WITH predictions that the Irish construction industry will increase in size by a massive 20% in 2019, the once moribund sector has shown signs of life around the Banner, although there is some frustration that the progress isn’t as quick in Clare as around the major urban centres.
Enda Galvin of Galvin Construction said he does expect the industry to improve significantly in the coming months. “I’d imagine so, it kind of has already for ourselves but you’d hope it would for everyone.”
A tiny number of housing estates have been finished in the county over the last 10 years but his company is currently working on a new one. “We launched in Crusheen before Christmas and we had fairly good sales, off plans. About half of our first phase is gone off the plans. We’re hoping that by the middle or end of February we’ll have the first phase sold out, so it’s not bad now.”
There are 12 houses being built in that first phase and the whole estate will have 42 when completed.
Some companies are experiencing skills shortages but he hasn’t had to deal with that. “I know plenty of lads in the industry who are saying they’re hard to get alright. We’ve been lucky enough. We’ve picked up a few in the last six months but talking to other lads, it can be hard.”
Getting finance can be difficult, he feels. “It’s tough enough going. The banks don’t make it overly easy, being honest, they don’t make it too simple. It’s nearly a bit extreme in some cases. To give you an example, I went to a seminar last year and what the banks wanted builders to have done was bought their site, get full planning permission and have half the houses sold before they’d think about financing.”
While credit has since become a little freer, he says it is still not very easily available, particularly when developments
are being built outside of towns and cities.
“They have eased a little bit on it but that was their stance up to a year ago. It’s not too easy to get credit from the banks, it’s tough enough going. You might have a better chance around Ennis but in the likes of Crusheen, where we are, it’s a hard sell to a bank.”
John O’Dwyer has a concrete products business in Quilty and he says that while there is a lot of optimism and positivity, it hasn’t translated into that much new construction in the county. “There seems to be a lot of jobs to start but it’s slow. There’s a lot of positive talk but not a whole lot of it on the ground. I know you hear an awful lot about tradesman not being too plentiful and so on but an awful lot have gone out of the trades and that’s why it’s hard to get lads. A lot of guys went into factories and they’re very slow in moving out of where they are now. There is a lot of positive talk but it’s not on the ground yet.”
There is still a big difference between the state of the industry now and the peaks it reached at the zenith of the Celtic Tiger.”If you put out an article and said it’s flying and it’s back to the boom days, people would be saying you’re not in Clare.”
Having less uncertainty about Brexit would help, he feels. “It’s holding back a lot of people from doing things and the sooner it’s over and done with, one way or the other, I think the better for everyone. Let people deal with whatever happens but it’s the not knowing that really puts everything on pause.”
M Fitzgibbon Contractors Ltd are currently building houses in Clarecastle but spokesman Mike Fitzgibbon said that the sector is somewhat turbulent. “We’re busy but it’s still unsettled; it’s up and down. At the minute, we wouldn’t be as busy as we were all last year. It’ll probably pick up. It comes in waves. Every three or four months there’s a big burst and then a lull and it comes back again. Talking to other contractors, they kind of feel the same as well.”
He feels a shortage of tradespeople is all but certain, with so few having trained in recent years. “Apprentices are starting to come back now in the last 12 months but before that, you wouldn’t have had any. You’re not going to have new tradesmen for the next four or five years. I think that’s going to be a big problem in the next couple of years as well.”
The fact that the cities have recovered so strongly is paradoxically making things more difficult, he feels. “Dublin is crazy, Cork is crazy, Limerick is starting to get busier. The cost of building is going up but you have a different market
in Cork and Dublin compared to here, which makes it hard to make it viable,” he concludes.