Powering progress and prosperity within Ireland’s construction industry

by | Jul 6, 2023

As he steps into the role of CIF Director General, Hubert Fitzpatrick shares his outlook and vision for the construction industry

I recently attended a meeting of the Oireachtas Committee on Housing, where the construction sector was described as an engine of the economy in Ireland.

The committee was examining the proposed Land Value Sharing Tax.

The Federation had also attended committee meetings this year to provide industry representation on items including the new Planning and Development Bill, the concrete levy, Modern Methods of Construction and industry relationships with utility companies.

As I take on the role of Director General, I am keenly aware that the positive engagement with government is down to the input and expertise of our members, policy experts and the relationships developed through collaborative project delivery with public and private clients.

Our ability to create and construct, powers progress and prosperity. The construction industry generates investment, creates jobs and enables critical social services to be delivered such as hospitals, schools, transport and energy.

The Federation represents seven per cent of Ireland’s GDP, some €32billion, and the industry employs in the region of 177,000 people.

We are an industry with ambition and conviction.

In the two decades of my time with CIF, I have engaged with members across Ireland through the good and the hard times. But no matter what the circumstances, we have risen to the challenge. And this is something we must do now.

The recently published census revealed that Ireland’s population has increased to over five million people. The nation’s population is growing and evolving, and Ireland’s economic success has attracted strong inward migration.

Last year, despite global challenges, Ireland’s economy was the fastest growing in Europe, with GDP growth of 12.2 per cent. This presents significant and sustainable  opportunities for our sector.

The Federation represents members of all sizes, from the larger to the smaller contractors and builders countrywide, has a regional structure in place through our regional branches and a strong mandate to support balanced regional development.

Ireland is an attractive country for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) by large global enterprises, particularly from the US and UK.

According to EY, Ireland’s exceptional performance in attracting FDI projects delivered a 21 per cent increase in the number of FDI projects last year, placing it within the top 10 most attractive locations for investments across Europe.

Ireland attracted 184 new or expansion projects last year, up from 152 in 2021. Noticeably, almost half of these projects, at 48 per cent, were located outside of Dublin.

CIF members have been pivotal to the delivery of significant FDI developments, such as the expansion of Intel in Leixlip and Eli Lilly’s manufacturing campus in Cork.

Maintenance of the country’s competitive edge is dependent on having a viable, sustainable and competitive construction industry.

We need to be working at scale and we need structures that enable us to work at scale.

Without an effective and timely planning process for all infrastructure, both public and private including residential, which results in ‘shovel ready projects’, industry will be challenged in achieving its targets supporting the country’s economic and social development requirements.

Managing costs in the current inflationary environment and sight of a clear capital pipeline of work to develop infrastructure and housing committed under the National Development Plan, will be key to protecting the country’s value proposition as a place where our growing population can succeed and thrive and as a base for growing and developing business.

This year’s Housing Commission report projected that the baseline range of housing requirement to 2050 will be between 42,000 and 62,000 homes per year.

We do not want people having to make career decisions based on where they can and can’t live. And we don’t want young people deciding that they can’t live in Ireland.

The construction industry is and can be a partner for government in devising solutions to the housing crisis and fully acknowledges the range of government initiatives introduced to boost housing supply.

Many of these initiatives can take a period of time to bed in, with increased delivery levels anticipated in 2024 and beyond. But we must also ensure that further draft measures such as the current land value sharing proposals do not have unintended
consequences that have the potential to pause future delivery.

We must ensure that the country’s planning policies support development of infrastructure and services to sustain our economy’s needs.

The industry is taking its responsibilities seriously. It is supportive of quality standards in construction, as more developments including new homes are delivered.

CIF was this year appointed by the Minister for Housing as registration body for the statutory registration scheme for builders and is proactively working to put in place the administrative structures to support the new Construction Industry Register Ireland (CIRI) Admissions and Registration Board.

This board will be appointed by the Minister for Housing and will adjudicate on all matters pertaining to registration of builders.

Support for digitisation and implementation of Modern Methods of Construction are high on the agenda.

We are all aware of the need for the continued development of a future-focused industry that delivers best value for clients and answers the major societal challenges we are facing.

Our members have been adopting off-site supply chains for many years in certain specialist sub-sectors.

Elements of the housing industry has used timber frame, a form of 2D MMC, to deliver its homes culminating in up to 50 per cent of scheme homes being delivered using this technology in 2022.

Apartment developments have been extensively using pre-cast or hybrid concrete frame systems used to efficiently deliver medium to high rise developments.

Using offsite manufacturing supply chains can offer certainty of delivery in terms of time and cost and bring major advantages in the onsite programme duration.

Sustainability is a journey we are all on and is likely to have a growing and continuous impact on the commercial and operational activities of CIF members.

We recently appointed a new Head of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG), and established a new ESG Policy subcommittee with a mandate to develop and promote ESG within the wider industry and showcase what the industry is accomplishing.

As we know, sustainability is also about our workforce.

One of the highlights of this year was the International Women’s Day summit in March, an annual event that represents the nine per cent of women currently working in construction and aims to promote diversity.

While the construction sector knows only too well that the cyclical nature of the industry can lead to fluctuations in employment linked to the underlying economy, it is hugely positive to see that over 16,000 women now work in construction, which is double the number of women who were working in the sector at the beginning of 2018.

Modern corporate building

So, we are moving in the right direction. But we must pick up the pace. Our sector initiatives to promote construction as a career are bearing fruit.

We have seen a 20 per cent increase in apprenticeship registrations between 2019 and 2022 and an overall increase in construction workers from 145,600 to 171,000 in the same period.

We are confident that we can respond to the level of workforce needed to deliver the homes and infrastructure Ireland urgently requires as the population continues to rise.

But we must continue to promote the construction sector as a career to school leavers and secure continued engagement by our members in support of these initiatives.

I am incredibly proud to represent the construction sector and equally hopeful for the future of the industry. We have an extremely competitive and professional sector.

This is further evidenced by the scale of the exporting side of the industry, where the Top 50 companies have generated a third  of their turnover internationally.

The Construction Industry Federation is a membership organisation representing the entire construction ecosystem in Ireland.

It exists to support and represent members and I want to keep in touch with the grassroots of the industry, so that I can ably and professionally articulate to stakeholders, including government and agencies, matters of mutual interest and concerns that require attention.

I will work closely with CIF’s Executive Council, its associations, regional branches and policy committees to articulate and support them.

We have a strong support team in CIF at Director, Head of Function and executive level, which I am proud of – and any organisation would be proud of.

This is alongside our professional and skilled team in CPAS, the pensions section of the group, which is a wholly owned subsidiary and provides administrative support to the Construction Workers Pension Scheme and Construction Employers  Pension schemes, alongside Milestone Advisory, our free financial advisory service for members.

The experience and foresight of both teams is critical in ensuring that the Federation plays its part in supporting members’ needs into the future.

I succeed Tom Parlon as Director General, a role he has carried out with energy and dedication for 16 years. Tom has always been accessible to all, members and staff, and has been a great colleague, and I join all across the industry in wishing him the very best in his retirement.

The construction industry has never been as important to the Irish economy as it is today. It is central to Ireland’s ability to prosper.

In this year’s Top 50 edition of Construction magazine, we celebrate our sector’s successes and the achievements of those who fly the flag for our industry.

We congratulate all of you who are featured in this year’s CIF Top 50.

I am honoured to work alongside companies and colleagues who bring a vision for construction in every corner of the country and I look forward to all we can achieve together in the years to come.

Read the CIF’s Top 50 Contractors 2023 edition here

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