Strength through unity: Engineering profession in Ireland celebrates 50th anniversary
07 October 2019
Presentation of draft charter and bylaws by Jock Harbison to the provisional council in 1968. L-R: Ciaran Blair, president of the Cumann; Finbar Callanan, chairman of central council; Jock Harbison; Pat Raftery, president of the Institution of Civil Engineers of 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’, writes Ron Cox.
Formation of a new body
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 (afterwards referred to as the cumann) and the Institution of Civil Engineers of Ireland (ICEI).
In 1955, the cumann moved from rented office accommodation at 59 Merrion Square in Dublin 2 following the purchase of 22 Clyde Road in Dublin 4 as its headquarters.
In the light of the subsequent unification of the profession it is of interest to note some lines of verse composed by an ESB engineer and Engineers Journal correspondent John Manning who, in reference to the new headquarters, wrote somewhat presciently:
“Well I declare
The Engineers are going to migrate from Merrion Square”……
“Well I guess, the crowd up in Dawson Street [the ICEI]
Will envy us our new dwelling
They may even want to join with us someday
There’s no telling”……………..
When the cumann was set up in 1928 many engineers felt that the ICEI should have undertaken the tasks for which the cumann was established, by modifying its rules or by seeking to have its charter amended.
About two-thirds of ICEI members were also members of the cumann, many serving as officers or council members of both organisations.
It was inevitable, as the cumann grew in numbers and influence, that the apparent encroachment by the cumann on what would have been considered ICEI territory, became a cause of friction.
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.
Matter raised with the government
In 1965, the matter was again raised with the government. In that year also the ICEI decided to sell its premises at 35 Dawson Street, moving its offices temporarily to the Intercontinental hotel (now the Ballsbridge hotel) in Ballsbridge.
University College Dublin permitted meetings to be held in the Engineering School in the Science Buildings at Upper Merrion Street (now the Department of the Taoiseach) and the cumann agreed to provide space for the ICEI’s library at its headquarters in Clyde Road.
In essence, the coming together of the two organisations that had been simmering for some years, began to appear more rational than it had ever been before.
The resignation of the secretaries of both organisations, opened the way for the then president of the ICEI, Daniel Herlihy, to propose a joint secretariat.
A management consultant was retained to offer structural and organisational proposals, and when the matter was placed before the central council of the cumann, the following motions were proposed by Tom Mekitarian and passed unanimously:
- That this meeting is of the opinion that unity is desirable between Cumann na nInnealtóirí and the Institution of Civil Engineers of Ireland and that, as a step in that direction, arrangements should be made for the establishment of a joint secretariat in the existing circumstances;
- While both bodies would continue to act independently, the councils of both bodies should explore jointly the possibility of the unification of both societies.
Within a few weeks, the council of the ICEI had passed identical motions and it was very clear in which direction events were moving.
In April 1967, a joint secretariat was inaugurated and in May of that year, the Engineers Journal incorporated the institution’s bulletin.
Progress on unification proceeded apace and a joint executive of the cumann and the ICEI was formed, under the chairmanship of Finbar Callanan, chairman of central council and spokesman for the cumann, to co-ordinate the task of unification and to keep the members of both organisations fully informed by way of meetings in every region and detailed reporting in the Engineers Journal.
A proposed organisational structure for the unified institution had already been developed by the unification committee, which was representative of both bodies and led by the dynamic former cumann president, Jock Harbison.
Best basis for unification
It was agreed that the best basis for unification would be a modification of the Charter of the Institution of Civil Engineers of Ireland (which required legislation) and the transfer to the new body of the cumann’s negotiating authority.
This meant, in fact, that the ICEI (albeit under a change of name) would continue in existence and that the cumann would cease its separate existence.
Harbison was strongly supported by senior members of the profession, in particular, Ciaran Blair, Liam O’Brien, and John Silke.
The best legal advice was obtained, and the engineering senators were most helpful, especially Senator Dooge, whose guidance and constant advice and assistance was invaluable to the successful outcome of the process within the Oireachtas of securing the Charter Amendment Act, which governed the setting up of the unified body.
The first joint meeting of the two councils in 1968 was chaired jointly by Patrick Raftery, president of the ICEI, and Finbar Callanan, chairman of the joint executive of the cumann and ICEI.
The meeting was most amicable and considerable progress was made on the draft amendment and bylaws.
There was no dissent whatever, and from then on progress towards unification seemed inevitable.
During this time, a provisional council was established to act as a bridge to the new institution.
There followed a very difficult period of intense activity and understandable tension as the seeds of a revamped organisation were being sown, while at the same time dramatic changes were taking place in the industrial relations activities and attitudes of many in the profession.
What was remarkable, however, about the years in question was the goodwill and pragmatic approach of all who had a concern for the unity of the Irish engineering profession.
For members of the cumann who had an intense loyalty to the organisation it was not easy to concede that the cumann would ‘go out of existence’.
However, as time went on and the process of unification was developed, it became very clear that the ideals, structure, and activities of the cumann would not only continue, but would be enhanced by the traditions, activities and ideals of the ICEI.
Having celebrated its 40th anniversary in 1968, the cumann, on May 12, 1969, with the full agreement of its members to the new charter, bylaws structure, governance and title of the new organisation, ceased as such to exist.
Continual growth during four previous decades
The cumann did, however, survive in the memory of all who involved themselves in its continual growth during the four previous decades and in the almost 2,000 members of all disciplines who brought such vigour to the new body.
It also survived in the title of the present professional body, which in the Charter Amendment Act stated that the title of the new body shall be the Institution of Engineers of Ireland (IEI) and in the Irish language Cumann na nInnealtóirí.
The original objectives of the ICEI were extended by the Charter Amendment Act (1969) that states that the charter shall henceforth be construed as providing that the purposes of the institution shall include:
- Promoting the acquisition of that species of knowledge which appertains to the profession of engineering and advancing engineering science and furthering by all legitimate means the interests of the said profession and of its members;
- Setting up and maintaining proper standards of professional and general education and training for admission to membership or to any category of membership of the institution, with power to provide and prescribe instruction and courses to study and to conduct examinations for the purpose of maintaining such standards;
- Ensuring that the description ‘chartered engineer’ or the use of initials or letters having similar significance is confined to a category of engineers who have satisfied the council of their professional competence and experience, or who are authorised so to describe themselves by a professional body recognised by the council in that behalf;
- Maintaining a proper standard of professional ethics and conduct.
Sole body licensed to award title ‘chartered engineer’
The new professional body was recognised by 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.
A copy of a set of bylaws for the IEI was sent to all existing members of both organisations. Former members of the cumann were advised that:
“Any person who on the 11th day of February 1969 is a member of the cumann or an associate member of the cumann and fully qualified for membership of the cumann, except in respect of the requirement of residence in Ireland, is aged more than 25 years, and has been engaged in the practice of engineering for at least four years from the date on which he or she first became eligible for membership of the cumann, shall ipso facto be eligible to be enrolled as a chartered member”.
Former members of the ICEI were advised that:
“Any person who on the 11th day of February 1969 was a corporate member of the Institution of Civil Engineers of Ireland shall ipso facto be eligible to be enrolled as a chartered engineer”.
The agreed administrative structure of the IEI was centered on two main streams: engineering science and social relations, the latter representing in the main the aims and objects of the cumann, for example, “to further by all legitimate means the interests of the said profession and its members”.
Both streams had their own executive committee reporting to the council. This structure, unwieldy as it was, worked extremely well in the formative years as it cemented relations between the two parent bodies.
As time went on however, a revised and rationalised structure was proposed and strongly supported for the amalgamation of the two executives.
This revision and other amendments were agreed, the governing structure subsequently put in place being that which exists in the most part up to the present day.
Irish engineering in the future
Progress was maintained during the decade of the 1970s in regularising the administration and committee structures, in developing the role of the divisions and regions, in organising important seminars, in reorganising the library and archive, and most importantly in furthering the concept of the ‘chartered engineer’ (CEng) designation and defining its importance for Irish engineering in the future.
This new concept for the IEI was a most important outcome from the Charter Amendment Act 1969 in that it gave the IEI sole rights within the state to award the title ‘chartered engineer’ to those whose educational qualifications and assessed postgraduate experience merited the award of the title. A system of professional interviews was set up and expanded.
Untimely death of Jock Harbison
In 1975, the IEI and the engineering profession mourned the untimely death at an early age of Jock Harbison. As president of the cumann and as a council member of the ICEI, he is regarded as having made the greatest contribution of all to the unification of the Irish engineering profession.
He was truly the father figure of the united organisation and maintained a profound interest in the growth of the unified body up until the time of his death.
The single professional issue forever to be linked with Jock’s name was unification of the profession. He was the driving force behind the idea from its first tentative airing at the cumann’s annual conference in 1966.
Having chaired the unification committee, which was responsible for drafting the final report and the articles and bylaws of the IEI, it was entirely fitting that he became in November 1969 the first president of the new institution.
In his presidential address in October 1970, Harbison remarked that the institution was as vigorous as ever before and keenly desirous of being a meaningful element of the social fabric of “this small and hopeful community”.
For long seen as a learned body (whose membership connoted a qualification) it stood, following unification of the profession, as something much more.
Harbison felt that the institution formed an independent point of reference – with the comprehensive viewpoint of a complex of people with differing, but interrelated, skills in technology – deriving therefore not a little power in shaping future events.
Author: Ronald Cox, visiting research fellow, Department of Civil, Structural & Environmental Engineering, Trinity College Dublin
1.) Cox, RC Engineering Ireland (2006) Cork, The Collins Press.
2.) Cox. RC& D O’Dwyer, Called to Serve (2014) Dublin, Engineers Ireland
3.) Cox, RC Called to Serve Two (2019) Dublin, Engineers Ireland