Europe should be united in diversity, Taoiseach tells Inspirefest

30 Jun 2016

Taoiseach Enda Kenny on stage at Inspirefest 2016 this morning, via Conor McCabe Photography

As the fallout over Brexit – the UK’s decision to leave the EU – continues to rumble, Irish leader Enda Kenny TD has reminded Europe of the EU’s motto: “United in diversity.”

This morning at InspireFest, a unique festival of science, technology, design and the arts, Taoiseach Enda Kenny reflected on the fact that politics worldwide is in a state of flux.

He said that, within the EU, with its 28 countries and a population of 500m people, celebrating and discussing diversity is a central theme now more than ever.

Future Human

“‘United in diversity’ is the motto of the EU. It is much more than a motto when you strip down the layers to the core and soul of it – it is all of us together. We are different and we are all working towards a different future.”

‘In Europe, less than 7pc of STEM jobs are filled by women. This has to change. Inspirefest is a motivating factor and element of making that change’

He contrasted the Ireland that existed prior to its entry to the EU – when it was backward and blighted by economic strategies of protectionism – with the open, strong and forward-looking country it is today.

“The theme of Inspirefest is inspiration and, obviously, for inspiration, diversity is fundamental and essential. We can’t provide that inspiration that young people need if it is the same people in charge all the time. As Einstein said, imagination is the greatest force.

“We need to be inspired by people who think differently, have different views on life and the world. And when we work together on common challenges like climate change, and if we can for an instant see the world through others’ eyes, we have the opportunity to change things.”

Kenny pointed to the innovative impact of Irish people on the world down through the years and how it was an Irishman, William Thomas Mulvany, who laid the foundations for the industrialisation of Germany’s Ruhr region in the 19th century.

“No great leap can be the result of cosy consensus,” Kenny said. “The hard reality of change is for some a source of anxiety and fear.”

Toward a prosperous and peaceful planet

Kenny said that Ireland as a country is committed to the EU and its potential and alluded to how diversity will help make the world prosperous and peaceful.

“The benefit of the EU has been positive in terms of change for workers rights, with a particular emphasis on the rights of women.

“Change is so welcome, but our work as a society in improving gender equality is far from complete.”

Kenny said that 118,000 people in Ireland work in STEM-related jobs, but only a quarter of these workers are female.

“In Europe, less than 7pc of STEM jobs are filled by women. This has to change. Inspirefest is a motivating factor and element of making that change.”

He added that, in terms of the remarkable opportunities in STEM careers, “it is important not to exclude 50pc of our population.

“We need to encourage young people, particularly young women, to study STEM.”

Kenny said that science is in Ireland’s DNA and pointed to how, in 1963, two physics researchers – Dr Tom Burke and Dr Tony Scott – held a science fair that was attended by 230 students and 5,000 people. This year, the BT Young Science & Technology Exhibition was attended by 1,174 students and 60,000 people came to see them.

“As part of our economic plan, we need to focus on developing hi-tech, high skills where we see huge potential for jobs increases. We are a small country with a flexible education. Our demographics are strong in terms of young people. We need to raise the bar to meet the challenge.

“The world needs curiosity, understanding, innovation and knowledge. A scientifically-educated society is essential to solving the challenges we face now and in the future. That is the cultural shift in mindset that is needed today.”

He said that the gendering of certain careers in technology continues, and pointed to a recent study by Accenture that showed girls are not paying enough attention to science careers.

“We need to change perceptions and ensure that gender diversity is embraced.”

Inspirefest founder and CEO and editor-at-large Ann O’Dea said that this year’s event is all about the rich conversations about change.

An example of the change that is occurring in the discussion about STEM, art and diversity, she pointed to how universities in Ireland are moving to honour Ireland’s female innovators. She said that DCU, for example, is naming a building after Kathleen ‘Kay’ McNulty, one of the six original programmers of the ENIAC, the first general-purpose electronic digital computer.

“Inspirefest is about community-building around it, empowering and informing ourselves.

“The point is not about figures and statistics; the point is much more about the richness of the conversations we are having.”

Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event connecting sci-tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM. Book your tickets now to join us from 30 June to 2 July 2016 for fresh perspectives on leadership, innovation and diversity.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years