Past presidents, fellows, winners of our Chartered Engineer of the Year title, and leading academics in the field of engineering joined Engineers Ireland's Marguerite Sayers and Caroline Spillane for a commemoration evening to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the chartered engineer title

Past presidents, fellows, winners of our Chartered Engineer of the Year title, and leading academics in the field of engineering joined Engineers Ireland’s Marguerite Sayers and Caroline Spillane for a commemoration evening to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the chartered engineer title.

Gold standard of the profession

L-R: Past president Professor Jane Grimson is pictured with vice-president Prof Orla Feely, president Marguerite Sayers and past president Regina Moran. Prof Grimson was the first female president of Engineers Ireland in 1999-2000 and Regina Moran was president from 2014-2015.

The commemorative evening marked the passing of an act of the Oireachtas in 1969 which provided for the establishment of the registered professional title of ‘chartered engineer’, considered to be the gold standard of the profession, and for the merger of two engineering bodies, Cumann na nInnealtóirí (the Engineers Association) and the Institution of Civil Engineers of Ireland (ICEI), into one more wide-ranging organisation, to represent the engineering profession in Ireland titled the Institution of Engineers of Ireland or Cumann na nInnealtóirí – now trading as Engineers Ireland.

Following speeches by director general Caroline Spillane and president Marguerite Sayers, Prof Jane Grimson, the first female graduate of engineering at Trinity College Dublin and the first female to hold the title of president of Engineers Ireland, delivered a thought provoking after-dinner speech at the event and was subsequently joined by Finbar Callanan at the podium who shared his reflections on the past 50 years of the organisation.

L-R: John Jordan, Amanda-Jane Gainford, Domhnall Blair and Brian Cassidy.

Callanan was not only one of the first chartered engineers of the Institution of Engineers of Ireland, but also a past president and former director general.

In 1969, he chaired the joint executive committee which co-ordinated the unification of Cumann na nInnealtóirí and the Institution of Civil Engineers of Ireland and was instrumental in forming the Institution of Engineers of Ireland.

One of a number of events and activities to mark anniversary

The commemorative evening event is one of a number of events and activities which have taken place so far in 2019 to celebrate the 50th year of the passing of the Act of the Oireachtas in 1969.

The 50th anniversary year was formally inaugurated at a special commemorative event on January 9, 2019, at Clyde Road by our past president, Peter Quinn, where he also launched the publication ‘Called to Serve 2’, edited by Dr Ron Cox.

The milestone year was referenced at the President’s Ball, National Conferring, during Engineers Week 2019 and will also form part of our forthcoming Engineers Ireland Excellence Awards, held in association with ESB, as we announce the 2019 winner of the Chartered Engineer of the Year award.

Origins of royal charter concept

In her speech, Prof Grimson elaborated on the origins of the royal charter concept; she said it dates back to the 11th century when royal charters were first granted to universities, corporations and to institutions.

“A royal charter is a formal grant issued by a monarch under royal prerogative as letters patent,” she said.

“Historically, they have been used to promulgate public laws, the most famous example being the British Magna Carta (great charter) of 1215, but since the 14th century they have only been used in place of private acts to grant a right or power to an individual or a body corporate.

L-R: Prof Jane Grimson, past president of Engineers Ireland; Finbar Callanan, past president and former director general and Marguerite Sayers, president of Engineers Ireland.

“They were, and are still, used to establish significant organisations such as boroughs (with municipal charters), universities and learned societies.

“The earliest charter recorded on the UK government’s list was granted to the University of Cambridge by the King of England in 1231, although older charters are known to have existed including one granted to the Worshipful Company of Weavers in England in 1150 and to the town of Tain in Scotland in 1066.

“Charters continue to be issued by the British Crown, a recent example being that awarded to the Chartered Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors, in 2014.”

Prof Grimson pointed out that, historically, the only way to publicly incorporate a body was by way of a royal charter. “Today the main reasons include recognition of professional expertise, and increased public confidence and awareness,” she said.

The first engineering institution to be granted a royal charter was the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1828. The Institution of Civil Engineers in Ireland was founded in 1835 (under the name of the Civil Engineering Society of Ireland) and, in 1844, adopted the name the Institution of Civil Engineers and was granted a royal charter in 1877.

Introduction of chartered professional

Pictured at the 50th Anniversary commemorative evening are Marcello Corsi and Conall Boland.

“The model of professional institutions that emerged was one of self-regulation, as opposed to external licensing or regulation such as, for example, pilots who are licensed and certified by the independent Civil Aviation Authority,” said Prof Grimson.

“It was held that professional institutions should exercise their powers in the public interest rather than in the specific interest of their members; and be capable of exercising self-regulation.

‘The medical profession is a conspiracy to hide its own shortcomings. No doubt the same may be said of all professionals. They are all conspiracies against the laity.’ George Bernard Shaw

Prof Grimson described the Shaw quote as “a bit harsh. But with increasing focus – in the media particularly – of professional misconduct and so on it is, perhaps, not surprising”.

She cited Dame Onora O’Neill’s famous Reith Lectures on Trust in 2004 and said that although she was focusing primarily on the medical profession, saying that it needed to regain the trust of the general public, “the issue of trust is at the very heart of all professions which should always act in the public interest”.

Prof Grimson added: “Regulation can only go so far. It could be argued that trust in engineers has been undermined – rightly or wrongly – by events such as the recent Boeing 737 Max scandal, the Volkswagen emissions scandal, the faults in school building, cost and time over-runs on major public contracts such as the HS2 in the UK, and so on. These all cast a cloud over our profession.

Development in Ireland

“This year marks the 50th anniversary of the unification of the engineering profession in Ireland and the introduction of the professional title of ‘chartered engineer’.

“The passing of the Institution of Civil Engineers of Ireland (Charter Amendment) Act 1969 provided for the formation of a new body to represent the engineering profession in Ireland.

“As well as widening the range of activities, the act embraced most areas of specialisation in engineering and provided an umbrella and platform for the exploitation and development of these various specialisms, and, most importantly, combined the aims and objectives of both the Engineers Association or Cumann na nInnealtóirí, and the Institution of Civil Engineers of Ireland [ICEI].

“The cumann, as it was known, had been founded in 1928 with the aim of improving the status and remuneration of engineers. The institution felt that its charter precluded it from getting involved in negotiations regarding employment.

“There was a considerable overlap in the membership of the two organisations and as the cumann grew in numbers and influence it is perhaps not surprising that there were tensions.

‘Not necessarily in agreement with each other’

“And as Ron Cox put it succinctly, ‘There was also the ongoing problem of two separate organisations speaking on behalf of the profession, each with its own point of view and not necessarily in agreement with each other. However, both bodies had a common purpose in seeking registration for the professional engineer, which for decades had been a fundamental objective of the ICEI and latterly of the cumann.’

“The two organisations agreed to merge and a joint secretariat was established in 1967 followed by a joint council in 1968. The new combined organisation was called the Institution of Engineers of Ireland and in Irish Cumann na nInnealtóirí which as the Gaelgoirs among you will recognise is not a literal translation of the English. Rather it was intended to preserving the name of the cumann in the new organisation.

“The new professional body was recognised by an act of the Oireachtas as the sole body licensed to award the title ‘chartered engineer’ within the state and to maintain the register of chartered engineers.

“The first chartered engineers included famous names such as Jock Harbison, who became the first president of the IEI, Finbar Callanan, Ron Cox and Jim Dooge.

“We have cause to be grateful to these engineers and their contemporaries who had the vision and determination to effect the merger and create IEI. And, in this respect, the late Jim Dooge, a senator at the time, played a crucial role in steering the bill through the Houses of the Oireachtas.

“By 1971 there were 1,907 chartered engineers out of a total membership of almost 2,500. Today, there are 8,808 chartered engineers (7,346 chartered engineers and 1,462 fellows who also hold the CEng title) out of a membership of more than 25,000. A total of 12.2 per cent of the members are women with 9.7 per cent of the chartered members.

Key issues today

“There are two key requirements to becoming a CEng, namely recognised educational qualification and suitable post-graduation experience.

“So it’s not unreasonable that a high proportion of those teaching engineers in our engineering schools should themselves be chartered engineers.

“However, this is most definitely not the case. Why? Academic reward system recognises publications in high impact journals and prestigious international conference proceedings – not getting involved in the commercial world, with the notable exception of spin-out companies.

“I did a quick check of the medical faculty in Trinity and the majority have fellowship of their respective specialist body. I know this is not quite the same as CEng but there are strong parallels.

“As a software engineer, another important issue for me is the accreditation of software and computer science degrees. Currently Engineers Ireland accredits only a handful of the 118 computing degrees.

“Admittedly. the 118 includes degrees in areas such as video gaming, multimedia and data science, which would not normally come under the umbrella of engineering. One of the major stumbling blocks has been the requirement for higher level maths in the Leaving Certificate as an entry requirement to accredited programmes.

“It is instructive to see how this issue has been handled in the UK. The British Computer Society (BCS) was founded in 1957 and joined the Engineering Council in 1996 and now computer science degrees are accredited in the normal way and graduates from those programmes with requisite experience can become chartered engineers.

“Following the example set by the BCS and Engineering Council in UK, IEI, as it then was, entered into discussions with the Irish Computer Society here, which was founded in 1967, to see if a similar arrangement could be put in place but these discussions failed for a variety of reasons.

“This is a pity. Software development needs the discipline of engineering to build robust, reliable and secure systems.

Future of chartered engineer title

“I’ve already mentioned the importance of encouraging more of the academics who teach on accredited engineering programmes to become chartered and also to make progress on the accreditation of software and computing degrees.

“If you look through the fascinating collection of presidential addresses put together by Ron Cox, there is a lack of recognition and understanding among the public of what professional engineers do and how critical their role in society is.

“There are reserved roles for chartered engineers under the new building regulations and this is very much to be welcomed but we need to do more and seek to identify more reserved roles.

“But this needs to be done with care – we must not run the risk of being seen to create jobs ‘for the boys and girls’.

“And, of course, we also need to maintain the high standard required to become a chartered engineer.

“I cannot finish without mentioning the many members who give their time to assessing the applications and interviewing the candidates for the chartered engineer title.

“They take their job seriously and the process is very far from a box-ticking exercise. I don’t like to single out any one individual but I am sure you will all agree that we owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the late Michael Higgins, who conducted so many interviews over the years.” O'RiordanElecChartered Engineer,Engineers Ireland,ICE UK
Past presidents, fellows, winners of our Chartered Engineer of the Year title, and leading academics in the field of engineering joined Engineers Ireland's Marguerite Sayers and Caroline Spillane for a commemoration evening to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the chartered engineer title. Gold standard of the profession The commemorative evening marked...