Monday 23 April 2018

Like it or not, we need our builders

Mark Keenan
Mark Keenan

THE Brixop people of the Inner Mongolian Plain have travelled the world building bridges, houses, schools and office blocks. For centuries, members of this nomadic tribe have been trained from childhood to understand a complete philosophy and methodology of construction - from roofing to dry lining to insulation values.

This week an Irish Government delegation travels out to Mongolia to negotiate terms for the arrival in Ireland in the coming months of 400 of the best Brixop builders, to be brought here to start work immediately, constructing houses to help solve the housing crisis - the shortage which is causing homelessness, overcrowding and over-expensive living costs.

Yes, of course I made them up.

Because no one is going to build the houses we need in Ireland right now - except our own homegrown construction tribe.

But unlike the entirely fictional Brixop, Irish builders are a more disparate bunch.

Based on their recent past record during the Celtic Tiger years, it is safe to say that they're not the most popular professional sept in Ireland right now. Judge it by the widespread outrage at news that a series of incentive measures are being planned by the Government to get house building moving again in Ireland in an urgent effort to address the acute shortage in some areas.

Like any profession, there is good and bad, but perhaps Irish inherited memory is fixed for obvious reasons on the so called "bad builders" who caught our attention for the wrong reasons through the Tiger years and since.

We Irish still remember how a good number of our builders swept forth for a decade in their fleets of tint-windowed Land Rovers, to make first-time buyers eat cruddy construction standards, leaving them with homes which are today falling apart or, in extreme cases, homes which had to be evacuated altogether.

Too many of us still remember how others hobnobbed with Government ministers in race meeting tents and provided vast amounts of funding to their favoured political party.

We remember yet more involved in planning scandals with cash handed over for favourable decisions. The Tribunals and the cloud that it cast over the construction sector and various politicians, some at the highest level.

It must have had something to do with that constant smell of fresh paint.

We remember how a good number expanded beyond these shores. Some did us proud abroad but too many others went on to indulge in the sort of maniacal spending (though bank fed) more usually associated with Sub Saharan kleptocrats and Russian oligarchs. Afterwards, much of this debt was brought home to roost with the Irish taxpayer having to sort it all out.

When the dung finally hit the fan, many builders legged it - to their new-found, unspoiled and hitherto innocent foreign markets.

Australian headlines earlier this month cited Irish nationals arrested in connection with construction work. Five people have been charged with fraud.

At home we can't forget the damage left by the last building whirlwind: more than €100 billion of reneged and development-generated bank debt for the taxpayer to sort out. Dozens of shoddily-built and abandoned estates and hundreds of millions in unpaid fees to local authorities for water infrastructure and such.

Then we balked when we realised that some builders had walked into well paid consultancies and contracts with Nama.

Today, resurgent in top end Land Rovers and Mercs (leased rather than owned, they point out), too many remain unrepentant for them to improve their perception among the recompensing taxpayer.

Therefore, for all of the above reasons, it is thoroughly understandable that recent news of Government plans to boost construction has stuck in the craw of so many.

We are talking about State plans to subsidise builders' efforts via cheap loans. Also to reward them for speedy development with refunded levies.

There has been outrage and calls in many quarters to prevent such measures from happening on the basis of what has gone on before.

Meantime, the European Investment Bank is set to loan Ireland €300m to build vast tracts of social housing - another meal ticket sop, many among us will fume.

Because yes, we are in a way rewarding the guilty for their sins. But for those of us who are paying too much for our homes, the only thing worse than builders making money is builders not making money.

The country needs its builders now - whether we like it (or them) or not. Because only our builders can build the houses we need. No one else will come here to do it.

Otherwise, and for obvious reasons, we can't get the Brixop.

Indo Property

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