Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Remarkable Annual Conference ends in Belfast

A remarkable Annual Conference ended in Belfast on Friday last. To me it showed Engineers Ireland to be truly an all island organisation. In the Centenary Year of the Titanic Story in Belfast, the Cork, Thomond, Midlands, West, North West and Donegal Regions joined forces with the East Coast members and Clyde Road staff to support the tremendous efforts of our Northern Ireland colleagues in the Northern Region.

The Northern Region is very ably led this year by Peter Quinn who together with Fionnuala Kilbane our Marketing and Communications Director in Clyde Road organised the conference. The conference theme 'Engineering Enterprise in Times of Change' was apt in terms of our rebuilding a sustainable economic recovery.

Key Speakers were Alex Attwood NI Minister of the Environment, Bob Hanna Chief Adviser in Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Eddie O'Connor CEO Mainstream Renewables, Dermot Byrne CEO EirGrid, John Barry MD Bord Gáis Network and Tanya Hedley NI Electricity Regulator.

PJ Rudden President of Engineers Ireland and 
Alex Attwood MLA Minister of the Environment Northern Ireland
The Guest Speaker from abroad was Belfast native Dr Stephen Myers Director of CERN Laboratory in Geneva Switzerland. CERN is the European Research Body for Particle Physics. It was here that the World Wide Web (www) was invented by Tim Berners-Lee in 1989! CERN also had 5 Nobel Prizes in Physics between 1952 and 1992.

Day 1 of the Conference was a plenary session on Outlook on Policy - Developing and Harnessing Creativity and Enabling Ingenuity in the Public and Private Sectors. I gave the Keynote Address and chaired Day 1. Day 2 saw breakout sessions between Offshore Energy 2050 and Manufacturing chaired by Peter Quinn Northern Region Chairman and Declan Lyons Mechanical Division Chairman respectively.

Graphic from Titanic Signature Building showing the old Harland and Wolff Shipyard 
which is now the Titanic Quarter development
At the close of day we also got a tour of the Titanic Signature Building which is the iconic new Visitor Centre opened on March 30th and already drawing 80,000 visitors in the first month! It's really a day event for the family so I could not describe it adequately here as I did not see it adequately in the hour and a half I spent there! You gotta go and see it yourself as it’s the most professional and interesting audio visual extravaganza I've ever seen. It depicts not only the Titanic Story but the social political and economic circumstances in Belfast in the early decades of the 20th century.

The signing of the Ulster Government against Home Rule by Edward Carson in 1912
The main preoccupation in Belfast in 1912 was not the launching of the Titanic on its maiden voyage but the threat of Home Rule and the sense of betrayal of Ulster by the London Government under Asquith. You are brought on a whirlwind of carted tours through the six floors of the building to see the manufacture of ships and the lives of the people who made them even down to the red hot rivets installed by mallet sometimes under candlelight. The external cladding on the building is more than an architectural masterpiece - the zigzag aluminium cladding is dramatic to view on the outside!

Engineers Ireland delegates entering the Titanic Signature Building
The speech of Environment Minister Attwood was most sincere and interesting where he played to the strengths of Northern Ireland and the need to maximise our onshore and offshore renewable resources. Conscious of the planning difficulties which he has seen on onshore wind projects he sees huge prospects in connecting up our offshore wind wave and tidal resources which are the best in Europe.

Belfast City Hall is a beautiful building outside and even more so inside where we were entertained by the Belfast Community Gospel Choir in a truly iconic setting.

Delegates at City Hall appreciating the Belfast Community Gospel Choir
The Offshore Energy and Manufacturing break out sessions on Day 2 were very interesting. I went to the Energy session where Dr Eddie O'Connor outlined the urgency of moving to a low carbon energy infrastructure for cost as well as environmental reasons. He foresaw all cars on the road in 2050 will be electric cars as he said 'we will have no choice by then'. Dermot Byrne of EirGrid Bob Hanna of Dept of Energy and Tanya Hedley the NI Electricity Regulator all described the energy challenges confronting us in a forthright way and the policies and measures now being put in place to meet these challenges for future generations.

Rita Pollard Engineers Ireland Communications Executive adjusting the President’s chain 
watched by Shirley McDonald Membership Growth Manager
I brought the conference proceedings to a close by reminding our audience that the challenges that confront us require us to make a distinct 'step change' in our thinking. 'The significant problems that we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them' said Einstein. Certainly that is very true of the energy challenge where we have to engineer a new technical regulatory and economic world to give us a more secure future.

Finished model of the Titanic Quarter 
I will never forget my few days in Belfast in April 2012 when we sampled history but we also gazed into the future and what new world we engineers have to create to ensure the safe survival and well being of those who come after us.

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