MD of Clancy construction company, John O'Shaughnessy, calls for re-operning of the industry

Noel Dundon


Noel Dundon


Construction unions call on employers to ensure extra protections for workers

Clancy MD calls for re-opning of construction industry

The Irish construction industry is the only one closed in the EU as part of the lockdowns.

John O Shaughnessy MD of Clancy Construction Industry is calling for the re-opening of the construction industry on April 6.

At present 40% of the construction industry are operating on essential services such as HSE works, schools, some limited social housing, some FDI projects and essential infrastructure projects. However, the partial closure is having significant impacts on the output from the industry which is expected to reduce by €3bn in 2021 with a loss of €2.4bn in 2020.

“Clancy Construction have a number of essential projects on site at present for the HSE, and a number of schools in the Dublin region, with approximately 80% of all staff working. We delivered some exceptional projects in 2020 as Covid-19 and were delighted to be in a position to be able deliver these projects and keep the majority of staff employed during lockdown.

“Housing output in 2020 was 21% lower that predicated at the start of 2020 with just above 20,000 houses built and is expected to be 8,000 units lower this year due to the current lockdown at no more than 16,000 houses to be built. This lack of supply is going to have an impact on the housing market for years to come, with supply not catching up with demand, plus the additional impact on the economy due to the lack of housing available for FDI companies planning on investing in Ireland.

Clancy MD, John O'Shaughnessy

“The industry introduced the standard operating procedures for the return to work of the industry last May. These safety protocols have brought in significant new procedures on all construction sites to help stop the spread of the virus. Between January and March this year the HSA carried out 372 unannounced site inspections and found 92% compliance with the safety protocols- a similar standard of compliance only seen in the medical sector. The HSE has shown that the positive cases in the sector are at a very low level at the height of the pandemic where there was no more than 52 cases per week and last week there was a drop in cases from 39 to 36 the only sector of the society to show a downward trend- in fact the food industry in the same week had 736 positive cases. Additionally, since January of this year, there has been 46,000 antigen test carried out on construction sites working on some FDI projects with a positivity rate of 0.5%. Therefore, the construction industry is not a spreader of the Covid-19 virus.

“The Irish construction industry is the only one closed in the EU as part of the lockdowns. From an economic point of view it also doesn’t make sense. There are 60,000 construction workers on the PUP payment costing the states €21m per week with a further €32m lost in various taxes. There is damage being done to our international reputation as FDIs wanting to invest here don’t have any certainty on delivery of their projects.

“I accept that the virus hasn’t gone away and remains a problem until such time as we get the majority of the population vaccinated. But after three months of a level 5 lockdown we as a society have failed to suppress the virus, so what’s the answer? My own view is we can not continue this level of lockdown until we get the herd immunity from the vaccination - it's not sustainable from an economic point of view or from a societal point of view.

“I believe all workplaces and schools should have antigen testing on a weekly basis supported by Government. This is what is being done in a lot of other EU countries. In fact the EU have purchased 44m antigen test kits and have allocated 1.4m to the Irish Government but the Government have only drawn down 200,000 of these. NPHET and the Government are saying they are waiting for Professor Ferguson's report on the effect of antigen testing before making a decision - it reminds me of this time last year when face covering were considered by NHPET and the Government not to be effective in controlling the spread of the virus. Months later it became mandatory in certain settings - are we about to do the same thing with antigen testing?
“I would like to quote Mike Ryan of the WHO from the March 16 last year which I think is critical: “Be first, have no regrets, be the first mover. If you need to be right before you move you will never win, perfection is the enemy of good when it comes to emergency management, speed trumps perfection. The problem we have in society at the moment is everybody is afraid of making a mistake, everyone is afraid of the consequences of error, but the greatest error is not to move, the greatest error is to be paralysed by the fear of failure”

“I believe that the Government are afraid to make decisions until they have all the information before them, but Mike Ryan quote will tell that that’s the biggest mistake to make, we need to act and act fast.

The construction industry has proven beyond doubt that it can operate safely and is not a spreader of the virus; introduce weekly antigen testing on all construction sites even on a six week trail basis paid for by the state which we estimate will cost about 500k per week; at present its costing the state €50m per week to have 60,000 workers on PUP and lost taxes of €32m per week. I think the decision is a no brainer.

Since mid last year the Government and NPHET have been saying that testing and contract tracing was the best way of controlling the spread of the virus until we get the vaccines. The level 5 lockdowns haven’t suppressed the virus and we need to do something different.

We need continued restrictions but at the same time we need industries such as construction, that are proven not to be spreaders of the virus, back to work with some level of antigen testing in place as an additional measure as it makes sense from an economic point view, but also it will help deliver the much needed housing; allow FDIs to continue to invest in our economy; and hopefully at the end of this crisis. it won’t be a complete economic disaster.”