Sparks fly as construction chief crosses swords with Dempsey
Sparks flew at the opening of a new €207m road yesterday when Transport Minister Noel Dempsey clashed with the head of one of the country's largest construction firms.
Mr Dempsey accused Finn Leyden of SIAC Construction of making a "self-serving" speech at the opening of a by-pass of Gort in Co Galway.
The row broke out after Mr Leyden used his speech to attack Government capital spending plans by saying "it is a sad reflection of the state of our economy that our working futures are abroad".
Mr Leyden urged the Government to scrap the planned Metro North project as the plan "is displacing other projects that have certainty of delivery and a more immediate impact on the economy and the construction industry".
Mr Leyden said the 250 workers on the Gort scheme, which represents the next 22km phase of the Atlantic Corridor, have either been laid off or emigrated.
In a prepared speech, Mr Leyden said, to large applause from the construction workers present: "One wonders if the loss of 250 jobs in a manufacturing plant in the west of Ireland would attract as little attention as the loss being experienced by construction companies engaged in public sector infrastructure."
Mr Leyden was last in a succession of speakers to speak before Mr Dempsey and the Transport Minister put his prepared script aside to state that Mr Leyden's comments "are a little hard to take when you consider €13bn has been spent on road infrastructure in the last 10 years".
He said: "It is a little bit unrealistic to expect that we can spend another €13bn over the next 10 years providing roads that may not be needed."
"There is an absolute necessity for a project like Metro North.
"I don't see how construction jobs like Metro North -- with 4,000 jobs directly and 3,000 indirectly -- are any different to ones that will be provided by roads."
Mr Dempsey said Mr Leyden's "speech was a little self-serving, failing to recognise that the Government has had the highest level of capital spend over the last 10 years of any country per capita in Europe and continues to have a higher per capita spend on capital even in the very difficult circumstances that we are in currently".
The new road built by SIAC/ Wills Bros joint venture will remove 8,000 to 10,000 cars from Gort daily and is expected to reduce travel time between Galway and Limerick by 20 minutes during peak hours.
Mr Dempsey said the new road scheme "is a very, very good example of the positives in the country that we don't hear half enough about on a day-to-day basis".
"I am certainly fed up at the constant knocking of this country. We are the same people and the same country that we were two years ago. Our economic circumstances have changed certainly, we are in difficulties.
"The people, the skills, the competencies and the entrepreneurial skills that we have shown in the past are still there and they will help us get out of this."
Speaking to reporters after his address, Mr Dempsey said in relation to Mr Leyden's remarks: "I'm justified about being a little bit angry at one-sided comments that don't recognise the reality that we face at the moment."
The Transport Minister added that "unbalanced, negative comments like that don't do the country any good".