THE PLANNING BOARD
|PHILIP C HILLIARD
Doctor of Economic Science
Doctor of Letters
|JAMES G LYONS
Doctor of Laws
|D FIONNBARRA Ó CEALLACHÁIN
Doctor of Science
|J DECLAN O'KEEFFE
Doctor of Science
Doctor of Engineering
|ANNE C SADLIER
Doctor of Letters
In April 1970 the Government established a Planning Board to develop a new type of third level institution in Ireland, the National Institute for Higher Education, Limerick. Dr Edward Walsh, who had been appointed Director of this proposed institute in the latter part of the previous year, had taken up this post on 1 January 1970. He was appointed Chairman of the Planning Board. Meetings took place regularly, at first in borrowed rooms, courtesy of Limerick County Council. Out of these meetings came, over the following two years, the blueprint for a new and different type of third level educational institution, geared to meet the needs of an Ireland in the process of rapid change from a predominantly agricultural economy to a post-industrial one.
Twenty five years on, it is fitting that the University of Limerick should honour the members of the Planning Board, who not only laid the foundations of this university, but guided it through its first three years of operation. That their creation has grown up to be strong, healthy and successful in its mission is due in large part to the vision, commitment, stamina and meticulously detailed work of the Planning Board during those early crucial years.
The members of the Planning Board were (in alphabetical order): Mr Philip C Hilliard, a businessman and manufacturer, based in Killarney, Mrs Margaret Lyddy, a schoolteacher and member of the Limerick University Project Committee, Mr James G Lyons, a solicitor and also a member of the Limerick University Project Committee, Dr Finbar O'Callaghan, at that time Assistant Chief Inspector in the Department of Education, Professor Declan O'Keeffe, Professor of Civil Engineering at University College, Galway, Mr Paul Quigley, General Manager of Shannon Free Airport Development Company and Ms Anne Sadlier, a graduate in the Social Sciences and the second appointment to the new institution, as administrator of the Director's office. She was Secretary to the Planning Board.
That Limerick was chosen to be the home of this new third level institution was due to years of skilful and systematic lobbying by the Limerick University Project Committee, ably led by the late John E Maloney, and the happy change of a Minister for Education, the late Donagh O'Malley, whose birthplace as well his political base was Limerick. Bright hopes for the future also finally erased the slight inflicted a century and a quarter previously, in 1845, when, unexpectedly and inexplicably, Limerick had been passed over in favour of Galway by Queen Victoria as the site of Ireland's third Queen's College.
The Planning Board's task was to create the type of institution best suited to a time of change in Irish society. Its members contributed to its meetings their extensive knowledge of the professional skills which Ireland most needed at that time. The wide variety of their backgrounds brought balance, and a particular understanding of the needs of the city of Limerick and its environs. The Chairman had both knowledge and experience of the much admired higher educational systems of the United States. Each member brought to their task strong commitment, enthusiasm, vision, stamina, but each also had his or her own strengths which complemented those of their fellow members. Margaret Lyddy and James Lyons had been members of the Limerick University Project Committee from its inception. Both brought their strong loyalty to Limerick and their knowledge of the city and its inhabitants, its educational establishments and its aspirations for a university-level institution. Margaret had the experience of years of membership of various bodies dealing with education in its widest sense, while James brought his legal training and precision to the task. Philip Hilliard was a successful businessman who knew at first hand the graduate skills and professional knowledge required in expanding business and manufacture. Paul Quigley, an engineer by profession, brought the insights into national business and managerial practice which he had acquired as first Director of the Irish Management Institute and as General Manager of the Shannon Free Airport Development Company. Declan O'Keeffe as Professor of Civil Engineering was deeply involved in current engineering education in Ireland. Finbar O'Callaghan, from the Department of Education, brought the perspective of the educational establishments, the civil service and of Government, all of this leavened by experience of the international educational scene through his membership of Committees in the OECD and of the Council of Europe. Looking at this group from the perspective of twenty five years on, one marvels at the naiveté of a traditional educational establishment which brought together such a group of innovators. They set to work briskly to create an institution which would not only serve an innovating society but would achieve it through new methods of presenting, teaching and evaluating educational programmes. Words and concepts such as cooperative education, continuous assessment, module, transcript, QCA, were to be introduced into the Irish educational vocabulary and to become, in time, understood, if not widely emulated, in the Irish educational world.
The Planning Board was in existence for five years, from 1970 to 1975. Its members held regular meetings, once a week at the beginning, lasting all day and often going on late into the evening. It went abroad to look at newly-established, progressive and mould-breaking educational institutions in Britain, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Scandinavia. Among these were the new University of Sussex, the Eindhoven University of Technology, and a number of French, German and Danish institutions. These flying visits, in all senses of the word, are the stuff of legend. They showed the reality of innovative educational ideas in dynamic new institutions and contributed much to emerging plans. They also tested the stamina of those participating, for their Chairman set a brisk pace. It was assumed that need for sleep could be accommodated during travelling hours. This induced some strain when travelling in a ten-seater plane flying bravely, if erratically, through storms, with thoughts on mortality rates intruding. Anne Sadlier, in charge of logistics, rapidly extended her knowledge of aircraft types, their capacity and their reliability in what airlines euphemistically call turbulence.
This group helped create the structure of a new institution and saw its first students arrive in 1972, all 100 of them. During its five years, the Planning Board patiently laid the foundations of the National Institute for Higher Education, argued with governments, overcame almost insurmountable problems and survived the inevitable disappointments of seeing brilliant ideas and plans being tailored to meet current contingencies. But they kept working away, overcoming disappointments, shrugging off difficulties, finding ingenious and durable solutions to what appeared to be insoluble problems. The end of their period in office came in 1975 with the appointment of the first Governing Body, but it did not bring to a close their association with NIHE, Limerick. Some members went on to serve on subsequent Governing Bodies. All have kept intact their relationship with the institution they helped to create. Through the years they have shared its successes and encouraged its ambitions. They return for various functions during the course of the academic year and they keep a discreet but discerning eye on their creation. They celebrated its elevation to university status, though in their hearts they knew that it had been that from its very first day. They have seen programmes and faculties expand and student numbers grow to over 9,000, a steadily increasing percentage of whom are graduate studies. The members of the Planning Board can look back with some satisfaction at the institution they helped to found.
It is fitting that, at this important milestone in its development, the University of Limerick should honour, through its President, Dr Edward Walsh, the members of the Planning Board: Philip Hilliard, Margaret Lyddy, James Lyons, Finbar O'Callaghan, Declan O'Keeffe, Paul Quigley and Anne Sadlier, by the conferring on them of Honorary Doctorates.