New president states in AGM address that many of the topics of yesteryear still resonate strongly today and that he wishes to focus on three themes over the next 12 months: civic engagement, trust and the image of engineers, reports David O'Riordan
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Bill Grimson was inaugurated as president of Engineers Ireland for 2015/16 at this year’s AGM, which was held in the Clyde Road headquarters last night. He laid out his vision for his term of office over the next 12 months and said he would focus on three main themes: civic engagement; trust; and the image of engineers.

Grimson, who holds an honours degree in electronic engineering from Trinity College Dublin and a master’s degree from the University of Toronto, succeeds Regina Moran as president. He said it was “both an honour and a privilege to stand here before you as your new president”.

Dr Jim Dooge and topics that still resonate today


grim3He began his address by looking to the past: “Ronald Cox and Dermot O’Dwyer have compiled in a volume titled Called to Serve an account of the presidential addresses up to and including that of Dr Jim Dooge. What is striking about it is that many of the topics covered are raised repeatedly over the years and they are still relevant to us today.

“Indeed, 150 years ago in 1865, ICEI president Robert Mallet recognised that a diploma on its own simply testified that the holder had diligently pursued a course of special study, and that did not make him an engineer, but fitted him to become one, and that there was a radical difference between a diploma and a ‘licence to practise’ engineering…

“While 100 years ago in 1915, ICEI president Mark Ruddle discussed the proper educational training for an engineer and cited a recently issued report of the special committee of the London Institution (ICE), which he said showed that there was still a wide difference of opinion among leading engineers on the subject…

“Fifty years ago, in 1965, ICEI president Richard Cross noted: ‘Civilisation as we know it today owes its existence and development over the years to the engineers’ … ‘The story of the progress of civilisation is, in effect, the story of the development of engineering and of the organised national efforts of a dedicated profession’…

“Forty years ago, in 1975, IEI president Jack Barry noted the inadequate support for engineering-based projects funded by the National Science Council (forerunner of today’s funding agencies)…

‘Educational dilemma’


“While 38 years ago, in 1977, IEI president William Wright remarking on what he saw as the ‘educational dilemma’, noted that on the one hand, there is the ‘pull towards the relevant, the vocational and the begrudging of a minute spent on anything else; on the other hand the insistence on the immersion in the sea of knowledge, without too much concern as to which particular branch of knowledge, or which particular sea’…

“IEI/Engineers Ireland presidents Jane Grimson, Anne Butler and Regina Moran each promoted the need to encourage more girls to pursue an engineering or science education – using somewhat different as well as common supporting arguments: a largely untapped and needed resource; advantages of diversity; and equality…

“Engineers Ireland president for 2009 Chris Horn queried whether a sufficient number of engineers in third-level teaching engineering programmes were chartered engineers. And are there a sufficient number of practitioners involved? A situation to be compared with, say, medicine and law?

“But enough of the past, now to look to the future: Apart from supporting the four Rs (recruitment, retention, research and relevance) I hope, during the coming year, to reflect on the following:

    • Civic engagement: As we enter (for some we already have) the Anthropocene epoch, we (society) will be faced with increasingly difficult choices to be considered and resolved. Engineers, and not just economists, need to be at the heart of discussions (dialogue) with society;
    • Trust. To engage in a meaningful and sustained dialogue with society, a high degree of trust and respect must be maintained. Once it is lost it is hard to win it back. Sir Joseph Rotblat (the only physicist to leave the Manhattan Project, 1942–46, on the grounds of conscience) in his Nobel prize acceptance speech referred to the need for guidelines based on the Hippocractic oath. Sir David King, the UK government’s chief scientific adviser, laid out a universal code of ethics for researchers across the globe (2007), and an oath for engineers has been proposed (see Chapter 15 in Philosophy and Engineering: Reflections on Practice, Principles and Process, Springer 2013);
    • Image of engineers: the perception of ourselves and by others … who and what we are?

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  • “Finally, because of our complex composite makeup and rich diverse heritage we are, and should be, less susceptible to the evils of groupthink that is evident in other professions.

“We need to capitalise on this, but we need to articulate our message in a meaningful way (to our audience) if we are to enhance our civic engagement, as I believe we should,” Grimson said.

Separately, in her farewell address, former president Regina Moran spoke of a very busy, fulfilling year: “It has been an amazing year – full of happy memories of time spent with fantastic engineers. It seems like only yesterday that I was setting out the pillars of my presidential year – the convergence between all forms of engineering and technology and a desire to encourage more female students into the profession.

‘Women in Engineering’ career seminar


“One of my favourite events was the first Women in Engineering career seminar in Dublin Castle during October organised by the STEPS team. Facilitating events where female students can engage with female engineers like myself and the others featured on the panel helped them fully realise the opportunities available to them. There were hundreds of young girls present and the energy in the room was uplifting.

“Being able to highlight the contribution of our profession to society among the general public was a particularly rewarding task for me as president. The entries in the 2014 Excellence Awards allowed me to do just that through the medium of the Irish Times supplement and at the awards ceremony itself the attendance of which continues to grow each year.

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Bill Grimson receives his presidential pin from outgoing president Regina Moran

“The award entries also reflected the other theme of my presidency, that of convergence in engineering. A traditional civil engineering project – the Rosie Hackett Bridge – won the Engineering Project of the Year award. The construction process relied on data gathered by digital processes to calculate the flows of traffic in that part of the city to aid the construction.

“Digitalisation affects all types of engineering. Similarly, ‘Robbie the Robot’ – designed and built to enhance the life of Joanne O’Riordan – demonstrates the combination of technology enhancing mechanical engineering. At the centre of both of these engineering projects are citizens or an individual human, benefitting from an engineering-led design solution – human centric technology and engineering.

“One of the other highlights of my year was visiting the regions. We have had some memorable nights in Thomond Park, Athlone, Waterford, Cork and Belfast and indeed back here in Dublin. And not to forget mentioning the hugely enjoyable visit to An Riocht for our conference. Across the country, the welcome I received was so warm and hospitable. Thanks to all of you for making the presidential year so special.

“The financial health of the organisation continues to improve in line with the improving economy. Council recently approved a very strong set of financial statements for 2014, and early indications are that 2015 will be similar. These results have been achieved through the hard work of the team at Clyde Road with the very strong support of the Finance Committee, led by Murt Coleman.

‘Right man at the right time’


“One of the biggest changes to occur in Clyde Road in the last number of years and overlapping with my year as president is the imminent departure of John Power, the director general who has served the organisation for the past eight years. John proved to be the right man at the right time as we weathered one of the most significant recessions in living memory.

“He leaves behind a legacy of achievements including: reassessing the criteria for membership of Engineers Ireland; producing the first TV advertisement highlighting the engineering profession; overseeing a smooth transition to the new requirement for chartered engineer status to a Level 9 qualification; negotiating the freehold on our property here at 22 Clyde Road; and overseeing the development of our new region in Australia/New Zealand.

“On behalf of my fellow officers, council and the executive board I would like to wish him well with the next stage of his journey. And thank him personally for his support and friendship. We are swapping a Kerryman for a Kerrywoman and I am delighted to welcome again Caroline Spillane, our new director general, to our organisation.

“Finally, I would like to thank my fellow officers John O’Dea, Bill Grimson and Dermot Byrne for their support throughout the year and I wish Bill all the best for his term as president. I am sure he will have as much fun as I have had. To all the team at Clyde Road, thanks for the wonderful job you do supporting the engineering profession and for all the help and support you extended to me.

“From celebrating those with 50 years’ membership to innovative students, from recognising achievements at conferring ceremonies to showing seven-year-olds the fun of electronic engineering, from sharing a pint to sharing a podium with so many distinguished engineering professionals, I am truly grateful for a most memorable year.

In his address to the AGM, director general John Power warned that we as a society must be careful not to return to the bad old days in the first decade of the new millennium when extravagance and light-touch regulation were the norm. “The last 12 months have seen the economy continue to recover with renewed hope for those who weathered the storm at home and those who had to seek shelter overseas,” Power said.

“The spring statement recently published by the government would suggest that the time of austerity may be passed. This is good news for all professions, including our own, but we must welcome the recovery with caution. The lessons learnt in years past should not be forgotten with the bright dawn of optimism. A return to the extravagance and spending of 2007 should be avoided at all costs.

‘Many Priory Halls out there’


“Already we are seeing hints of the relaxation of standards that were introduced directly as a result of the blinkered nature of the Celtic Tiger boom, which led to disasters that had both economic and human impacts. One such example is the revised Building Regulations that were only introduced on March 1, 2014.

“A mere 12 months later there are suggestions that light-touch regulation should be applied in the case of one-off self-build homes along with widening the pool of qualified professionals competent to carry out the work of Assigned and Design Certifier. The legislation was introduced for a reason and let’s not lose sight of this.

“Neither should we forget there are many Priory Halls out there. Most recently the fire that destroyed six houses at the Millfield Manor housing estate in Newbridge in 20 minutes could have resulted in terrible tragedy.

“Over the past year attacks – both political and personal – have occurred against our colleagues in Irish Water who are carrying out necessary work to improve the water infrastructure that delivers a far too taken for granted resource. Similarly, the lack of understanding among the general public about the investment required for new power transmission lines to deliver upgrades to the existing network has never been more obvious than in the past 12 months. It is not just the media that is to blame for this incomprehension.

“As the guardian of the engineering profession, Engineers Ireland will continue to do its best to educate the general public about the role that engineers play in delivering the infrastructure that is essential to their wellbeing, often just assumed.”

The director general also highlighted how mandatory CPD would be introduced for Engineers Ireland members from 2017. “We are offering all our members 10 high-quality eLearning modules free of charge – this provides 24/7 access to verifiable CPD no matter where the member is based.”

He finished by saying: “I would also like to take this opportunity to wish my successor, Caroline Spillane, as much, if not more fulfilment and job satisfaction as I enjoyed as director general of this wonderful organisation. Finally, I have had the privilege of working with great presidents over the years and I would like to thank each of them for their totally unselfish support.”

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  Bill Grimson was inaugurated as president of Engineers Ireland for 2015/16 at this year’s AGM, which was held in the Clyde Road headquarters last night. He laid out his vision for his term of office over the next 12 months and said he would focus on three main themes:...