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'This is a massive expensive spaceship landing in Dublin 8 and we've got to make sure communities benefit'

The €1.73 billion project has almost three years of construction-time left.

Construction at the site of the new National Children's Hospital.
Construction at the site of the new National Children's Hospital.
Image: Eamonn Farrell/RollingNews.ie

ONE OF THE promises used to ease the headache that goes with living near a huge construction project is the hope that it will bring opportunities to an area.

In the case of Ireland’s new National Children’s Hospital the disruption being felt is significant, so the opportunities are hopefully equally so.

The €1.73 billion project has almost three years of building-time left with the current projection being that construction will finish at the end of 2022 before the hospital opens in 2023.

Yesterday, representatives from the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board and Children’s Health Ireland briefed Dublin City Council on aspects of a Community Benefit Programme that has been running for four years.

Among other aspects, the programme aims to ensure that some local people gain employment from the huge construction project.

The report to the council claimed that new entrants in the construction sector have worked a total of 1,830 work weeks over the course of four years with 2,431 work weeks carried out by local people over the same period.

A total of 10 apprenticeships have also been created that have gone to local people with more expected to come on stream in the coming year.

Simon Watson is the team development manager with the Jones Engineering Group, which is one of the major contractors on the hospital project.

Jones Engineering is involved with the mechanical work on the project while Mercury Engineering looks after the electrical installations and BAM undertakes the major civil and structural construction.

Watson says part of their hospital contract includes an obligation to take on local people both as apprentices and in other disciplines.

“From an apprenticeship point of view, we had to take on potentially six apprentices from the Dublin 8 or Dublin 12 areas,” he told TheJournal.ie

We’ve actually got seven on the books at the moment. We took them on before we get started on site, the idea being that we didn’t want them all to be brand new when we were hitting the sites. So we were kind of phasing them in, getting them experience on other sites.

“We’ve put out another call out over Christmas because we’re looking to increase our apprenticeship numbers for various other projects but we’ve used the same contacts from the same area.

So if we can take other people off the Live Register or whatever from that area, then that’s great. They may not work on the hospital job for the complete length of time, but they’ll be on the books working on other sites somewhere. 

Watson adds that one of the big advantages to linking up contractors on ongoing projects with local apprentices is that it cuts out the problem of commuting for young trainees. People who might not have the means to get to another part of the city. 

Megan Northridge, who is now an apprentice on the project, says she was previously working out in Intel in Leixlip and that it took two hours for her to reach the job from Crumlin.

A commute that required her to get a bus into the city and then a train outwards to Kildare.

She explains that she first got in contact with Watson through a DIT programme before taking on the apprenticeship with Jones.

I’m shadowing a welder at the moment, he’s going to show me techniques and stuff and I’m helping him with packing up piping as well. I’m also on site helping the other guys install pipework and take out old pipework and replacing it with new pipe.

Northridge says the Children’s Hospital itself will be great for the community when it’s completed but she’s glad it’s already creating employment.

I think it can be a huge benefit in that there’s now a children’s hospital in addition to the main hospital, which is a huge benefit. But also, I got a job out of it and other apprentices got a job out of it. It’s just such a good place for jobs and it’s so close for me and a lot of people.

CHILDRENS HOSPITAL II2A5525 Hoardings at the construction site. Source: rollingnews.ie

Contracts

Other aspects to the Community Benefit Programme include efforts to allow local SMEs and organisations win contracts as part of the wider construction works.

This is partly achieved by way of ‘reserved contracts’ that can only be tendered for by sheltered workshops, social enterprises or by companies that promote the integration of disadvantage people.

These contracts are allowed for under public procurement regulation and Gordon Jeyes, chair of the Community Benefit Oversight Group, says fear of the tender process shouldn’t stop communities benefiting.

“There was all sorts of nonsense like ‘this couldn’t be done under European rules’ and all that, but it could be done and the construction company and subcontractors have to take it every bit as seriously as health and safety.

Businesses have always made some contribution, but it’s been a sort of ships in the night contribution. We are much more interested in getting them to do something which is sustainable, that will make a real difference to the way in which people in that part of Dublin live.

“This is like this massive, expensive spaceship landing in Dublin 8 and we’ve got to make sure that the neighbouring communities can benefit from that.”

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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