Minister Darragh O’Brien tells US businesses that Government is ‘getting to grips’ with housing issue

He was speaking at an American Chambers of Commerce conference in Croke Park

Housing Minister Darragh O'Brien speaking at Croke Park yesterday

Sarah Collins

Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien has had to reassure nervous US company bosses that the country can accommodate a growing population.

He told business leaders at an American Chambers of Commerce (AmCham) conference on Wednesday that the Government is “catching up” and “getting to grips with” home building, but that “capacity” to build them was still an issue.

His reassurance came after an AmCham survey found that housing was the number one challenge for companies wanting to invest in or expand in Ireland.

“I do not underestimate the scale of it,” Mr O’Brien told the audience in Dublin’s Croke Park stadium.

“I do know we are making progress. We are on the right path.

“I’m quite happy to take constructive criticism. No one, more than I, would want to be able to say that I can build 40,000 homes this year, but I have to be truthful to people as well, that we have to build the capacity up to be able do that, and that is actually happening now.”

After housing, skills shortages and maintaining R&D tax incentives were the next-largest challenges for firms wishing to expand or locate here.

Almost two-thirds (64pc) of US firms in Ireland expect to add jobs in the next year, with only 5pc expecting cuts, the AmCham survey found.

Almost all firms (92pc) had a positive view of Ireland as an investment or growth location, based on the experience of their Irish operations this year.

Mary Buckley, interim chief executive of state agency IDA, said the Government needs to ensure the “carrying capacity of the economy is able to take” further foreign direct investment as the population grows, in terms of housing, water infrastructure, the planning process and energy.

There are now 950 US companies in Ireland, employing 209,000 people directly and 167,000 indirectly, AmCham said.

There are 650 Irish companies employing over 100,000 people in the US, making Ireland the ninth-largest foreign direct investor in the US.

Mark Redmond, chief executive of the American Chamber, said that “the future of inward investment will be as much about where people want to live as where companies want to locate”.