Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien outlines three big challenges when it comes to housing and the construction sector in Ireland

by | Apr 7, 2022

Housing for All is the most ambitious housing plan in the history of our State. It is the largest Government-led housing programme ever undertaken, but Government cannot deliver that programme on its own. The construction sector will be absolutely key in helping us to provide the homes the people of this country so desperately need.

The targets in Housing for All are bold, as they must be if we are to truly deal with our housing crisis. Over 300,000 new homes will be built by the end of 2030, including a projected 90,000 new social homes, 36,000 affordable purchase homes and 18,000 cost rental homes. The Government also aim to retrofit 500,000 existing homes by 2030.

These targets are backed up by a financial commitment in excess of €4billion per year and I know we can achieve them if we work together. That’s why as Minister I’ll make sure that Government continues to work with and listen to the construction sector. To build capacity to deliver 33,000 Nearly Zero Energy homes annually Ireland needs a competitive, dynamic and sustainable construction sector.

There are three big challenges as we work towards that goal: growing our force, reducing construction costs and introducing modern technology construction methods. The Government can and will play its part in helping to address these challenges. Delivering on the targets in Housing for All will require an expansion of the current workforce from approximately 40,000 fulltime equivalent workers at present, to 67,500 workers by the middle of the decade.

Indeed, part of the Government’s international messaging around this year’s St Patrick’s Day included a call for people to come and work or train in our construction sector.

Construction calling

There are positive developments in relation to the sector’s capacity to deliver the number of homes required. Recent Labour Force Survey data shows that there are 146,300 employed in the sector, just two per cent below pre-pandemic levels.

The Government has an ambitious commitment to increase apprenticeship registrations to 10,000 per year, almost double the 2020 intake. Apprenticeship registrations are also increasing, up over 30 per cent in 2021 when compared to 2019 (pre-pandemic), with notable increases  in construction-related and electrical apprenticeships. But it is also vital that the construction industry review and promote the attractiveness of careers in the construction sector through initiatives such as coordinated marketing campaigns targeted at school leavers and career changers.

Reducing the cost of residential construction is critical to increasing supply. Recent analysis shows that the cost of materials is increasing and that there is continuing demand for construction skills. Productivity in construction needs to improve to address this imbalance and we need to look to innovation in areas such as Modern Methods of Construction (MMC).

As committed to in Housing for All, the Government, through Enterprise Ireland, is working with industry to strengthen the residential construction supply chain. Through its ‘Built to Innovate’ initiative, Enterprise Ireland is providing a range of grants and advisory supports focusing on productivity, digitalisation and innovation. This support for innovation will further help to reduce the cost of construction and increase the supply of much needed homes.

Developing innovation and MMC

As part of this commitment the Government will enhance the intended role of the planned Construction Technology Centre (CTC), so that residential construction is prioritised during its first three years of operation. In December, a call for expressions of interest  for establishing the centre was made.

The centre will help provide the structures and funding to enable innovation in residential construction and play a proactive role in strengthening the residential construction value chain. It will also help promote and develop innovation and MMC, using digital and manufacturing technology.

It will also support SMEs to develop scale and to adopt MMC and Building Information Modelling techniques. In addition, the reform-led Construction Sector Group (CSG) is placing increased focus on residential construction. This includes the introduction and implementation of a pipeline of cost reducing and productivity measures in order to control price inflation.

The CSG will analyse each component of residential development construction, with a view to reducing costs and increasing standardisation. They will conduct construction cost comparisons with comparable EU economies and will identify opportunities for cost reduction for consideration by Government departments and industry. The work of both the CTC and the CSG will be led and funded centrally by the State, but industry partners will also contribute funding and be involved at all stages of the process.

Government Departments will also work together to strengthen the supply chain by securing EU-level Strategic Value Chain priority status for nZEB construction. Housing for All will also ensure that the construction sector operates to the highest standard. Everyone should be able to trust that homes are built correctly and that there is an effective oversight process in place to ensure that the mistakes of the past are not repeated.

Among the actions to improve the quality of the built environment and embed compliance in the sector, the Government is committed to placing the Construction Industry Register Ireland on a statutory footing. This will provide consumers with an assurance that all listed builders, contractors and tradespersons have met all registration requirements and legislation to underpin this is currently progressing in the Oireachtas.

With Brexit, the pandemic, and now the war in Ukraine, it can feel like the world is lurching from one uncertainty to another. But what we can be certain of is this Government’s clear vision for a sustainable housing system. It is progressing major reforms to
our housing system that will accelerate and increase the supply of homes forthe people of Ireland.

My vision, and the vision of Housing for All, is to have a consistent pipeline of housing, built in the right locations, with economic, social and environmental sustainability built in.

I know that the impact of the housing crisis is felt in every family across our country, but we now have a radical plan that will make a real difference. Supporting the Irish construction sector is absolutely key to that plan, and I know that together we can get this country back building homes on the scale that is needed.

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