Engineers Ireland Annual Conference 2013

Jun 07, 2013

Byrne Looby attended the 2013 Engineers Ireland Annual Conference on 6th June. The event’s central message was that “investments in Ireland’s infrastructure is core to Ireland’s recovery”. The four broad engineering areas discussed during the day were water, communications, transport and energy and were presented as a the areas Ireland needs to focus on to build business networks and drive competitive advantage.

John Tierney, the new CEO of Irish Water, was the first speaker of the day. He brought us through the history of water services in Ireland and outlined the issues facing Ireland in terms of future investment in water, explaining that current investment was too low for the predicted growth in population. Mr. Tierney acknowledged the important work of the local authorities and emphasised that change would not be easy, a partnership approach would be required with the local authorities and that success would depend on the interaction between Irish Water and the local authorities. Echoing Minister Hogan at the Water Ireland conference in Ashbourne last month, Mr. Tierney reinforced that the current funding model for water would not be sustainable. However Mr. Tierney also stated that developing a water utility would be one of the biggest tasks ever undertaken in the semi-state sector.

Continuing the Water theme Laura Burke from the EPA highlighted that the strategic priority of the EPA was the provision of clean water. Ms. Byrne outlined the challenges faced in the provision of good quality water in Ireland and the need for Water Safety Plans for supply schemes, emphasising that in the future the EPA will require Water Safety Plans for all water supply schemes.

Minister Fergus O’Dowd spoke about the need for reform of the water sector and why cost competitiveness should be front of mind, explaining that due to our €12bn structural deficit per year Ireland needs to be able to exploit critical infrastructure (water, oil and gas) as best we can. He spoke about the establishment of Irish Water and outlined how critical public communication and reassurance would be in the roll out of the entity. He also emphasised that there needed to be joined up thinking between the local authorities and Irish Water for future development.

Water is an area that we at Byrne Looby are very involved in and this part of the day was particularly interesting. We’re looking forward to discussing water further at the Water Forum 2013 later this month which will be hosted by BLP (read more here).

In the second segment of the day speakers during the day discussed the importance of the roll out of better broadband networks and new technologies across Ireland and improving connections for businesses across the island. We heard about bringing broadband to the west of Ireland and Eircom and Vodafone gave updates on developments in their networks.

During the Transport segment we heard from COO of Ryanair Michael Cawley, who emphasised the potential for increasing tourism in Ireland through the provision of low fare flights. Discussing Ryanair’s operational model, he advised that cheap does not mean nasty and that if you have the discipline to produce something at lower cost you can increase the quality! We also heard about the possibilities for future developments at Dublin Port and Transdev discussed the operation of the Luas and showed us what the Luas operation at College Green would look like when complete.

The final segment of the evening presented developments in waste to energy plants in Ireland by John Ahern of Indaver. Michael Crothers of Shell reflected on the energy renaissance for Ireland and emphasised the potential for Ireland to be an “energy superpower of the future” due to the potential for wind and wave power and also the potential availability of shale gas and the offshore deposits. Eirgrid presented the challenges of managing our energy and outlined the importance of the east-west interconnector, the Grid 25 project and the availability of resources in Ireland.

The concluding panel discussion reflected on the challenges and responsibilities for engineers in the future. The point was made that as engineers our duty is to communicate with the public and to educate the public in relation to the benefits of projects through deciphering the difficult technical details. There was general agreement that communications was an area that engineers struggled with and that when dealing with projects of national interest engineers needed to step up to the mark in interfacing and communicating with the public in order to ensure that critical infrastructure progressed.