Blame for the economic crash has largely been laid upon the banking and construction industries. When the Nama legislation was introduced, the reaction was understandably emotive with accusatory cries of "bailing out the bankers".
Despite this, Nama is being pushed through. This is because it is widely felt by a number of economists and government representatives that letting the banks collapse would lay waste to our economy entirely.
However, there is no such protectionist sentiment towards the construction industry.
Unfortunately, the media coverage received by property developers' speculative practices during the boom has overshadowed the public investment projects that were also undertaken. Therefore it would seem a politically unpopular option to put any investment into the construction industry at this stage.
The construction industry has not been deemed as systemically important to the overall economy as the banking sector. Subsequently, to spare itself the accusation of bailing out the builders, the government is adopting a laissez-faire attitude; this in the long-term could be as risky as a scenario that would lead to the banks collapsing.
Economic recovery is dependent on investment in the infrastructure and development of the state. However an analysis of the infrastructure that currently exists in Ireland shows a worrying picture. We have unfinished link roads between our major cities, poor rail networks, and unsatisfactory telecommunications networks. Even during the economic boom we lagged significantly behind our European counterparts and now with a lack of investment in 2009 and into 2010, we are falling further and further behind. As this happens our chances of recreating economic prosperity seem ever more distant.
We have been told that potential avenues out of the recession include the creation of a strong "knowledge economy" and taking advantage of the excellent wind and wave resources that Ireland enjoys for renewable power generation. But how is it possible to develop a leading knowledge economy without an up-to-date telecommunications network? How can we become the "Saudi Arabia of wind power" if our national grid is yet to be fully modernised?
All the while Ireland is rapidly developing an international reputation as an unattractive place to do business. If we take renewable power as an example, we have received strong encouragement and backing from the EU in this area. But instead of aggressively pursuing it, what we have is meagre investment and a glut of systems and processes that significantly stall the creation of wind farms and their linking to the national grid. We have one east-west interconnector project underway when there should be three. It's frustrating, as the enthusiasm for renewable power generation is as plentiful as the wind off the Atlantic coast. Yet Ireland is considered by many indigenous and international power generation companies as being an extremely difficult place to do business.
As this continues, construction professionals become more and more discouraged. Many are losing their jobs (86,000 between June '08 and June '09 alone). Those that do hold on to their roles are enduring up to 30% pay cuts or reductions in working hours. Young school leavers are losing faith in the industry's ability to offer them a career path and CAO applications to construction-related courses have plunged 26% from their 2006 peak boom figures. With dim prospects here, professionals are migrating to areas such as the Middle East, South Africa, and Australia and a significant portion of the foreign talent that arrived during the boom is heading home. To lose so much talent and potential talent is not just detrimental to the construction industry but is also putting our chances of economic recovery in real jeopardy.
This need not be the case. It has often been said of Ireland that its greatest natural resource is its talent. This is certainly the case in the construction industry, where we are still in the enviable position of having many highly qualified and skilled professionals in this country. Aggressive investment in the key areas of our infrastructure outlined above, along with a genuine commitment to unravel the red tape that surrounds them, would create the job stimulation we desperately need. Marry this with a programme (which could be driven from within the industry itself) to up-skill those whose experience is excessively residential- and commercial-project oriented, and we may have the beginnings of a revival that will not only benefit the construction industry, but the economy as a whole.
To help its own case, industry bodies need to work hard to overhaul the current image of construction as one of the primary factors behind the economic collapse. More needs to be made of the crucial projects that were carried out during the boom in road and rail, for example.
We should focus on construction's importance as a driver of economic revival, so the unfinished public works can continue. We need to stop assigning blame and concentrate on the road to recovery.
Paul O'Donnell is operations manager at Hays Construction and Property