Natural-born problem solvers: CIF President Frank Kelly takes a look at the industry past, present and future

by | Dec 18, 2022

It has been an honour to lead the Construction Industry Federation as President over the past two years, through what has been an unprecedented time of instability, but also a time of resilience and problem solving.

As an industry, we have watched the world move from crisis to crisis, with two long years of living with the Covid pandemic, which dealt a heavy blow to so many construction companies across Ireland.

Just as we thought we were sailing into smoother waters, at the end of last year, inflation started to rise and this was followed by the invasion of Ukraine. Yet, construction workers are natural-born problem solvers, and we rise to the toughest of challenges.

During my tenure, I have seen construction companies across Ireland pull together, resolute in delivering on Ireland’s built environment. This determination has enabled us to meet these unforeseen shocks with the tenacity to forge a path forward.

Our capacity to recover as an industry is impressive and the gross output for construction in 2022 is forecast to increase on last year. As an industry that is central to Ireland’s economic strength, creating jobs, supporting FDI and building the communities around us, it is crucial that we continue this uphill trajectory.

A recent assessment of the economic impact of construction by EY estimated that in 2021 (after all direct, indirect and induced economic impacts are considered), every €1million of construction activity delivered an additional €0.66million in Gross Value Added.

The construction sector is one of Ireland’s biggest employers. We support almost 300,000 jobs across the entire economy or 11.6 per cent of the workforce, in small communities and urban centres across the country, directly and indirectly. We must continue to attract young people, female and male, to the industry to meet the country’s targets around housing, infrastructure and the Climate Action  Plan.

Headwinds and housing

While this year’s outlook is positive against many odds, the headwind of inflation and the volatile cost environment we operate in, is a significant concern.

In CIF’s latest economic outlook, 96 per cent of construction companies surveyed reported a rise in the cost of building materials between June and August 2022, with 85 per cent expecting cost rises to continue to year end.

This comes as the Government plans to impose a five per cent levy on concrete products. We are concerned that by driving costs up along the supply chain, the new levy will result in additional costs for first-time home buyers, people trying to extend their homes, affordable and social houses, and public infrastructure projects.

We have conveyed this to the Minister for Finance, with other stakeholders. We want to be a partner for government to find sustainable solutions to safeguarding the quality and viability of current and future construction projects and to leave a positive legacy.

The statutory registration body of competent builders, Construction Industry Register Ireland, will ensure that compliance and
quality are the language of our industry for companies of all sizes. In terms of housing delivery, we are expecting housing supply to increase to 25-26,000 units per annum in 2022, an increase on 2021’s output of 21,000.

But there are growing concerns about the significant challenges for supply in 2023. To increase housing supply, we need a supply of land, a supply of serviced land, a supply of planning permissions, a supply of material, a supply of labour and a supply of customers.

Unfortunately, all of these are constrained. Some of this can be controlled. We can ensure the supply of land, servicing and permissions with an immediate reform of how we assess the quantum of land that needs to be zoned. While many of the material cost increases are outside of our control, we must be careful not to unnecessarily increase costs at this time.

The large increase in population in recent years means that we simply have to supply more homes for more people. The realisation of the National Development Plan is vital to providing essential infrastructure such as water, roads, transport, schools, hospitals and energy for Ireland’s projected population increase of one million people by 2040, and to support theClimate Action Plan. But in order to facilitate this, the Government needs to invest and to address the underspend on infrastructure that currently stands.

Infrastructure, from buildings to roads to transport systems, is an investment in our future, an investment in our success as a country,  and an investment in our people.

Innovation takes shape

Sustainability and green procurement have never been more important. Innovation and the adoption of new technology and business systems are key. While progress is needed, I am very pleased to note the significant advancement of many innovation measures that the Construction Industry Federation has supported in the past year.

The last 12 months has seen the establishment of the Build Digital Project, which has taken on the task of the digital transformation of our sector by 2026.

The launch of the Construction Technology Centre in July this year will position Ireland as a global research and innovation leader for sustainable construction and built environment technology.

The Housing Demonstration Park and proposed advanced training facility for MMC to be sited at Mount Lucas potentially offers an opportunity for the industry to develop new programmes and attract new talent at the same time.

As these innovations take shape, it is the day-to-day operations on construction sites across Ireland, carried out by hardworking men and women, that is the backbone of our industry.

The health and well-being of our workers is and must remain at the top of our priorities. Health and Safety Week took place over the last two weeks of October, and it was inspiring to see our member companies leading as one to celebrate best practices in construction safety.

We hold in our thoughts any families affected by workplace fatalities or accidents and we must work to drive continual improvement in safety and health each and every day through vigilance, shared learning and best practice.


Effective Price Variation Mechanisms

In January and May the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the Office of Government Procurement introduced several  measures addressing cost recovery mechanisms arising from the impact of hyper-inflation on the industry. The Procurement Tendering and Contractual Matters Subcommittee played a significant role in developing policy and strategy on this matter.

IHBA National House Building Summit

The second IHBA National House Building Summit took place on April 5 and brought together industry experts including builders, contractors, building developers, architects and policymakers to take stock of the housing market and its current economic outlook.  Guest speaker was Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Darragh O’Brien. His commitments to complete a full review of the National Planning Framework, reform the planning and development act and to open consultation on residential planning guidelines is wholly welcomed by all those in the industry.

IHBA Housing Workshops

A continuation of the IHBA workshops were held in Spring 2022 visiting Wexford, Kilkenny, Offaly, Galway, Meath, Dublin, Cork and Limerick. Expert speakers included representatives from Irish Water, the Local Government Management Agency, the LDA and the planning division of the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage.

Construction Safety Week 2022
Construction Safety Week ran for an extended period this year, with activities taking place from October 3-28. CIF charity partners The Lighthouse Club brought their Help Inside the Hard Hat team – trained mental health first aiders with backgrounds in construction – to a number of member sites. As an initiative to seek to engage with the younger age profile in the sector, a successful video campaign was also launched to promote this year’s safety themes, in collaboration with comedians The Fupin Eejits.

Getting Social

The CIF social media channels have continued to grow with the CIF’s follower network now standing at:
• LinkedIn: 46,945 followers
• Twitter: 12,206 followers
• Facebook: 13,025 followers
• Instagram: 2,694 followers
The CIF has also arrived on the TikTok platform, and looks forward to growing this channel in the future. The CIF’s website was moved onto a new, up-to-date platform to provide better online services and features for members. You can find out more on


New Course

The Electrical Contractors’ Association is instrumental in the development of a Certificate in HV Electrical Systems in conjunction with South-East Technical Technological University, Technological University of the Shannon: Midlands Midwest and the South-East Regional Skills Forum. A consortium has been established which includes member companies of the ECA who are particularly vital to the work-based learning element of the course. This course will be open for applications in 2023.

New Legislation

A range of new legislation was enacted during the year. 2022 saw the awarding of a one-off special public holiday due to Covid-19, the introduction of a new public holiday on February 1 each year commencing in 2023, the Gender Pay Gap Regulations, an additional two weeks Parents Leave, amendments to the Protected Disclosures Act, and the introduction of the Sick Pay Act. Legislation is due to be enacted on remote working, parental bereavement, additional work-life balance provisions, including paid leave for victims of domestic violence, and protections for platform workers.

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