Councillors’ choices over the next five years will be felt for a generation, writes Engineers Ireland president Peter Quinn, as engineers set out five priorities for the 2019 local elections

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Councillors’ choices over the next five years will be felt for a generation, writes Engineers Ireland president Peter Quinn, as engineers set out five priorities for the 2019 local elections.

I spent the 1980s and 1990s working as an engineer for Monaghan County Council. During some troubled times, we built bridges and roads and installed water supplies and wastewater treatment plants.

These years left me with an abiding appreciation for the work ethic of the people of Patrick Kavanagh’s famed county and the ingenuity of local authority engineers.

Engineers play a pivotal role in our city and county councils. They are at the forefront of social housing delivery, water services, transport facilities, environmental management and much more.

The Engineers Ireland Local Government Division is one of the 32 regional branches, engineering divisions and societies into which we organise our 25,000 engineers.

This year, as president of Engineers Ireland, I have had the pleasure of visiting these dedicated Local Authority engineers all across the country, from Monaghan to Cork and from Dublin city to Clare. As we approach the local elections on May 24, Engineers Ireland would like to raise five priorities for candidates and voters to consider.

Provide safe and sustainable homes and communities


In Engineers Ireland’s survey of our 25,000-strong membership last year, Ireland’s housing system received a ‘D’ grade and our members told us that ‘increasing housing supply’ is their number one election issue.

Behind every design-led engineered solution are communities and families who benefit. Local Authorities have a crucial role to play in providing new homes, bringing vacant buildings back into active use and renovating the social housing stock.

However, providing safe and sustainable homes and communities requires adequate resourcing of building control authorities, fire authorities and housing authorities, located in our local authorities.

We are concerned that these Authorities have been significantly under-resourced and face a recruitment market where there is a dire shortage of engineering and construction professionals.

Implement the objectives of Project Ireland 2040


Long-term plans must be put in place for where and how we will all live, work and grow old. Ireland will be home to at least one million more people in the next 20 years and Local Authorities will soon produce Development Plans for their areas for the first six of these years.

Councillors must take a long-term, holistic, regional and national approach to this development planning.

Development planning should concentrate growth in compact and connected urban communities, including on brownfield sites (previously developed land not currently in use).

Revitalising our rural towns and villages as attractive places to live, work and shop must be prioritised over one-off housing. An understanding of strategic infrastructure capacity (such as water and transport) should underpin development planning.

Take urgent climate action


The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aim to end all forms of poverty, fight inequalities and tackle climate change while ensuring no-one is left behind.

We would like to see local election candidates adopt the SDGs and other sustainability frameworks such as the One Planet Living principles. These are useful guides for the decisions all elected candidates will face in the Council chamber.

Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions have continued to rise, not fall. Newly elected councillors should develop and implement a climate action strategy, working with their recently-established Climate Action Regional Office.

They should champion initiatives in energy-efficiency, clean air, green spaces, recycling and so on and engage proactively with national bodies such as Irish Water on untreated effluent discharges, network leakage and capacity.

Promote sustainable and connected travel facilities and services


How people travel from home to their place of work, education or recreational activity directly affects the health and well-being of our citizens, the environment and the economy.

Irish cities and counties are far too dependent on the private car for mobility. Councillors should adopt land-use planning policies that generate attractive alternatives to the private car.

The citizens of our cities and counties need public transport and active travel options and an integrated transport network. Local Authority investment is needed in road safety, road maintenance and intelligent transport systems (ITS). Councillors can work with transport companies to ensure services and facilities are accessible to all.

Get ready for the future of work, life and learning


Digitalisation is becoming pervasive in our daily lives and is driving an unprecedented level of connectivity. The ‘fourth industrial revolution’ (Industry 4.0) should be harnessed for the benefit of society, environment and economy.

Local Economic and Community Plans (LECPs) should consider technology and demographic change, while councillors can work to address future skills needs with their Education and Training Board and Regional Skills Forum.

They can also support innovative start-ups and small businesses through the Local Enterprise Office and ensure adequate funding for educational, cultural and inclusive facilities such as libraries, heritage, the arts and sport.

Engineers are known to be creative professionals who deliver solutions for society. As the voice of the engineering profession, it is Engineers Ireland’s hope that candidates and voters will use their voice within their communities and at the polls to consider these priorities which will not only benefit society today, but also future generations.

Author: Peter Quinn is president of Engineers Ireland

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Councillors’ choices over the next five years will be felt for a generation, writes Engineers Ireland president Peter Quinn, as engineers set out five priorities for the 2019 local elections. I spent the 1980s and 1990s working as an engineer for Monaghan County Council. During some troubled times, we built...