Call for reliable provision of energy, water and materials

Engineers Ireland president says meeting sustainability targets will be critical

Prof Orla Feely said Irish medtech made 80 per cent of global stents, three-quarters of global orthopaedic knee products, and 33 per cent of global contact lenses. Photograph: Orla Murray

Prof Orla Feely said Irish medtech made 80 per cent of global stents, three-quarters of global orthopaedic knee products, and 33 per cent of global contact lenses. Photograph: Orla Murray

 

Reliable provision of energy, water and materials to allow the Republic to meet sustainability targets will be critical to future industrial development, according to Prof Orla Feely, president of Engineers Ireland.

Addressing the organisation on Thursday, Prof Feely said that the Republic had an “enormous amount” on which to develop, but it needed to think about the elements of future success.

“The reliable provision of energy, water and materials in ways that allow us as a country and the industries located here to meet our sustainability targets is an absolute essential,” she warned. “Sustainable industry practices are likewise essential.”

Prof Feely added that digital and data infrastructure, including regulation and defences against cyberthreats, were also vital.

She argued that homegrown industry had not evolved at the same pace as the multinationals that have been locating here since the State began modernising in 1958.

“This is another area in which we need to do better,” the UCD academic urged. She highlighted medical technology, where 60 per cent of the players were “indigenous” as an industry that pointed the way to a successful approach for others.

That approach included strong links with higher education, research and clinicians, entrepreneurial thinking, a good innovation programme and clustering in one region, in this case the west.

“These are among the factors that have supported indigenous medtech success,” Prof Feely said.

‘Astonishing numbers’

She told her audience that Irish medtech made 80 per cent of global stents, used to treat heart disease, three-quarters of global orthopaedic knee products, and 33 per cent of global contact lenses. “These are astonishing numbers.”

While developing Irish talent has been part of the Republic’s industrial success, Prof Feely said she was deeply disappointed that women were not represented in engineering at the level needed to maximise talent.

This is despite the fact that women make up 30 per cent and more of new students taking up engineering in UCD.

“For those of us who have been trying to effect change here for decades, this is deeply disappointing, and a drag on national performance,” she said. “This is an area in which we want to do better.”

Nervousness

Overall, the Engineers Ireland president acknowledged that there would always be nervousness about the health of the Republic’s talent pipeline, given its central role in the State’s development.

“But the responsiveness of the various parts of our system and our experience of developing distinctive talent over decades now will continue to stand to us,” she said.

Prof Feely counselled that global challenges meant now was a time to be strategic. “In my experience, we are at our strongest when we address matters as a system, bringing all relevant minds to bear on identifying the way forward – and I believe that we need such a conversation now.”