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Opinion: Do we need a Minister for Construction for Ireland?

The sector should have a standalone ministry to help avoid the mistakes of the past and help overcome future challenges, writes Andrew Power.

Andrew Power Construction Management graduate

THIS THOUGHT FIRST crossed my mind whilst being an undergraduate student studying Construction Management at Waterford Institute of Technology.

From 2000 – 2008 the construction sector in Ireland arguably grew at an unsustainable rate with building control measures lacking discipline. The total number of dwellings built in 2005 reached 88,219 according to Construction Industry Review and Outlook(CIRO).

With this rate of development, delivering a reliable quality management system in what is essentially an uncontrolled environment proved challenging. Some very unfortunate homeowners have been caught up in numerous construction related scandals as a direct result of this lack of oversight.

Could you image paying €300,000 for a car with little or no oversight with regard to quality? During one educational site visit, I recall a house builder boast about how he could assemble several housing units a week. One often wonders what these houses will look like in 40 years’ time.

Many pitfalls

Construction procurement can be a complicated exercise with many pitfalls as I found out whilst completing my dissertation on procurement fraud.

During the research I interviewed construction professional across varying disciples and one key finding was how confusing and complicated this process can be. Thus, achieving value for money in a competitive transparent manor is central to a progressive and trustworthy national procurement process.

Having a standalone construction ministry with the reasonability for delivering infrastructure projects across all departments, with a core intrinsic construction ethos would go beyond the current status quo.

Energy performance

With lots of talk doing the rounds regarding energy efficient homes in Ireland, construction methods will require a major shift. The lack of ‘airtightness construction’ greatly reduces the energy performance rating of a home.

Whilst one recognises the stringent training required to become a Building Energy Rating Assessor, there are loopholes when it comes to assessing large housing developments. It’s no secret local authorities lack building control officers and without this oversight some developers will inevitably cut corners.

Poor workmanship on construction details can drastically reduce airtightness levels, and building regulations are useless without enforcement. As things stand, various government departments along with local authorities and State agencies provide current oversight.

This multi-agency approach shifts the burden of responsibility for insuring building standards exceed expectations from one individual department thus muddying the waters.

A missed opportunity

I began my construction management degree in 2008 and some of the above thoughts come from this snapshot in time. Worryingly, it seems that not a lot has changed in the past 10 years and one would consider this a missed opportunity to implement progressive changes.

The value of output in the construction industry in 2006 was estimated at €35.5bn or almost 24% of GNP. Approximately 46,500 were employed in the construction professions, 150,000 were employed as craft workers and 35,000 construction labourers.

These 2006 figures are from the CIRO and were purposefully chosen as it’s not beyond the realm of imagination that we could see these statistics re-emerge.

Finally, my argument is that a sector with this potential scale should have a standalone ministry to help avoid the mistakes of the past and help overcome future challenges. Whilst recognising the cost implications of bigger government I would argue the benefits outweigh the disadvantages.

Andrew Power graduated with an Honours Degree in Construction Management and a Masters Degree in Business both from Waterford Institute of Technology. Currently, Andrew is a Director in Lisduggan Credit Union and sits on the strategy, liquidity and investments committee. He also volunteers with the Irish Men’s Sheds Association and is responsible for supporting and growing the sheds movement across Waterford and Wexford. His primary research interests relate to the ‘SMART CITY’ concept and all things construction.   

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About the author:

Andrew Power  / Construction Management graduate

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