BaileNuachtAithisc an Taoisigh

Speech by An Taoiseach at the opening of Inspirefest, ‘United in Diversity’, Bord Gais Energy Theatre, 30th June 2016


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Good morning everyone, I am delighted to be here in the Bord Gais Energy Theatre to welcome you all to Dublin and to kick start Inspirefest 2016.

I would like to congratulate Silicon Republic on this very worthwhile initiative. I attended this event last year and was struck by the energy and vibrancy in the room and I am glad to see that this year is no different.

As you are all aware it has been an eventful week following the decision of a majority of the UK electorate to leave the European Union. I have only just returned from Brussels having discussed the path ahead with my European partners.

In the days since the referendum result I have been contemplating what the result means for Ireland, for the European Union, and our peoples.

One of the themes of your conference here today struck me – that of celebrating and promoting diversity.

The official motto of the EU is ‘United in Diversity’.

But it is much more than a motto. When you strip away the EU down to its core, this is what it’s all about. All of us together, but different, working towards a better future.

Since joining the EEC in 1973 I have witnessed the positive changes for Ireland - how we have opened ourselves up to the world.

The title of today’s conference is ‘Inspirefest’. I believe that for inspiration, diversity is essential.

We don’t get inspired by surrounding ourselves with people who are the same as us.

We are inspired by those who are different, who think differently, who have lived different lives, who have overcome different challenges.

When we work together to overcome a common challenge - if we can just for an instant see through their eyes, and realise that there is whole other way to approach life, it stumps us when we begin to see that the world is full of endless possibilities.

We are inspired.

Diversity is good.

Diversity leads to better decisions, new progress and unexpected innovation.

No great leaps forward in science, the arts, or in politics are of the result of a comfortable cosy consensus.

When we are confronted with different views it forces us to re-evaluate and question our own beliefs and our own way of doing things.

In a world that is changing so fast, that can be a daunting experience, scary even.

As Taoiseach I am privileged to have the opportunity to visit many companies in Ireland big and small and meet with their workers from all international backgrounds. I am continually struck and humbled by their excitement to be counted among the new Irish and for their enthusiasm to contribute to our society.

Equally, on every trade mission to all parts of the world I meet Irish men and women plying their trade and proudly flying the flag for our country. One day I hope that we will benefit from their new experiences if they choose to return home.

I say this because Ireland’s future is as an open economy and a fully committed member of the European Union working together with her diverse peoples.

That is my Inspirefest.

But this brings me back to the themes at hand at today’s gathering.

One of the most celebrated benefits of EU membership is the positive changes for workers rights, particularly for women.

It tackled institutional gender discrimination head on.

But our work as a society to improve gender equality is far from complete.

In Ireland, almost 118,000 people work in STEM related jobs, but only a quarter are female. In Europe, less than 7 per cent of technology places are filled by women.

This has to change.

To address the obstacles, there is a role for all of us – Government, industry, parents, students, and teachers alike.

The decision by the organisers of this event to have more females than males both on stage and among the delegates is an important signal that the science, technology, engineering and math’s related jobs are a huge opportunity for women.

These careers also have a significant impact on the development of our society and our economy. It is far too important to exclude half of our people.

Our talent pipeline is also very much dependent on encouraging our young people, particularly young women, to study science, technology, engineering and maths.

Developing and supporting a scientifically confident people is critical. This is not something Government can do alone; we need to work together in partnership – with our agencies such as Science Foundation Ireland, industry, and colleges and schools all working together.

Smart Futures, a programme which provides students with 100+ career stories, is an excellent example of this type of collaborative programme between government, industry and education to help inform secondary school students and their influencers, in particular parents, about careers in STEM. As is our STEM volunteers programme, which offers free career talks to secondary schools across Ireland giving students access to over 1,000 people working in industry and research.

In Ireland, we have embraced “Science Fairs” for a long time. In 1963, two physics researchers from UCD, Rev. Dr Tom Burke and Dr Tony Scott, came across the idea of holding a science event that would promote students getting involved in “hands on science”. The first-ever Young Scientist was held in the Mansion House in 1965, where 230 students participated and 5,000 people attended. In 2015, 1,174 students with 546 projects participated with over 59,000 people visiting the Exhibition.

As part of our economic plan, Ireland is focusing on developing the high-tech, high-skill sectors of our economy, where we see strong potential for new jobs.

Our world needs curiosity, understanding and knowledge. A scientifically educated society is essential to solve the many challenges that face us now and in the future, for example meeting our energy needs, addressing the impact of climate change, combating disease to name but a few.

We need a cultural shift in mindset. As those here today will be well aware, you do not have to be in a laboratory wearing a white coat to be a scientist or an innovator, nor do you have to paint on a canvas to be an artist. Science is everywhere and art can be made from anything.

While our education and training system has undergone significant structural reforms, still, societal issues run deep. The gendering of certain careers continues with a recent Accenture survey showing girls are not displaying as much interest in STEM careers, according to career guidance teachers. STEM subjects are seen by girls as being for boys. Together we need to change these perceptions.

We need to ensure that gender diversity is embraced.

To make a STEM career appealing, all students need to be made aware of the exciting career possibilities and this is where you come in; they need to see you and be made aware of what you do and how you do it. You are the remarkable women and men who have gone before them. You are the success stories. You are the international role models. You can help to “Inspire” the next generation and I wish you every success.