Don’t shut down building sites again, warns industry chief

Tom Parlon says Covid restrictions would impact on State’s housebuilding programme

The construction industry has called on the Government to “learn lessons” from the spike in Covid-19 cases last Christmas and ensure that building sites are kept open and not affected by any potential restrictions.

The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) is due to meet on Thursday and there is anxiety in Government that it may be leaning towards increased restrictions.

The director general of the Construction Industry Federation, Tom Parlon, said there was a “general panic after Christmas last time”.

“It didn’t make sense that construction should be included in the overall restrictions, but hopefully lessons have been learned and it won’t happen again.”


He said that there is nervousness after the previous shutdown and warned that the State’s housebuilding programme was severely affected by this.

“We did get an awful shock in January of this year after having a very high record of safety and so on. We have kept all of the hard work up and have worked very closely with the union representatives. Construction is deemed to be the safest industry in the economy and we obviously have a massive role in terms of whether it is housing or infrastructure, so it is important to keep going.

“I am happy but people are just a bit nervous after what happened last year, it came out of the blue . . . We were the only country in the world to close down our construction industry.”


Mr Parlon said that even the imposition of travel restrictions would have implications for construction because there was still a substantial number of workers who came from overseas and would want to go home for Christmas, and may be restricted from coming back if rules were tightened.

While up to 6,000 homes were lost in the State’s building programme in 2021, he said if the industry was not subjected to restrictions it could reach 30,000 units next year.

“It is expected that the outcome of units this year is going to be around 21,000 and that is allowing for the fact we were closed down for three months. If we had not been closed down you could add another 25 per cent on that, which is another 5,000 or 6,000 houses, which would be a big help to the current situation.

“The targets we have set now with Housing for All, we are talking about 35,000 houses, so with a good wind at our back next year and an unrestricted year of work we could be heading closer to 30,000.

“It takes a long time for the ship to stop and it then it takes a long time to get going again. Our supply chain got closed down whereas the UK and rest of the community continued to get in their construction materials and so on. When we wanted to start up again we discovered that it was very difficult to get steel or cement or whatever because we had been absent from the market.”

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times