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Speech by An Taoiseach Mr. Leo Varadkar TD, Opening of Inspirefest, 6 July 2017

 

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Good morning, ladies and gentleman, I am delighted to open Inspirefest.

One of the greatest scientists in Irish history, the mathematician and astronomer, William Rowan Hamilton, wrote poetry as well as mathematical equations. Some of his friends, including the poet William Wordsworth, encouraged him to concentrate on his scientific work, but for Hamilton maths was poetic in nature and the highest praise he could bestow on one of his international contemporaries was that the person was ‘a true poet in mathematics’.
The fusion of science and the arts in Hamilton’s thinking helped him make some technological breakthroughs that were centuries ahead of their time. When Hamilton carved some equations on a bridge in Dublin in the middle of the nineteenth century, little did he realise that they would be used as the basis for computer game graphics in the first part of the twenty-first. He might never have imagined Fifa 2017, or playing Wimbledon on a Wii, but his inspiration provided the means for other people to create a completely different world.
Writing about Hamilton, the mathematician and educator, Dr. Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin has rightly observed that there is much ‘creativity and wonder’ to be found in the study of science. The problem is that we sometimes close our minds to imagination and wonder.
That is the real value of Inspirefest. It challenges us to open and stretch our minds, it reminds us of what can be achieved if we don’t allow ourselves to be limited in any way, and it pushes us to try and do more.
For these reasons I would like to thank Ann O’Dea and Silicon Republic for inviting me to this wondeful event.

Ann continues to expand Inspirefest every year, and every year there is a more interesting and thought-provoking programme.

I would also like to thank the many sponsors for their involvement – including many world-leading companies who have operations here in Dublin.

For those of you visiting from outside Ireland- and I know there are many – welcome agus céad míle fáilte.
I know speakers such as Dr. France Cordova, the head of the National Science Foundation, and Marcus Weldon, President of Bell Labs, and many others have travelled a long way to be here.

From walking around this morning it is clear that this event is something special – and has captured the imagination of a broad and diverse group of people.

Contrary to most science and technology conferences, I believe around 75% of the speakers and 65% of attendees are women.

Of course, it shouldn’t be unusual to have such diverse and inclusive participation in an event like this – but unfortunately it often is. We cannot become complacent about driving change, and we cannot assume that progress is inevitable.

As one of your guest speakers, Dr. France Cordova, has recently argued, ‘a diversity of approaches benefits the generation and communication of new knowledge, and both of these are vital to the success of science’.
Greater diversity makes for a better and more productive science and technology sector, not just here in Ireland, but in Europe and around the globe.

In Ireland, we strive to be leaders in innovation, not just in STEM but in the Arts (or STEAM as some people have started describing it).
Inspirefest is a great example of how science and technology, and the Arts, are all part of the creative process.

In this new government I wanted a special emphasis on the promotion of the arts, culture and heritage in Ireland.

We are building on an ambitious and exciting initiative - our Creative Ireland programme. Led by Minister Heather Humphreys it will run until 2022 and will place creativity at the centre of Irish public policy for the first time.

At its heart is enabling the creative potential of every child by giving them access to tuition through music, drama, art and coding.

This is an unprecedented investment in every child living in Ireland today. We want to give every boy and girl an opportunity to have their lives shaped by exposure to the arts.

We also want to see every community participate.

Already each of our 31 local authorities has developed its own local culture and creativity plan.

Creativity and imagination is at the heart of the dramatic transformation facing so many industries today.

This new industrial revolution, driven by digital technologies, is transforming business models, and changing the world as we speak.

Trends like Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, Big Data, and the Internet of Things, are incredibly exciting; but they also challenge existing ways of thinking, of regulating, of working.

Possibly the biggest challenge we face as human beings is climate change. Responding to global warming will require test our collective creativity and imagination.

On a positive note, this is a very exciting time for Ireland. As we emerge from the economic crisis, for the first time in a decade we have a chance to be ambitious for the future of the country.

We are now starting to increase investment in research, innovation and higher education.
Ireland is consistently improving in global rankings, with real strengths in specific fields like Nanotechnology, Animal and Dairy, Chemistry, Immunology and Materials Sciences, as well as in our traditionally strong areas of History, literature, and languages.

As a small country, with a strong educational tradition, and so many world-leading companies located in Ireland, I believe we can continue to lead the way as a location for research and innovation.

The creativity and diversity which I see all around me today is at the heart of that ambition.

I know a core priority of Inspirefest is to promote diversity.

This is important, because role models are so often the inspiration for children and their ambitions.

Your events help encourage children and their parents to look at science as a fun and creative future and opportunity.

This government wants diversity to be a strength of our education system – and inspire the type of careers men and women choose. The superb work of some of your speakers, for example Dr. Arlene O’Neill and the Trinity Walton Club helps equip, empower and inspire future generations of scientists, engineers and mathematicians.

President John F. Kennedy believed that ‘Science contributes to our culture in many ways, as a creative intellectual activity in its own right, as the light which has served to illuminate our place in the universe, and as the source of understanding of our own nature.’
Events like Inspirefest encourage new intellectual activity in the twenty-first century, and illuminate and reflect the importance of a diverse creative community.

Diversity provides many opportunities:

The opportunity to progress and innovate;
The opportunity to inspire; and
The opportunity to create the type of country to which we all want to live, work, and succeed.

A Republic of Opportunity for all of us.

It is true to the spirit of the women and men who have been drivers of change, pushing the boundaries of our knowledge and our imagination.

William Rowan Hamilton, writing graffiti under his bridge, would have approved.

Thank You.

ENDS