland’s perspective and we welcomed the focus on job creation, climate action, housing and public transport.

The Programme for Government includes many measures which we have advocated in recent times, including increased infrastructure spending, achieving at least 70% renewable electricity by 2030, progressing public transport projects, retrofitting more than 500,000 homes by 2030, funding Irish Water’s capital investment plan, accelerating the roll-out of the National Broadband Plan, increasing lifelong learning rates and improving awareness of STEM career paths.

The Engineering Excellence Digital Series recognised engineers’ response to coronavirus, such as the COVID Alliance (pictured) and I-Form’s Rapid Response Digital Manufacturing Hub

Increasing capital investment

The July stimulus and Budget 2021, which followed in October, increased capital investment to more than €10 billion for the first time. This represents €600 million more than the planned increase under the National Development Plan (NDP) and includes spending related to Brexit and COVID-19 measures.

Increased investment was provided for transport (public transport, active travel and roads), housing (social housing, servicing sites and retrofitting), water, education and many other areas.

Budget 2021 also included a €3.4 billion Recovery Fund as a targeted stimulus to increase domestic demand and employment. The fund will focus on three main areas: infrastructure development; reskilling and retraining; and supporting investment and jobs.

It is designed to be flexible so that the government can respond to the changing environments of COVID-19 and Brexit. The cabinet also committed to reviewing the NDP in early 2021. Engineers Ireland will engage in the NDP review, bringing our expertise in infrastructure, technology and related areas to advocating for a more ambitious and climate-oriented 10-year capital programme.

Construction innovation and skills

Throughout 2020, to ensure that the construction sector has the capacity to effectively deliver on such an expanded capital programme, Engineers Ireland contributed to many research and policy projects related to the construction sector. KPMG and Future Analytics analysed productivity in the construction sector and the report, published in May, highlighted the need for greater investment in innovation, regulatory reform and a pipeline of projects.

Reports from the Department of Public Expenditure & Reform (‘Building Innovation’ and ‘BUILD 2020’) followed in June and July and include useful data and context to construction innovation. 

In September, the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs ‘Building Future Skills’ outlined the demand for skills in Ireland’s built environment to 2030.

The Construction Sector Group (CSG) provides regular and open dialogue between government and the construction sector and Engineers Ireland is represented by director general Caroline Spillane, providing a voice for the engineering profession at the highest levels of government.

A new CSG Innovation and Digital Adoption subgroup was established in 2020 and past president of Engineers Ireland, PJ Rudden, was named as chair. This important group will oversee the development of a Build-Digital centre of excellence, a Construction Technology Centre, a Construction Research Forum and other innovations on construction technology and planning.

Past president of Engineers Ireland, PJ Rudden, was named as chair of innovation and digital adoption, Construction Sector Group

Higher education response to COVID-19

The Engineers Ireland Academic Society was re-established as a network of academic engineers and those in industry with an interest in teaching and learning.

Its mission is to promote the professional development of academic engineers and the advancement of academic standards in the sector. Members share ideas and experiences on career development, the latest teaching and learning methods and the recognition of best practice.

Academic engineers responded to the pandemic by moving teaching online; however, the delivery of laboratories and other ‘hands-on’ activities is a challenge in distance and blended contexts.

In the run-up to and during the new academic year, the society supported the higher education sector’s response to COVID-19 by holding webinars on online laboratories and assessment (recordings on the Engineers Ireland YouTube channel) and presented the results of a survey on the effects of coronavirus on engineering education (read more in the Engineers Journal).

Commitment to sustainability

Building on the declaration of a climate and biodiversity emergency and developed in consultation with our members and staff, the Council of Engineers Ireland approved a Sustainability Framework 2020-2023. Under the headings Learn, Live, Lead and Link, it includes a set of initial actions for 2020 and 2021, for example:

  • Embedding sustainability in third-level engineering programmes and CPD;
  • Expanding online services, events and training, and an environmental audit of 22 Clyde Road;
  • Communicating ethical obligations to sustainability and highlighting exemplar projects;
  • Promoting cross-sectoral collaboration on advocacy, training and networking.

The Sustainability Framework, our declaration of a climate and biodiversity emergency and sustainability-related news and events are available on a dedicated webpage.

In October, Engineers Ireland held a national conference ‘Engineering Climate Action: Solutions to combat climate change in Ireland’ to discuss the leadership role for engineers in addressing climate breakdown and in helping communities to transition to a more resilient society. 

First in an excellent array of speakers was President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins, who said: “The Irish education system needs to generate many more engineers armed with skills needed to meet the global climate change challenge and to build a sustainable world. Engineers have a clear role to play to ensure that everyone in the world has access to clean water, sanitation, reliable energy, and safeguarded from climate change’s adverse impacts which are already manifesting.”

This keynote address and the presentations from the conference are available online.

President Michael D  Higgins delivered the opening keynote address at the Engineers Ireland National Conference on Engineering Climate Action

Advocating a green and digital recovery

In October, Engineers Ireland published ‘The State of Ireland 2020: Engineering a green and digital recovery’. The report recognised that the pandemic not only revealed the vulnerability of our social and healthcare systems, but also demonstrated the agility of the nation to engineer dramatic improvements for the good of society, including innovation in healthcare technology and the built environment.

The 10th annual report advocated for a green and digital recovery, driven by investments in infrastructure, technology and education.

The State of Ireland 2020 report comprised four sections: Infrastructure for economic stimulus; A Green New Deal for Ireland; A Digital Ireland; and Education for a green and digital future. Informed by a dedicated advisory group of engineers and other professionals, the report outlined a set of recommendations that will help the Irish economy to recover by tackling the challenges and embracing the opportunities arising from climate change, digitalisation and Brexit.

The report also highlighted excellent engineering such as the COVID Tracker App, the LIT Industrial Electrical Engineering apprenticeship and renewable electricity generation.

At the online launch event, Engineers Ireland president Maurice Buckley said that “we need to grasp this real opportunity now to make climate action and digitalisation central to Ireland’s recovery, to reduce detrimental impact on the environment and improve the quality of our lives”. The report was profiled in The Irish Times, Newstalk’s Breakfast Business and the Business Post.

The State of Ireland 2020 report advocated for a green and digital recovery, driven by investments in infrastructure, technology and education


As we near the end of the Brexit transition period on December 31, 2020, Engineers Ireland has been signposting  information and supports to help members to manage the risk.

Our dedicated webpage includes sections on: mobility and mutual recognition for engineers; standards, Construction Products Regulation and the ‘CE’ marking; trading with the UK; general Brexit readiness and financial support; Northern Region members; GB Region members.

Throughout 2020, we have also held webinars related to Brexit, such as ‘Are you ready for Brexit?’ with Chartered Accountants Ireland, Engineers Ireland’s mutual recognition agreements with international engineering bodies, and Maurice Buckley’s presidential  address ‘Engineering in a Changing World: COVID-19, Brexit and Beyond’. You can find recordings of many of Engineers Ireland’s webinars on our YouTube channel.

Engineers Ireland strives to be the progressive authority on a range of issues relevant to engineering in Ireland. Through our research, policy and public affairs work, we advocate evidence-based solutions for the benefit of Irish society and build the profile of the engineering profession. During 2020, Engineers Ireland launched a new website including a section dedicated to ‘Campaigns and policies’. Here, you will find our reports, policy briefs, submissions and other publications.

Author: Richard Manton, deputy registrar and policy officer, Engineers Ireland