Irish tradesmen recalled for housing crisis

Irish tradesmen recalled housing crisis
Photo: Eamonn Farrell/

Call to emigrant tradesmen to return and help Ireland’s housing crisis

Ireland’s builders say that unless the country attracts back skilled construction tradesmen it will not tackle its housing crisis until 2025 at the earliest.

The Director General of the country’s Construction Industry Federation Tom Parlon said Ireland’s housing crisis will not be resolved for another seven years unless skilled emigrants can be tempted to return.

“The construction industry has made a significant recovery over the last few years, but one key area that we have yet to recover from is the devastating loss of talent and skills that happened throughout the downturn,” he said. “A failure to attract people into the industry will see labour costs increase and eat away at the available capital for investment in vital infrastructure

“I want to give a stark warning here: if we do not start to address this issue now, the housing and infrastructure crisis will not be solved before 2025.”

We are turning to the diaspora as a rich source of skilled labour that we need to tap into over the coming years to help us meet Ireland’s demand for construction activity.

At the height of the boom Ireland’s disproportionately large construction industry – fuelled by cheap money from overseas for property developers – employed almost a quarter of a million people.

The crash reduced that number to less than half, about 110,000 people as the same number again emigrated to Australia, Canada, the Middle East and here in the UK. Mr Parlon said that for the past four years or more Irish building companies had been hiring a thousand workers a month but this was still not enough to meet demand.

Irish tradesmen recalled housing crisis
Finn Lydon from SIAC and Director General Tom Parlon. Photo: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

“We are turning to the diaspora as a rich source of skilled labour that we need to tap into over the coming years to help us meet Ireland’s demand for construction activity,” he said.

“The conditions are getting more favourable and we believe the industry’s gravity will begin to ‘pull’ emigrants back to Ireland in the coming years.”

Official estimates say Ireland needs to build 35,000 a years to meet demand – up from 25,000 – but this has sparked concerns from some quarter of another property bubble.

Earlier this year Taoiseach Leo Varadkar claimed Ireland will be relying on migrants who leave the UK after Brexit to build most of the Irish government’s big capital infrastructure projects over the next two decades. He said Ireland’s infrastructure plan for 2040 had been “proofed” for a worst-case-scenario Brexit deal. Half a million new homes will be required up to 2040, he said.

Irish tradesmen recalled housing crisis
15/1/2018 Constructions Sites. Building workers on scaffolds at the Elsmore housing estate at Naas Co Kildare which includes social housing. Today the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government announced the publication of the 2017 housing delivery figures. Photo: Eamonn Farrell/

He also promised ten new hospitals and several significant transport projects. Ireland would have to rely on migrants, including those leaving the UK after Brexit, to have enough construction workers to deliver the plan, he said. At the height of the so-called Celtic Tiger boom Ireland had relied on migrants working in the construction industry to build 80,000 homes a year.

“We are going to need that again. One of the few upsides of Brexit will be the fact that construction workers who are now welcome in the United Kingdom might not be able to live there, and that is something that will make us more attractive.”

Ireland would be “building bridges, not borders” after Brexit, he said. Ireland’s national development plan is based on an estimate that the economy will grow by 3 per cent over the next few years, and then 2 per cent throughout the 2020s although the Irish employers’ union, Ibec, estimated a hard Brexit could cost the Irish economy €18 billion in lost trade and output.

EY (formerly Ernst & Young) earlier this year predicted Ireland’s job market will grow by 138,500 net additional jobs in construction, manufacturing, transport and storage and ICT. The same report predicted a more challenging outlook for Northern Ireland.

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