THE GOVERNMENT’S ANNOUNCEMENT of a phased return of construction, starting with residential construction returning from 12 April, has been criticised as an “economic and societal own goal”.
The Construction Industry Federation has said that it is “deeply disappointed” by the Government’s phased proposals for the easing of Covid-19 restrictions for the construction sector, and said that Ireland continues to be the only country in the world where any building sites are closed.
The Taoiseach announced this evening that from 12 April, all residential construction projects and childcare facility projects can recommence.
When asked what the threshold for ‘home building’ was, the Taoiseach said: “Residential does affect one’s residence and homes, and can be refurbishment and building and that. It’s a limited reopening, but an essential one in terms of the housing crisis.”
This will see around 14,000 people return to work, the Taoiseach said.
The Construction Industry Federation said, on the other hand, that over 20,000 construction workers remain out of work until the next easing of restrictions. “The delay in reopening construction sites means these jobs will be put at further risk despite the fact that all available evidence demonstrates that construction sites are controlled environments and are safe to open,” it said.
The construction industry has been restricted in its operations since 6pm on 8 January; only the construction of buildings related to health, education and social housing have been allowed to continue since then.
Depending on the number of Covid-19 cases in the community and in hospitals, the Government may decide to allow a full return to construction after 4 May.
Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien welcomed the Government’s phased reopening. “The impact of a 13 week shutdown on homebuilding will be immense this year and my Department will do all we can to make up for lost ground,” he said in a statement.
He added that the NPHET advice was to prioritise suppressing Covid-19 as much as possible while the vaccination rollout is ramped up substantially.
Director General of the Construction Industry Federation Tom Parlon said the decision could cost the Exchequer millions, and was a complete “own goal”.
Parlon cited figures extracted from HSE data that indicate only 150 Covid-19 cases have occurred on constriction sites since January, from around 40,000 workers currently working every day. Last week, of the 404 new outbreaks across Ireland only two were construction site-related, he said. Of the 158,000 cases of Covid-19 since January, he said only 145 cases have been associated with construction sites out of around 40,000 people working on over 780 sites.
“Based on current case levels on site, the decision to shut down a multi-billion-euro sector of the economy could theoretically prevent 40 Covid-19 cases with near zero chance of a hospitalisation,” Parlon said, and called on antigen testing to be used to help speed up the opening of the construction sector.
Minister O’Brien acknowledged the low rate of infection on construction sites in his statement this evening: “The shutdown in construction sector activity from January 8 was a direct response to the need to curtail the movement of people.
“The industry itself has shown great agility in adapting swiftly to public health measures, putting in place strict health and safety protocols on sites.
These measures have proven successful, with no evidence the construction sector has been a driver of infections. Now as we begin to reopen it’s more important than ever that the measures adopted by the sector are adhered to rigidly.
“My Department are currently making regulatory arrangements to facilitate new housing projects or new phases of housing projects, where commencement notices were submitted during the shutdown so that they can commence on site as promptly as possible,” O’Brien said.