Long-term infrastructure needs at risk, say engineers

Engineers Ireland calls for dedicated capital development unit in government

Ireland will lose its competitive edge if the Government does not think more strategically about the long-term infrastructure needs of the country, according to Engineers Ireland.

The body, which represents 24,000 engineers, has called for a dedicated unit in the Department of the Taoiseach to plan and manage capital development projects. This would be similar in scope to Infrastructure UK, a unit which sits in the treasury and co-ordinates investment across British government departments.

As it stands, Ireland is underfunding large-scale infrastructure development in key areas such as transport, education, health and energy, says Caroline Spillane, Engineers Ireland's new director general.

Ms Spillane, who is the first woman to head the 180-year-old body, believes failure to streamline planning and delivery of key projects could prove detrimental to the economic outlook over time. She said that by making one unit responsible for streamlined project planning and delivery, Ireland can improve its readiness to deal with future demands.


Capital plan

While welcoming the recently announced €27 billion capital plan, Ms Spillane said it was insufficient to meet the needs of an expanding economy. Warning that Ireland was already running to catch up due to projects being shelved during the recession, she said the underfunding of infrastructure initiatives, combined with delays in approval and land acquisition processes, would likely hold back growth.

“With macroeconomic forecasts for Ireland being revised upwards, the country’s capital infrastructure will not be enough to meet demand in the coming years. We are investing too little, the timeframe for delivery is too long, and we are not thinking strategically enough about the long-term needs of the country,” said Ms Spillane.

The significant brain drain of engineers from Ireland in recent years, in tandem with a dearth of engineering graduates, could exacerbate delays, she said.

“There has been quite an exodus of engineers in recent years and, while recent CSO figures show an increase in the numbers studying the subject, it is not at the level it should be,” she said.

Ms Spillane was formerly chief executive of the Medical Council and prior to this worked as an assistant national director at the HSE. She said that, among her priorities at Engineers Ireland, was a wish to further promote diversity and gender balance in the profession.

“Currently about 20 per cent of engineering students are female and when we look at the number of engineers in the workforce, only about 10 per cent of them are women. This means we are missing out on a significant talent pool at the moment,” she said.

Charlie Taylor

Charlie Taylor

Charlie Taylor is a former Irish Times business journalist