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Columnist of the Year Sydney Lenssen A career blighted by tragedy ends in hope

CROSS survey

The lead article in New Civil Engineer's first weekly issue on 7 September 1972 described the torment of Northern Ireland. A civil engineer in his mid-30s told how he spent on average a third of each working week assessing whether damaged buildings should be demolished or not. His name was Gordon Millington.

This year, with high hopes for peace after the signing of the Easter accord, Millington is president of the Institution of Engineers of Ireland.

It now seems possible that his working life will span 'the Troubles'. So, what does it feel like to have the biggest chunk of your professional life dogged by bitter conflict, terrorist incidents, bombs and murder?

'Well,' says Millington, 'I and many in the North feel cheated by the extremists - on both sides - who have held everything back. They have stunted the economic growth of Northern Ireland. They have not helped unemployment. They have not done anything to reduce poverty'.

Millington headed consultant Kirk McClure Morton for the ten years before his recent retirement after 39 years with the firm. Had things been different, he believes that the practice would have been larger and stronger. 'We were on the brink of buying an English practice a few years ago, and on the morning we were due to sign there was a bomb outrage and the vendor took fright. That was just one golden opportunity missed.'

More personally, he and his wife were delighted this Christmas to hear that their son's young family would be returning home. His son was offered a senior engineering post in the North. But the double murder of the two villagers frightened his wife and the family are staying in England.

Millington is now cautiously optimistic and thinks there is a reasonable possibility for peace. He expects the politicians to deliver.

He is sure that the people of Northern Ireland are way ahead of the politicians. For instance, he has been a member of the joint task force between the Confederation of British Industry and the Irish Business Employers' Confederation in recent years and has helped shape their vision for a Dublin-Belfast Economic Corridor. The new agreement is expected to give authority for tran- sport and tourism to the North/ South Ministerial Council, but in reality this dual approach is already going on.

Millington himself has lived, studied and worked most of his life in Belfast and is proud of that. At last week's ICE dinner he sported his Irish Saffron kilt with pride. He is also proud of the Republic and that his firm's workload there makes up a 25% and growing share of turnover.

As IEI president, he chose 'Engineering an Island' as the theme of the annual conference last September. A series of papers plus his own address demonstrated just how vital it was - and is - to deal with the physical infrastructure and planning on an all-Ireland basis, even if political and other social issues are still required to respect borders. 'I have every confidence that Irish engineers will continue to lead and to shine a light for peace and understanding,' he says.

Working for NCE and the ICE, I visited Northern Ireland regularly for several years. I experienced being frisked by armed soldiers, and the security going in and out of hotels was uncomfortable, if necessary. Roadblocks and barriers in and around Belfast made me wary.

It will take the devoted efforts of Millington and lots of others of similar mind and ability to transform this Easter's opportunity into a lasting peace. They deserve every help and support.

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