Reliable provision of energy, water and materials to enable Ireland to meet sustainability targets will be critical to future industrial development, Professor Orla Feely warns in her presidential address. 

Engineers Ireland's president began by saying it was "good to be back in Clyde Road" addressing members in person, while also communicating with members online – a hybrid model that would allow us to "make the most of both worlds going forward". 

Engineers Ireland president Professor Orla Feely with her father Frank Feely, former Dublin city manager

Sustainability targets

In her address, Prof Feely said the republic had an “enormous amount” on which to build, but it needed to think about the elements of future success.

"It is a time to be strategic," she said.  "In my experience, we are at our strongest when we address matters as a system, bringing all relevant minds to bear on identifying the way forward, and I believe that we need such a conversation now. 

"We have an enormous amount on which to build but we do need to think, drawing from our considerable expertise and a position that is the envy of many, about the elements that need to be in place to support future success. 

"The reliable provision of energy, water and materials in ways that allow us as a country and the industries located here to meet our sustainability targets is an absolute essential.  Sustainable industry practices are likewise essential. 

"Adaptation to unavoidable elements of climate change and protection against extreme impacts – these will increasingly influence investment decisions.  Digital and data infrastructure, including regulatory aspects, and defences against cyberthreats are also vital.

Infrastructure and planning

"And then there are broader aspects of infrastructure and planning. Pre-pandemic we were seeing strains on many elements of our infrastructure, including those linked most closely to quality of life. 

"The experience of the past 18 months has thrown up new ways of working that will in many cases persist, supported by digital technologies. A possible weakening of the importance of place presents challenges, opportunities and questions. It is interesting to imagine what a creative response to these questions might yield.

"Ireland must continue to be a place where people want to live, in a country of diversity and creativity. This depends on cultural and social factors as much as economic."

Indigenous industry

There is also the question of indigenous industry, the president argued. "Taken as a whole, we have not seen the evolution of our indigenous industries that we would want. The slower burn of early-stage indigenous enterprise compared with the potential for big wins with foreign direct investment means the product we have built nationally for indigenous enterprise is not as successful as for FDI.

"This is another area in which we need to do better. Medtech, where 60% of the industry is indigenous, including many SMEs, provides an interesting model.  Strong links with higher education and research, an ambitious entrepreneurial mindset, the agile Bioinnovate programme, multidisciplinary links including with clinicians, a significant clustering effect in the west – these are among the factors that have supported indigenous medtech success.

"The layering of digitalisation onto other industry sectors – such as medtech, pharma, manufacturing and agrifood – represents a great opportunity for Ireland, playing to our strengths. 

"We need to be prepared for this and other advances in areas such as quantum technology, earth observation, the bioeconomy, sustainable manufacturing, cell and gene therapy and lots more. A key element of our response here will be ensuring a strong research system, funded to a level that allows us to compete, and addressing the questions not just of today but of tomorrow.

"And as a country we would have absolutely no hope of addressing these questions and charting a successful future without engineering: engineering insight, engineering talent, engineering industry, engineering skillsets, engineering solutions. 

"I hope that the voice of engineering, and of Engineers Ireland, will be strong and distinctive as we make the strategic choices that will underpin the next phase of industrial development in Ireland.

"One next step in this conversation is the Engineers Ireland National Conference on October 13, which is taking place online and is free to members as one of your member benefits. 

"You will hear from a number of speakers who will play important roles as we take the next steps in the journey that I have discussed here, including engineers Leo Clancy, newly appointed CEO of Enterprise Ireland, Linda Doyle, newly appointed provost of Trinity College Dublin, Paddy Hayes, newly appointed CEO of ESB, and Naomi Long, MLA, leader of the Alliance party," said Prof Feely.