Investing in ports, airports, railways, water, healthcare and broadband will prove “critical” to protecting Ireland’s exports to the UK, the British Irish Chamber of Commerce (BICC) has said.
Some 400,000 jobs depend on having the necessary infrastructure in place to facilitate trade, and spending needs to be carefully considered, it said.
A breakfast briefing heard that investment in infrastructure was a “prerequisite” to facilitating trade.
“In preparing for Brexit, it is essential that both the UK and Ireland have the necessary infrastructure in place to support out exporting capacity,” Director General of the BICC, John McGrane, said.
“400,000 jobs on our islands depend on this. With this in mind, we need to have a look carefully at how infrastructure expenditure can help Brexit-proof our economy in the medium to long-term.”
The conference heard that a National Infrastructure Commission to assess projects in an “impartial, non-political” manner.
Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy said that under Project Ireland 2040, which sets out the long-term planning and €116bn capital investment programme, some €11.6bn would be invested in social housing over the next decade, along with up to €1.3bn on a new water supply project for Dublin, €10.9bn in health, €4.8bn in ports and airports, and more than €7bn on roads.
“We have clear capital envelopes out to 2027, which allows us to plan on a long-term basis,” the minister said.
“Project Ireland 2040 will help prepare Ireland for Brexit by taking a radically different approach to future planning and by investing in critical infrastructure. By enhancing the capacity of our ports, airports, public transport, broadband and housing, businesses in Ireland can develop new trading links across the globe.”
Speaking after, Mr Murphy said the spending plan was based on a “prudent assessment” of the implications Brexit would have on the Irish economy.
“In terms of our projections for growth, we’ve taken a very prudent assessment of the average rate of growth. We’ve taken a harder scenario than what might be realised,” he said.
“We haven’t based our infrastructure investment or growth targets on the best case scenario, we’ve based it on a mid-level range on what might be achieveable.
“Regardless of whether it’s a hard Brexit or soft Brexit, or an orderly Brexit or disorderly Brexit, we will make sure we are investing in key pieces of infrastructure which will not just protect us from those types of scenarios, but which will enhance our competitiveness generally.”
Among the Brexit-specific measures included assessing the possibility of implementing high-speed rail to Belfast from Dublin, improved road connectivity and reopening the Ulster Canal.
Mr Murphy said the Government was working with Northern Ireland to ensure that proceeds identified as mutually beneficial could proceed.