Sunday 28 December 2014

Russian cheer for Irish builders

Tom Prendeville

Published 29/07/2012 | 05:00

A HUGE €2 trillion construction boom in Russia could offer a lifeline to tens of thousands of unemployed Irish construction workers, and once-thriving building firms that are struggling to survive.

The Minister for Trade and Development, Joe Costello, has just returned from a high- level trade meeting in Russia, and revealed that the cash-rich country, which has no national debt, was embarking upon the biggest construction project in history.

"The whole city of Moscow is going to be rebuilt and regenerated to two-and-a-half times the size it is now. This is going to be the biggest project in the world for the next 10 to 20 years.

"The entire Irish construction industry would only be a little peanut in the whole programme," Mr Costello explained.

The rebuilding of Moscow, which is Europe's largest city with a population of 11.5 million, and the rolling-out of new infrastructure across the vast country will involve the construction of everything from new airports to motorways, railway lines, ports and, the demolition of vast swathes of the glum Soviet-era capital.

"There are trillions to be made from the forecast construction boom, due to the necessity of modernising infrastructure," Mr Costello said.

"We need to get out there now, as Russia does not have any debt as such. They are in the black, they have to spend the money."

Not ones to lie back, the famously gung-ho Russian authorities are now gearing up to find skilled people and strategic partners.

"They will be bringing a roadshow to Ireland in the autumn looking for Irish expertise in design, planning, architecture and town planning," Mr Costello said.

The roadshow will offer fresh hope to the estimated 160,000 unemployed building workers, skilled tradesmen and professionals who have lost their jobs since 2008.

The impetus behind the vast regeneration project lies in Russia's huge cash reserves, which it has generated from the country's state-owned oil and gas export industry.

In an uncertain world where the future of once-hard currencies such as the dollar and euro is increasingly in doubt, it makes sense to convert volatile paper currency into concrete and iron assets.

Russia also wants to showcase its re-emergence as a superpower in time for the 2014 Winter Olympics and the 2018 World Cup -- both of which it will host.

In the past, Russia -- and Moscow, in particular -- had the image of being an austere and joyless place ridden with post-Communist gangster-capitalism and state corruption. However, in recent years it has become more business- friendly and a much safer place to live and work.

"It has changed enormously, there is no doubt about it. I must say I was most impressed by it. It was like going to a top-class European city," Mr Costello said.

A big benefit of Russia's newfound wealth is that wages for skilled workers have escalated and are now quite high by western European standards. That is good news for Irish workers hoping to make their fortune on the building sites of Moscow rather than New York.

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