eolas magazine issue 62

Page 1

Informing Ireland’s decision-makers...

Creating better societies AWS’ Mark Finlay PENDPDR Minister Paschal Donohoe TD provides an update on NDP delivery

Oireachtas Service’s

Ambassador of the

Rosemary Keogh

State of Palestine

reflects on her new

to Ireland

corporate and

Jilan Wahba

members’ services

Abdalmajid discusses

role

the Gaza war

Artificial intelligence • Infrastructure and construction • Retrofitting

issue 62 Mar/Apr 24 €4.95


Public Procurement Conference 2024 Thursday 14 March • Clontarf Castle Hotel, Dublin

Sponsored by

An eolas event

Digital

Events

Publications

The Irish State spends approximately €18.5 billion every year on goods, services and works. Of this spending, 92 per cent remains in Ireland and 50 per cent is spent with SMEs. Across the EU, public procurement represents a significant proportion of total procurement. It is a useful tool for achieving policy objectives and can have many societal benefits including spending efficiency, improving well-being, working to deliver carbon net zero and promoting ethical and resilient supply chains. The Public Procurement Conference 2024 will once again bring together key stakeholders from across the Irish procurement sector to discuss the latest developments and their implications for your procurement strategy.

Speakers include: David O’Sullivan Assistant Secretary Office of Government Procurement John Coyne Director of Commercial and Procurement Welsh Government John Swords National Director of Procurement Health Service Executive Eileen Torres Morales Research Associate Stockholm Environment Institute Paul Roulston Business Development Capture Manager AWS Sinead Leonard Chief Procurement Officer Iarnród Éireann

Philip Gurnett Head of Sourcing Education & Director of Education Procurement Service Department of Education Maggie Farrell Strategic Supply Management, Faculty of Business TU Dublin Conor O’Regan Chief Procurement Officer ESB

Norman Jackson Senior Projects and Procurement Advisor The Housing Agency Aidan Sweeney Head of Enterprise & Regulatory Affairs Ibec

Key issues examined include: 4

Policy update

4

Procurement across the health sector

4

Green public procurement

4

Best practice local government procurement

4

Decarbonising supply chains

4

Procuring for education

4

Cloud procurement

4

Creating social value in procurement

4

Procurement in the housing sector

4

Collaborative procurement across public services

4

Attaining social and economic benefit from public purchasing

4

Best practice: Case studies from outside Ireland

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eolas issue 62 Mar/Apr 2024 Digital

Events

Publications

Editorial Ciarán Galway, Editor ciaran.galway@eolasmagazine.ie

Now dawns the age of AI... It is possible that human labour is on the road to obsolescence. While not a living organism, our emerging competitor is set to be – paraphrasing Daft Punk – smarter, better, faster, stronger. Variously, it is known as artificial general intelligence (AGI), superintelligent AI, or strong AI. Today, existing AIs, including GenAI which incorporates large language model chatbots, such as ChatGPT, are defined as artificial narrow intelligence (ANI) or weak AI. The rest is theoretical but given that “the development of AI is as

Odrán Waldron, Deputy Editor odran.waldron@eolasmagazine.ie David Whelan david.whelan@eolasmagazine.ie Fiona McCarthy fiona.mccarthy@eolasmagazine.ie Joshua Murray joshua.murray@eolasmagazine.ie Advertising Sam Tobin sam.tobin@eolasmagazine.ie

fundamental as the creation of the microprocessor”, as per Bill Gates, it will eventually evolve.

Design

Unease at the obvious risks of a sentient AI supplanting human

Gareth Duffy, Head of Design gareth.duffy@eolasmagazine.ie

roles and even determining that its self-interest conflicts with that of humanity has resulted in several high-profile resignations, such as ‘The Godfather of AI’, Geoffrey Hinton. However, this is counterbalanced by the potential of AI to improve our existence, complement existing roles, and reduce global inequities. National and multinational rulebooks that govern AI will play an integral role in ensuring this balance is advantageous. Globally, the EU’s recently endorsed AI Act – which awaits European Parliament approval – is the first attempt to delineate risks

Jamie Hogan jamie.hogan@eolasmagazine.ie Events Lynda Millar lynda.millar@eolasmagazine.ie Become a subscriber! Annual subscriptions: €15.00 + €5.00 P&P

individual while encouraging innovation.

Contact: Sharon Morrison Email: subscriptions@eolasmagazine.ie Online: www.eolasmagazine.ie

Effective regulation hinges on policymakers’ cognisance of the

eolas Magazine

technology keeping pace with its rapid evolution and subjective

Owen McQuade, Publisher owen.mcquade@eolasmagazine.ie

associated with the technology, and simultaneously protect the

use. Getting it right first time, therefore, will prove challenging. Compare AI to the printing press; the complexity of establishing

bmf Business Services

an

Clifton House Lower Fitzwilliam Street Dublin, D02 XT91

effective

regulatory

environment

should

not

be

underestimated. This is a theme explored in this issue’s interview with Minister of State with responsibility for Digital Dara Calleary TD in which he

Tel: 01 661 3755 Web: www.eolasmagazine.ie X: @eolasmagazine

advocates for AI’s labour augmenting role and calls for legislators to engage with AI policy and its potential impact beyond elections. This issue also marks the departure of eolas Magazine’s Deputy Editor, Odrán Waldron, for pastures new. Go néirí an bóthar leat, a chara. Ciarán Galway

www.eolasmagazine.ie

FSC® is an acronym for the Forest Stewardship Council®, which is an independent, non-governmental, not-for-profit organization that was established to promote the responsible management of the world’s forests. The FSC® system provides an assurance that products such as wood and paper have been harvested in a socially and environmentally responsible manner. The FSC’s Chain of Custody certification provides a way in which the material can be tracked from the certified initial source through the manufacturing process to the end user and other controlled sources.


Digital

Events

Publications

contents

12

04 08 37

04

Matters arising

07

Cúpla focal

08

Issues 08 12

Climate Action Plan 2024 Cover story: AWS’ Mark Finlay on creating better societies Hosted by

37

18

Round table discussion: Powering the digital workplace in the energy sector

24 34

Interview: Ambassador of the State of Palestine to Ireland, Jilan Wahba Abdalmajid Better Public Services: Embedding design in the public service

Artificial Intelligence 38 44 48 64

Interview: Minister of State for Digital, Dara Calleary TD on trustworthy, person-centred, and ethical AI AI: Here for Good: A national AI strategy Sponsored by ‘World’s first’ AI regulation agreed at European level In focus: AI Advisory Council


18

126

78

38 67

120

Infrastructure and construction 68 72 78 106

168 Sponsored by

PENDPDR Minister Paschal Donohoe TD discusses capital funding levels Budget 2024: Capital expenditure ESRI’s Muireann Lynch on the cost of planning and regulatory delays for the energy system Infrastructure Guidelines: Public investment evaluation

119 Retrofitting 120 126 130

Barry Quinlan, Assistant Secretary, DECC outlines progress on the National Retrofit Plan UCD’s Lisa Ryan on modelling household decisions to adopt heat pumps Estate Manager Vincent Brennan outlines the HSE’s retrofitting journey

148 Europe 148

Analysis: European elections 2024

151 Public affairs 152 156 160 166 168

Interview: Houses of the Oireachtas Director of Corporate and Members’ Services Rosemary Keogh Interview: Richard Boyd Barrett TD Obituary: Former Taoiseach John Bruton Trade union desk: What should be done about the pension age? Back page: Strategic opportunity for reform of public construction contracts

67 119 148 151


matters arising

H E A LT H

‘No blame approach’ for Covid-19 inquiry The Government has announced that an inquiry into Covid-19 will take place, but that a ‘no blame approach’ will be adopted in order to prevent a “UK-style” Covid inquiry from taking place. The draft plan for the Covid-19 inquiry says it will take an approach which is “independent, multi-disciplinary, objective and fair and should involve a no blame approach”. The inquiry will have an expert-led review panel known as an ‘Independent Pandemic Evaluation’ and will not be a statutory inquiry with power to compel witnesses or papers.

The review will examine response from the whole-of-government to the Covid-19 pandemic, including health system preparedness, economic impact, social policy, and equity, and will further include an independent nursing home module. The HSE’s Health Protection Surveillance Unit states that just under 9,600 people have died from Covid-19 since the beginning of the pandemic in February 2020. Following the conclusion of submissions and the prior to the releasing of a report, the inquiry will report to the Taoiseach on an as-of-yet unspecified date.

T R A N S P O RT

Disincentivising private cars through central Dublin Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan TD has said that a ban on private car journeys in the centre of Dublin will be in place by August 2024. Ryan was speaking following the presentation of the Dublin City Centre Transport Plan to councillors on 7 February 2024. In the plan, Dublin City Council claims that two-thirds of cars which travel through the city centre are ‘passing through’, rather than travelling to or from the city centre. The plan is to limit parts of the north and south quays to public transport, and to introduce a series of civic plazas and restrictions where private traffic will be allowed to turn. The plan does not aim to prevent motorists from accessing the city centre, rather proposing an end to “dominance of cars on the city’s streets”, while retaining routes to

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businesses and car parks. The plan proposes making streets including Parliament Street traffic-free, and the creation of new civic plazas at the Custom House and at Lincoln Place near Trinity College. Minister Ryan said the plan, which will receive €290 million in funding, will have a “transformative effect” on life in Dublin. “People will see a transformation this August [2024] when we take the through traffic out of the city centre. That is going to make a huge change in Dublin… We will see a tipping point where we will see a large increase in cycling and walking as a mainstream form of transport for our city.”


matters arising

P U B L I C A F FA I R S

January 2024 saw Ireland play host to the Chinese Premier, Li Qiang, who is the second most senior political figure in the Chinese Government. The trip to Ireland is Qiang’s only visit to a European state apart from that to Davos, Switzerland, to speak at the World Economic Forum. Financial Times foreign policy experts have stated that the trip was designed to “encourage Ireland to maintain close ties and keep semiconductor sales flowing at a time when larger EU states are taking a harder stance on Beijing”. Qiang was greeted at Dublin Airport by Environment Minister Eamon Ryan TD, before he then met with the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar TD, with whom he agreed to end a Chinese ban on

Credit: X/Chinese Embassy

Chinese Premier hails Irish ‘friendship and cooperation’ beef imported from Ireland which had been in place since November 2023.

Varadkar and President Michael D Higgins both raised human rights with the Chinese premier, as the United Nations has accused China of “serious human rights violations” of its Turkic Muslim minority in the Xinjiang Autonomous Province. Speaking at a “working lunch” with the Taoiseach, Qiang said that there is “huge potential” for “longstanding friendship and cooperation” between China and Ireland. The Chinese embassy in Dublin said in a statement that China and Ireland had been “setting a good example of friendly coexistence and win-win cooperation”.

WAT E R

Government breaching EU water standards The Government has failed to ensure that all of its water meets EU standards, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled. Ireland had been taken to court by the European Commission for allegedly failing to ensure that trihalomethanes (THMs) in drinking water did not exceed the minimum values outlined in the Drinking Water Directive.

minimum standard, and that it has failed to adopt orders to restore drinking water quality “as quickly as possible”. The Commission had not given any policy direction as to how standards should be upheld, arguing in a previous judgement that this was a matter for the Government of Ireland to determine.

THMs are chemical compounds often found in drinking water, particularly water treatment systems that use chlorine to remove bacteria and contaminants.

An ECJ statement reads: “By failing to do so as quickly as possible, the Court finds that Ireland did not ensure that the time-period during which it exceeded the minimum value of THM concentrations in its drinking water was as short as possible.”

The Commission stated that the Irish Government failed to adopt necessary measures to be compliant with the Directive in that THMs were above the specified

The ECJ ruled that Ireland had failed to fulfil its obligations under Article 4 of the Safe Drinking Water Directive.

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matters arising

P U B L I C A F FA I R S

New Secretary General appointed Feargal Ó Coigligh has been appointed

Before that, Ó Coigligh was Assistant

of government policy. Each of the 18

as the new Secretary General of the

Secretary for Culture and Arts from

government departments have a

Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts,

2015 to 2018, where he oversaw the

secretary general, all of whom are

Gaeltacht, Sport and Media.

Decade of Centenaries including the

answerable to their respective minister.

Ireland 2016 Centenary Programme.

Ó Coigligh was previously an Assistant

Prior to that, he had responsibility for

Secretary in the Department of

Heritage policy, including the National

Housing, Local Government and Heritage, with responsibility for housing

Parks and Wildlife Service.

The Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media has a broad range of functions relating to tourism, arts and culture, the national

policy and coordinating Housing for All.

Secretaries general are the head of a

cultural institutions, film, media, sport

Prior to that he had responsibility for

department at civil service level and

and the Irish language and the

water services, including Uisce Éireann.

are responsible for the implementation

Gaeltacht.

P U B L I C A F FA I R S

Sinn Féin vice-president Michelle O’Neill has become the first nationalist to become the head of government in the North. The DUP had been boycotting the Northern Ireland Assembly over what it claimed was in protest against a “border in the Irish Sea”, with Paul Given MLA having resigned as First Minister in February 2022. In the subsequent Assembly election in May 2022, Sinn Féin emerged as the largest party for the first time following a successful election campaign where O’Neill pledged to be a “First Minister for all”. The DUP experienced an electoral backlash

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eolas matters

Credit: Sinn Féin

Michelle O’Neill MLA becomes first nationalist First Minister from some hardline unionist voters who opted for the Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) party over the implementation of post-Brexit trading arrangements which necessitate checks on goods travelling between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

In the North, although the largest party in the Executive assumes the role of First Minister, the Executive Office has a joint leadership where the First Minister and deputy First Minister are joint leaders of the devolved institutions.

The DUP has returned to government after two years of absence following the publication of the Safeguarding the Union policy paper by the UK government, heavy in unionist friendly rhetoric, the paper, which reframes some of the mechanisms of the Protocol, but keeps the conditions of the ‘sea border’ in place.

The DUP has nominated Emma LittlePengelly MLA as the first unionist deputy First Minister, a barrister and former Westminster MP in south Belfast who did not stand in the 2022 election, being coopted into the Assembly after DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson MP opted to remain a Westminster MP.


cúpla focal “They have become blinded by rage...” Taoiseach Leo Varadkar TD on the Israeli invasion and siege of Rafah, Gaza, Palestine

“The first time we will have a Sinn Féin First Minister, a nationalist first minister, is a mark of change.” Mary Lou McDonald TD on Michelle O’Neill MLA becoming First Minister

“This is the first genocide in history where its victims are broadcasting their own destruction in real-time.” Irish lawyer Blinne Ní Ghrálaigh speaking in the International Court of Justice

“We’re not on track...” Environment Minister Eamon Ryan TD on meeting the State’s emissions targets

eolas eolas cúpla matters focal

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issues eolas

Climate Action Plan 2024: Ryan admits emissions targets ‘not on track’ Although the Government says that Climate Action Plan 2024 (CAP24) “sets out the roadmap to deliver on Ireland’s climate ambition”, the report notes that, even if targeted measures outlined in previous CAPs are fully implemented, the State will still fall “significantly short” of meeting its environmental targets. The State is legally obliged to halve its emissions by 2030 and achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Climate Action Plan 2024 (CAP24) outlines that estimates from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) indicate that Ireland’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions fell by 1.9 per cent in 2022 compared to 2021, driven by higher fuel prices, reduced use of nitrogen fertiliser, increased renewable energy, behavioural change, and regulation. In terms of progress under the Climate Action Plan framework so far, CAP24 states that: •

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initial indications for 2023 show a stronger fall in emissions from electricity, agriculture, and heating;

eolas issues

this reduction falls short of the level of abatement required to meet national and international targets. Further, corrective actions are included in Climate Action Plan 2024 in response to this;

the key sources of Ireland’s overall GHG emissions in 2022 are agriculture (34.3 per cent), transport (17.1 per cent), and energy industries (14.8 per cent); and

Ireland has expended 47 per cent of its emissions for the first carbon budget period (2021-2025) in the budget’s first two years.

Although CAP24 is the third annual update to the Climate Action Plan, and the second in the aftermath of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (amendment) Act 2021, it has received minimal


issues eolas

LULUCF targets Theme

2030 KPI

Forestry

Afforestation rates of 8,000 kha/year

Croplands

Cover crops: 75,000 ha Straw incorporation: 85,000 ha

Grasslands

Optimal management of grassland on 450,000 ha of grassland on mineral soils Reduced management intensity of 80,000 ha of grasslands on drained organic soils

Wetlands

Rehabilitate 33,000 ha of exploited Bord na Móna peatlands Additional 30,000 ha exploited peat rehabilitated

Hedgerows

Plant 2,000km new hedgerows

Source: Climate Action Plan 2024.

coverage compared to its preceding updates, apparently due to the lack of policy updates and the pessimistic vision it paints for the State achieving its emissions reductions targets. The main update to the Climate Action Plan in this update is in the sector of land use, land use change, and forestry (LULUCF), owing to updated EU legislation which sets new requirements for the sector. However, even if all measures outlined in the LULUCF sector are met, this will not come close to meeting the State’s wider emissions reduction challenges. Although there is pessimistic reading for whether the State will meet its emissions reductions targets, there is little overall by the way of updates to the core policies that the Government is pursuing.

Land use, land use change, and forestry (LULUCF) In 2023, there was a revision to the EU legislation for LULUCF as part of the EU’s Fit for 55 package. This revision set binding LULUCF targets for Ireland. The EU legislation requires Ireland to meet a 2030 emissions reduction target and comply with a 2026-2029 carbon budget. LULUCF was not included as a sector within the State’s initial carbon budgets due to plans which were in place for the publication of a land-use strategy. Although the Government was due to publish a land-use strategy by Q4 2023, at the time of print this has not yet taken place. The 2030 distance to target for the State in the LULUCF sector is fixed at 0.626 MtCO2eq below a baseline set at the average of the 2016-2018 emissions.

The reported emissions in the LULUCF sector remain in flux as the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications indicates that its understanding of emissions and activity for this sector is still advancing. The 2018 baseline, as reported in the 2021 National Inventory Report (NIR) has in the latest 2023 report increased by 31 per cent. The most recent refinements were driven by changes in the emissions factor for forestry on peat soils. Multiple inventory refinements are scheduled for the coming decade, resulting in further fluctuations to the baseline, in parallel with current and projected emissions trends for the sector out to 2030 and beyond. The revised EU LULUCF Regulation has a two phased approach. Until 2025, old EU regulations based on the “no debit” rule (where accounted LULUCF emissions are to be compensated by an equivalent emissions removal within the sector) are largely in place. For 2026-2029, a carbon budget is set. The budget is determined by an assumed linear reduction in emissions starting from 2022. The starting point is based on average emissions from 2021, 2022, and 2023 and the end point based on the 2030 target.

Electricity CAP24 states that it will be “extremely difficult” for the electricity sector to remain within the carbon budgets outlined in previous updates to the Climate Action Plan. In spite of the limitations to the electricity sector, and the fact that Ireland’s proportion of emissions from the electricity sector is now in line with the EU average, there is little by the way of substantive changes to policies. Rather, CAP24 reiterates the importance of ensuring that previously outlined policies are implemented.

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Given that the programme of large-scale offshore wind deployment is expected to be realised towards the end of the decade, CAP24 outlines that deployment rates for onshore renewables will need to increase to match demand growth to ensure we keep electricity emissions within range of the carbon budgets. Achieving this will require significant upscaling and accelerating in current deployment of renewables, particularly onshore wind. As an example, the historical average deployment of onshore wind installed capacity connected between 2008 and 2020 inclusive was 280MW per annum from 19 projects (with an annual maximum of 612MW). To achieve the necessary emissions abatement, an approximately eight-times increase of renewable energy deployment to 2.3GW annually would be needed between 2024 and 2030. The ongoing revision of the National Planning Framework, the Renewable Electricity Spatial Planning Framework, and the implementation of the recast Renewable Energy Directive, including the mapping of Renewable Acceleration Areas, are aimed at supporting this.

Built environment In spite of the Government’s much-touted National Retrofit Plan and ambitions to introduce district heating in urban areas, fossil fuels continue to account for more than 72 per cent of energy used in the residential sector in the State. In its 2023 annual review, the Climate Change Advisory Council (CCAC) indicated that 45 per cent and 41 per cent of the budgets for the residential and commercial/public sectors respectively were expended in the first two years of the first carbon budgetary period, and while these sectors are aligning with their target there is still potential for further emissions reduction measures to be taken. Given that the decrease in emissions in the built environment between 2021 and 2022 was partly due to increased fossil fuel prices and a mild winter, there is a risk that the abatement associated with fossil fuel price and supply effects may not be embedded in household heat demand over the longer term, and continued emphasis on long-term energy efficient behaviours and decarbonised technologies are key.

Agriculture Although the original Climate Action Plan was targeting a reduction in emissions of 10 per cent by 2025 in the agriculture sector, CAP24 shows that, since the original

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plan was published in 2021, that there has been no progress and that agricultural emissions remain the same as they were in 2019. Although no progress has been made, CAP24 outlines the Government’s confidence that existing policies are the answer, with the Food Vision 2030 strategy and the Teagasc Marginal Abatement Cost Curve both highly touted by government. Food Vision 2030 has the objective of achieving a climate-neutral food system by 2050, with verifiable progress achieved by 2030, encompassing emissions, biodiversity, and water quality, as well as a range of other targets for forestry, fisheries, organic farming, and food waste. However, under Food Vision 2030, the only meaningful steps that have been taken so far are that a number of working groups have been established whose remit includes work to further develop options for emissions reduction in the sector. In addition, through stakeholder engagement, the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications states that a major stumbling block to reduction of agriculture emissions is that a significant number of farmers believe that initiatives being pursued by government are “unfair”. CAP24 proposes “incentivising”, in an unclear manner, use of low emission feed and fertiliser. It further proposes “increasing focus on low methane traits within animal breeding programmes”, with expansion of data retention promoted as “key” to enabling methane reductions. Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland the day after the publication of Climate Action Plan 2024, Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications Eamon Ryan TD admitted that the Government is “not on track” to meet its emissions reductions targets. Minister Ryan further mooted the prospect of changing the way climate policy is updated on an annual basis, explaining: “The science of climate emissions and land use is really complicated and that baseline of what the actual emissions are keeps changing. “One of the main items in the plan… is recognising a lot of the forestry we planted back 30 and 40 years ago actually was not in the right location. “It was in very peaty soils. So, we are going to have to change and adapt our whole forestry industry towards a better system.”


issues eolas

Credit: Derek Speirs

Pay rise agreed for public sector workers

Public sector workers are to receive what amounts to an average of a 10.25 per cent pay rise over the next two years, following the conclusion of negotiations between the Government and stakeholders at the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC). Under the agreement, it is estimated that 385,000 public sector workers will see their pay raised, including teachers, doctors, nurses, and gardaí.

achievable through negotiations at this time, and that it is the outcome of a challenging negotiations process,” Callinan said.

The deal is a compromise between the Government, which had originally offered a pay increase of 8.5 per cent, and trade unions, which had been demanding pay increases of 12.5 per cent.

Under the terms, the first pay rise for workers will either be 2.25 per cent from their current salary, or €1,125, depending on which number is higher. This pay rise, if agreed, will be backdated to 1 January 2024.

In February 2024, the largest public sector union, Fórsa, will ballot its members on the terms offered by the Government. Members have been encouraged to vote in favour of the terms by Fórsa general secretary Kevin Callinan. “The union’s executive backed the terms of the deal negotiated over the past two months, and its recommendation is based on the understanding that the pay terms represent the absolute maximum

This will be followed by a 1 per cent increase on 1 June 2024, followed by a further 1 per cent increase or €500, whichever is greater, on 1 October 2024. On 1 March 2025, there will be another 2 per cent increase, followed by a 1 per cent increase on 1 August 2025. On 1 February 2026, public servants will receive a further 1 per cent increase with a final 1 per cent taking effect on 1 June 2026.

The terms also stipulate that a new local bargaining instalment, equivalent to 1 per cent of the basic pay, will be issued on 1 September 2024. The process of reaching agreement was overseen by the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC). Established under Enda Kenny’s government in October 2015, the WRC is an independent state agency which chairs labour disputes and has responsibility for industrial relations. Chaired by former Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) general secretary David Begg, the WRC has an annual budget of just over €15 million. Speaking on the deal, Minister for Public Expenditure, NDP Delivery and Reform Paschal Donohoe TD said that the deal would cost the exchequer around €3.6 billion “over the next four years”, but welcomed the deal, saying: “From a national finance point of view and the competitiveness of our economy, this kind of wage growth and knowing where we stand across the next two-and-a-half years is really valuable to how we manage our economy and create an atmosphere of stability and certainty.”

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cover story

Creating better societies Amazon Web Services (AWS) Head of Public Sector for the Republic of Ireland, Mark Finlay, talks to eolas Magazine about the cloud computing provider’s socioeconomic impact in Ireland in the context of cloud adoption as a component of public service transformation. 12

cover story


cover story

Reflecting on the journey since his appointment as AWS’ Head of Public Sector in Ireland in 2020, Finlay recalls how the Covid experience – aside from the obvious disruption and personal impact for so many – proved useful for cultivating trust between the public sector and cloud service providers, as well as illuminating the value proposition of cloud computing. Illustrating how government was able to leverage AWS cloud services during the pandemic, Finlay points to the Covid Tracker App, built by NearForm and hosted on AWS, as well as the collaboration between the Office of the Government CIO, An Garda Síochána, and the HSE. “Delivering an application in a threemonth period, and then scaling to 1.3 million users over a 36-hour timeframe, demonstrated to those organisations the agility and the scalability that AWS cloud services have to offer,” he says.

Strategic priorities While AWS is a technology organisation, the Head of Public Sector explains that rather than merely fixating on cloud computing as a technology, its strategic priorities are closely allied to the delivery of better public services and the associated ambitions established by government. “Within AWS, one of our key principles is working backwards from our customers’ ambitions. We consider government’s strategic priorities and work backwards from there. This ensures that AWS can effectively support government in implementing its strategies.” In relation to cloud computing specifically, two government ministers have made significant statements in recent times, with Minister of State Ossian Smyth TD emphasising: “Cloud computing is cheaper. It is faster to deploy, and it is more scalable than running your own server room... cloud computing should be the default option for new ICT investment. Existing systems should be reviewed to see if they can also be moved to the cloud.” Meanwhile, Minister for Finance Michael McGrath TD asserted: “Organisations should no longer decide whether to move to cloud for new or existing systems. The decision to make now is what, how, and when to move to cloud, which can offer a step change in carbon efficiency, security, and value for money.”

“Our vision is to build better societies.” Mark Finlay, Head of Public Sector, Ireland, Amazon Web Services (AWS)

“In this context, our strategy very much revolves around supporting government to deliver on these observations,” Finlay says, adding: “This includes taking a cloud-oriented approach to the delivery of all services as per Harnessing Digital: The Digital Ireland Framework, as well as ensuring that 90 per cent of applicable services are consumed online by 2030 as per Connecting Government 2030: A Digital and ICT Strategy for Ireland’s Public Service.”

Economic impact Locally, Investing. Growing. Partnering. AWS Impact in Ireland, an economic impact study produced by Indecon International Economic Consultants (Indecon), has helped demonstrate exactly how AWS generates economic and social advantages for Irish communities. The report indicates that AWS has increased economic output in the State by more than €11.4 billion since 2012, creating around €2.4 billion in additional economic output in 2022 alone. “Equipped with this report, we can now better articulate AWS’s impact in Ireland – openly and transparently – to government, and wider society,” the Head of Public Sector observes. “From an employment perspective, for instance, AWS supports an annual average of over 10,000 jobs in local communities across the State. Further to this, AWS investment has enabled over 500 homegrown suppliers to develop their operations both at home and abroad. “One great example is County Meathbased Hanley Energy. In 2009, it had three employees in Ireland, whereas today the business employs over 700 people in Ireland, North America, South Africa, and Australia. It is a fantastic story of significant growth in a relatively short time.

“Indeed, allied to AWS’ infrastructure presence here, these domestic suppliers and contractors have built their businesses while helping to develop Ireland’s cloud infrastructure ecosystem. Many of these companies have become world leaders and are now simultaneously capitalising on export opportunities in 28 countries around the globe.” For AWS, the report is also useful in emphasising the employment opportunities unlocked by data centres, particularly during the construction phase. “During construction, around 2,250 people are employed, with a typical data centre campus supporting over 250 fulltime jobs annually. This directly disproves the narrative that data centres do not create employment,” Finlay remarks. “It is great for me, as an employee of AWS, to be able to communicate this message in commercial or policy settings, but also in more informal settings, for example, with family and friends, so that they can better understand the organisation that I am part of.”

Social impact Simultaneously, AWS is cognisant of its obligation to have a positive impact on the local communities in which it operates. This includes working with local education institutions, and ensuring that courses are made available to local residents who want to upskill or reskill and move into careers relating to data centre infrastructure. For example, for seven years, AWS has partnered with the Tallaght campus of Technological University Dublin (TU Dublin) on its data centre technician programme, while supporting the development of similar courses with TU Dublin’s Blanchardstown campus and the Drogheda Institute of Further Education. These programmes are designed to provide participants with opportunities to receive annual bursaries to upskill with

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“One of the barriers inhibiting the public sector moving to the cloud, according to the report, is the prevalence of traditional procurement systems, more focused on physical hardware procurement, and the need for procurement reform,” Finlay explains. “Procurement reform is one of the key operationalising tools to bring government policies to life and ensure that public sector bodies can deliver on the ambition of government. “In early 2023, it was a positive development to see the Office of Government Procurement conduct a market consultation on a proposed Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) Services Contract. While it is unfortunate that that has not achieved a successful outcome, we do believe that there is a pathway towards getting a framework that works in a compliant manner for Irish public sector bodies. Continuing to engage with the Office of Government Procurement and the Irish Government in delivering that framework is an absolute priority for AWS, as well as working directly with public sector bodies to allow them deliver on their cloud transformation strategies.”

Skills capacity

the potential of a paid work placement with AWS. “The rationale is to provide local communities with pathways to access jobs in data centres, ensuring that the infrastructure generates economic advantage for both the local and national economies. The data centre technician programmes are a great example of that,” Finlay remarks.

Public sector cloud adoption As mentioned above, the Covid experience had a catalytic impact on overall public sector cloud adoption. Explaining this phenomenon, Finlay outlines: “While the basic value proposition of enhanced security and cost became better understood, AWS customers also observed the agility that cloud unlocks, as well as removing the undifferentiated, heavy lifting of data centre management and allowing them to focus on building applications.

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“Allied to this, the pandemic experience offered customers some insight into the scale of innovation available via more than 200 AWS services. For instance, the Department of Health leveraged Amazon Connect – our cloud contact centre – and deployed it in an effective, secure, and scalable manner to meet the needs of the digital Covid-19 vaccination certificates programme.”

International comparison In late 2022, Ibec published The sky is the limit: How cloud computing is the key to better public services in Ireland, a report which explores the barriers to cloud computing adoption in the public sector and seeks to assert how public sector adoption of cloud in Ireland compares with counterparts elsewhere. While acknowledging several positive example of cloud adoption in the Irish public sector, the report determined that several countries, including Canada, Australia, Germany, the UK, Greece, and Poland, have more advanced approaches to public sector cloud adoption.

Aside from procurement, public sector bodies face a cloud computing skills challenge. In seeking to leverage new technologies and services, Finlay contends, customers must ensure they have appropriate training in place. Taking a long-term view on skills, AWS has put in place training and enablement programmes, alongside learning needs assessments to identify existing skills capacity and skill gaps. “We also have education programmes in place, such as AWS re/Start, which is a free cohort-based workforce development training programme aimed at helping underrepresented and unemployed individuals to embark on a new career in cloud computing, at no cost to the learner. “Through coursework and hands-on labs, using real world scenarios, learners can gain the technical skills they need for entry to mid-level cloud roles. AWS re/Start also provides learners with professional skills training like CV and interview coaching to prepare them for employer meetings and job interviews. The programme also connects learners with potential employers,” he outlines. AWS also runs a fully funded education programme and competition called AWS


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GetIT, which is designed to inspire all 12to 14-year-old students – particularly girls and other young people from underrepresented communities – to consider a career in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). In 2023, following the completion of the AWS GetIT programme curriculum, schools were invited to submit a student app concept to the state-wide AWS GetIT competition. A total of three Irish schools competed in the final held at AWS offices in Dublin. Having presented their concepts to a panel of industry judges, the 2023 winner was Coláiste Abhainn Rí, Callan, County Kilkenny; and the two runners up were Bishopstown Community School, County Cork, and Our Lady’s School, Terenure, County Dublin.

Emerging trends Asked about the emerging trends AWS is observing across the sphere of public service delivery, the Head of Public Sector identifies three. The first relates to citizen engagement, which is a key enabler of government’s digital transformation strategy. “Beyond Ireland, there are some truly amazing case studies,” Finlay indicates, elaborating: “For example, the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) – which supports 33 million licenced drivers – required a contact centre transformation which would allow the organisation to become a 24/7 service as opposed to nine-to-five. “By leveraging Amazon Connect, the DMV can use live chat, social media, and other tools to engage with Californian residents, regardless of the time of day, simultaneously sieving out the more basic questions they get through the system, ensuring that employees are engaging in more meaningful conversations, and supporting residents more effectively. This has the effect of ensuring that DMV employees become more satisfied in their roles.” Meanwhile, in Ireland the Irish Refugee Council has also used Amazon Connect to roll out a contact centre solution together with TTEC Digital. “Organisations like TTEC Digital, which are a part of the AWS Partner Network, are absolutely critical; they help our customers to deliver services to citizens in areas where they may not have adequate skills capacity, including in the area of citizen engagement,” he adds.

The second trend AWS is observing relates to operational resilience. This ranges from backup and disaster recovery to full migrations of applications to AWS. Recently, the most extreme example materialised as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, whereby 15PB of data from critical databases were migrated to the AWS Cloud from 50 state bodies and 24 education institutions. The third trend is generative AI, and AWS is focused on ensuring that it is available to organisations of all sizes. As such, AWS has a fully managed service offering called Amazon Bedrock which provides a choice of several foundation models (FMs) and large language models (LLMs) from leading AI companies including Stability AI, Anthropic, Meta, and Amazon Titan via a single application programming interface (API). “We recognise that no single FM will address the needs of all customers, rather they will want different options. We also recognise that customers want to bring their own data into those models in a secure and cost-effective manner. As such, AWS offers its own custom silicon for training and inference of LLMs,” Finlay explains. One real world example of this is Swindon Borough Council in the UK, which is using Amazon Bedrock to enhance the accessibility of important public information for people with learning disabilities. “While public sector bodies are expected to provide easily accessible information for public consumption, it is necessary to also provide this information in easy read format. Making this conversion manually can cost an average of £120 (€140) for a

single page with just five lines and five images, while a document comprising five pages would take two weeks and cost £500 (€585). In this case, Swindon Borough Council can now create an accessible multi-page document for £0.07 (€0.09) per page. “This is a great example of a public service provider using AWS to make a positive difference. For us, it is vital that we engage with organisations in other jurisdictions and help them to share their knowledge with public sector bodies in Ireland. While the Ibec report illustrates that we are behind cloud adoption leaders, it means that we can learn from them, avoiding early adoption pitfalls.”

Vision Reiterating AWS’s commitment to help transform the public sector by “facilitating people, partner organisations, and the best technology to create long-term socioeconomic value”, the Head of Public Sector concludes: “Our vision is to build better societies. Sure, we have the technology available for our customers, but our absolute vision is building better societies – which are healthier, happier, safer, and more successful – for all. To help achieve this, we are supporting public service delivery by facilitating digital transformation via cloud adoption. “From my own perspective, I want to continue to help the public sector on that transformation journey. Ultimately, the Government has a target of 90 per cent of applicable public services being delivered online by 2030. That is an ambitious challenge, and my motivation is helping to achieve that.”

Profile: Mark Finlay A native of Abbeyleix, County Laois, Mark Finlay now lives in Dublin. As a bicycle commuter, the 15-minute city urban planning concept – “building a Dublin that provides the infrastructure to access services in a 15-minute timeframe” – is close to his heart. In parallel to his role with AWS, Finlay also sits on the Data Governance Board as Ibec’s representative, and later in 2024, he is putting his name forward for election to the Council of Dublin Chamber. As a self-identifying gym junkie, sport and physical activity are important to him and he exercises on a daily basis “to keep the mind on the right path”.

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Bord na Móna completes its brown to green transition

Bord na Móna's Edenderry Renewable Energy Complex.

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It has often been said: “Celebrate endings—for they precede new beginnings.” On 23 December 2023, the climate solutions and renewable energy company, Bord na Móna, completed its historic brown to green transition when the last MWh of electricity that would ever come from the burning of peat was generated at Edenderry Power Station, County Offaly. Ultimately, bringing the curtain down on a tradition that spanned over half a century of using peat in the Irish Energy Mix. A historic moment not only for Bord na Móna, but for Ireland. As peat-fired generation is now consigned to the annals of history, Bord na Móna is investing €100 million to

decarbonise the Edenderry Renewable Energy Complex. This investment has already seen the refurbishment of the solid fuel boiler, and associated fuel handling systems, to allow the plant run on 100 per cent sustainably sourced biomass, which will deliver 118MW of renewable electricity capacity to our national grid. Head of Renewable Energy for Bord na Móna, John Reilly stated: “By ending the use of peat at our Edenderry Power Station, Bord na Móna is pioneering the expansion of our climate solutions and renewable energy offering to safeguard

green energy supply for the future. The Edenderry Renewable Energy Complex is a key part of this journey, ultimately supporting delivery against Ireland’s renewable energy targets by 2030, and net zero emissions by 2050. “Our €100 million investment in Edenderry will allow Bord na Móna to continue delivering for Ireland’s energy security, as we always have, by supporting our growing portfolio of renewable energy projects that include wind, solar and in the near future hydrogen”.


The hard work and dedication of the employees in Bord na Móna has ensured the company has found a way forward that will ensure the Edenderry Renewable Energy Complex will continue to prosper, while keeping Ireland’s heartland at the centre of renewable electricity generation. Bord na Móna’s unprecedented transition from brown to green provides a tangible, hopeful example for other corners of the world. The Edenderry Renewable Energy Complex also includes a 120MW distillate fired generator that can provide flexible peaking capacity at times when the national grid comes under pressure and requires additional capacity. Bord na Móna is currently working with Gas Networks Ireland (GNI) to bring the natural gas network to the complex, with the aim of replacing distillate with natural gas and reducing emissions from this peaking plant by 40 per cent for the occasional times it is in use. This natural gas connection will ultimately facilitate biomethane, and then green hydrogen, providing carbon-free, firm generation capacity to back-up Bord na Móna’s expanding portfolio of wind and solar assets, and for the power system in general. This facility will play an important role in facilitating the expansion of Ireland’s renewable capacity from circa 5GW today to 10GW and beyond in the future.

In 2023, Bord na Móna sourced approximately 80 per cent of the biomass material consumed at the Edenderry Facility indigenously from exforest via local sawmills, located within a 100km radius of the complex. This biomass source on its own does not provide the required combustion chemistry to ensure the efficient

combustion of fuel within the combustion chamber. It is therefore important that the company supplements this with biomass material that provides the necessary additives to ensure efficient combustion and meets current emissions standards. Research and trials over the years has indicated that those materials are best sourced from residues from the pulp and paper manufacturing process. As a result, about 20 per cent of the biomass fuel used in Edenderry at present is certified sustainable residues sourced from the international pulp and paper sector. Bord na Móna works with Preferred by Nature, an international non-profit organisation that supports better land management and business practices, to carry out on-the-ground sustainability audits on its behalf at international sites where biomass material is sourced. Reilly adds: “When biomass is combusted, CO2 is emitted from the process, however, plans are afoot to examine the possibility of installing carbon capture technology, which would see the power plant classified as a “negative emissions” unit, which could prove invaluable to Ireland on our journey to net zero. The captured carbon would be ‘biogenic’ in nature and could have a number of extremely valuable

uses in a carbon constrained world.” As one of the largest suppliers of renewable electricity in Ireland, Bord na Móna will continue to focus on expanding its energy portfolio as well as on the development of low carbon enterprises, peatlands rehabilitation and sustainable waste management, which will all support the delivery of our national climate goals. Bord na Móna has been serving communities across Ireland for almost 90 years and through its renewable energy offering will continue to safeguard green energy supply for these communities in the future. The Edenderry Renewable Energy Complex will play a key role in this journey, with the Company’s €100 million investment at the site allowing it to provide an ondemand renewable energy source for the national grid when the wind does not blow, and the sun does not shine.

T: 045 439 000 E: info@bnm.ie W: www.bordnamona.ie

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According to John Reilly: “The company’s focus is now on maintaining the Edenderry Power Station as a dispatchable source of renewable electricity generation on the power system. Maintaining firm dispatchable power sources on the electric power system is crucial to increasing the deployment of intermittent nonsynchronous forms of generation, such as wind and solar power. Across much of Europe, that firm capacity will be provided by gas or even nuclear facilities. Our focus today is on securing increasing volumes of sustainable biomass to ensure that the Edenderry Power Station can continue to play this vital role in the journey to a net zero electric power system.”

Last delivery of peat to Bord na Móna’s Edenderry Power Station’.


round table discussion

Powering the digital workplace in the energy sector Gas Networks Ireland hosted a round table discussion with key stakeholders in the utility sector to discuss the challenges and opportunities presented by digitalisation of the energy sector. How has Ireland’s energy sector been impacted by the digitalisation of the corporate workplace environment in recent years? Pádraig Sugrue The biggest change undoubtedly has been the move towards remote working,

which has seen significant IT investment in new tools, collaboration capability, technological devices, and meeting room technology. The feedback on this change has been overwhelmingly positive from an employee’s perspective. However, from an IT perspective, it has taken big investment to ensure that the solutions we provide are highly reliable. That onus that has always been on IT departments to provide secure, highly available systems, and this has now transitioned

Round table discussion hosted by

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onto the whole digital workplace environment in terms of ensuring people are able to work productively regardless of their location.

Steve Martin The pandemic was a catalyst for collaboration tools and remote technologies, but it feels like the next iteration of change is coming. For example, we are currently trialling the use of Microsoft Co-pilot productivity tools, which have a mix of functions, such as AI-generated meeting summaries and email drafting capabilities. It is early days, but these emerging technologies will significantly optimise collaboration in the future. There is absolutely more to come, which will be essential to meet increasing customer and employee expectations.


Paul Cooley

“Post-Covid, the focus for many organisations has been on the corporate workplace and remote enablement but it feels like now is the right time to refocus back on the field workplace and assess how we can improve productivity and safety with new technologies.” Pádraig Sugrue

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The pandemic mandated a transition for everyone and moved us from desktops to laptops and mobile devices, and that brought with it a mindset and culture change. People no longer feel restricted to a desk, but they also do not feel like they own a desk space, which is completely different to how they operated previously. I joined EirGrid at the back end of Covid and I found that people were not as embedded in the ethos of the organisation that they were in because they had been at home for a year and a half, and the return was transformative. None of the meeting rooms were Teams-enabled when we came back, for example, and that was a huge issue for us in the IT area. The change has been for the better and I am really enjoying the Teams AI function; it requires a different mindset, and I am all for it. 4

Round table participants Aoife Aherne

Paul Cooley

Aoife Aherne leads Accenture’s Utilities business in Ireland and the UK. During her career, she has led business and technology transformation across the Irish utility sector, including the design and implementation of energy markets; utility establishment programmes; operating model design and implementation; and strategy and road-map definition to enable the adoption of new technology in utility companies IT and OT estates.

Paul Cooley is Head of IT Infrastructure and Telecoms for the EirGrid Group, a position he has held since September 2021. Prior to this, Cooley held roles at Leveris, emgs, and NBIM. He is a graduate of Waterford Institute of Technology and holds an MSc in Information Systems from Dublin City University.

Roy Baker Roy Baker is Director of Transformation and Change for SSE Airtricity, a position he has held since 2016. Having been at Airtricity prior to its purchase by SSE, Baker has held various positions within the organisation, such as Director of Operations and CX and Director of Retail Efficiency. A member of the Irish Institute of Credit Management, he holds a Master Black Belt from Lean Six Sigma following his successful delivery of the Making Life Easier Programme within SSE Airtricity. Baker has also served as Chair and COO of Kickboxing Ireland since 2010.

Steve Martin Steve Martin is Chief Information Officer for Bord Gáis Energy, where he leads the development and execution of the Bord Gáis Energy's technology strategy. He has over 20 years’ experience in IT and management consultancy sectors, having held roles in KPMG Ireland and Deloitte prior to joining Bord Gáis Energy in 2015.

Pádraig Sugrue Pádraig Sugrue is Head of Information Technology at Gas Networks Ireland and is responsible for leading all aspects of the organisation’s IT strategy, delivery, and operations including the delivery of Gas Networks Ireland digital workplace. Prior to joining Gas Networks Ireland, Pádraig worked with Accenture for 16 years where his role included leading, managing, and delivering IT transformation, IT strategy and IT systems delivery initiatives across a range of industries and organisations.

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“Overall, the change has been positive and employee expectations of the digital workplace is high and driving demand for the digitalisation of other employee services.” Aoife Aherne Aoife Aherne Workplace digitalisation traditionally struggled to attract investment, particularly in the regulated utility sector. The pandemic triggered an increase in investment in workplace enablement. It also exposed gaps in IT asset management, with businesses blind to the multiple hardware and software configurations in their estate. With these challenges addressed, the path to increased adoption of cloud-based solutions in the digital workplace is smoother. Overall, the change has been positive and employee expectations of the digital workplace is high and driving

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demand for the digitalisation of other employee services.

Roy Baker Large corporate groups traditionally move slowly and carefully. We always had consideration of remote working, but Covid served as a catalyst to move into areas within three weeks that normally, it would have taken us two or three years to prepare. Digitalisation and remote working have changed the culture within our organisation. We are particularly more attuned to cultural diversity now and we have learned to be more dynamic, where we are now dealing with offshores that are purely online and agencies from different cultures. We have also had to change our capabilities to deliver services to customers with different expectations, but that need to be balanced with an outlook that nothing beats in-person workshops to work through a complicated problem.

What is the single most significant challenge aligned to the digitalisation? Paul Cooley For me, it is the threat landscape that exists. The opportunities presented by digitalisation are also the challenges; we give staff devices to be agile and work from home, but we also need that environment to be office secure. There is a cultural shift needed whereby the security habits that exist in the office transfer to the mobile working environment. IT is catching up and things like the zero-trust security model are enabling capability for feeling safe and secure, but we are all on a journey to navigate the threat landscape.

Roy Baker Importantly, it is not just the volume of threats that is challenging but more and more, it is the complexity. When you are operating a critical infrastructure, with that can come a level of intent from cyber criminals to directly target the likes of energy companies in an attempt to shut down the network. The reality is that these criminals are agile and using extraordinary measures on a daily basis, so the greatest challenge is staying ahead of the curve.


Steve Martin There is an irony in that the benefits of digitalisation are also the means by which cyber criminals are given opportunities to attack. The best defence is to be continuously ahead of the threat, but that is not easy. A further challenge linked to digitalisation is that of prioritisation. Often simplifying and improving existing capabilities within an organisation is more effective than investment in something new. New platforms and new tools can be a distraction to efficient digitalisation, because often it is easier to build a business case for new technologies, than it is for simplifying existing systems or building data enablers. The challenge comes from finding a balance between those dimensions of new tooling, simplification of existing, and foundational enablers.

Pádraig Sugrue

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I would agree that the greatest challenge we face is the risk of cyberattack, and as a consequence the need to ensure that there is sufficient protection and controls built into the digital workplace solutions that we provide to our employees. This is not always easy and requires a careful balance between meeting the needs of the business or individuals, while at the same time not compromising our security posture or the necessary preventative controls that need to be in place.

“It is too early to place one big bet, so it is about trying new things, capturing the lessons – and hopefully having a bit of fun along the way.”

Steve Martin

Aoife Aherne I agree that cyber threat is probably the biggest risk, however, in terms of challenge I would lean more towards employee engagement. The decarbonisation challenge will require the mobilisation of a diverse multidisciplinary workforce. Current and future generations of graduates and apprentices are digital natives who expect modern, flexible digital workplaces. As we meet this need, we must be sure to get the balance right and harness the benefits of in-person teaming, learning and collaboration.

Roy Baker To some extent that agility is a challenge. Post-Covid, skilled workers are now more transitional, and the workforce is more fluid. That means it is more difficult to attract talent, but it is also more difficult to retain them, particularly in specialised areas such as cyber and IT.

Aoife Aherne AI, and particularly generative AI, capabilities are now at the disposal of organisations who have invested in a secure digital core. As organisations move from experimentation to scaled

implementations for many there is a big gap between responsible AI intention and action. In recent Accenture Research, we found that only 2 per cent of businesses say they have fully operationalised responsible AI across their organisation, with a further 31 per cent expected to do so in the next 18 months.

To what extent will emerging technologies unlock new benefits for the energy sector? Roy Baker One of the major challenges facing the energy sector is understanding the relationship between generation, supply, and demand side management of the future. The electrification of transport is a good example of how technology changes have put pressure on the grid and to prevent this happening to future energy systems, we need to be able to see over the horizon. Emerging technologies are going to alter how our energy systems work, they are going to change market, retailer, and consumer

relationships, but technology also has a role in helping to understand, manage, and even predict changes.

Aoife Aherne Looking at it from the perspective of those delivering services at the coalface, field mobility has been a key part of service delivery in the utility sector since the early noughties. Since then, we have seen field mobility capability mature, both in terms of hardware and software. What we have not really seen, particularly in the UK in Ireland, is the adoption of wearable, hands-free technologies, where the connected field worker has access to over the shoulder coaching, for example. It is interesting that these technologies have emerged in other sectors, such as oil and gas, aided by the availability of robust telecom networks in large sites like refineries. These technologies are proven and have helped improve accuracy, efficiency, and the field 4

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“Emerging technologies are going to alter how our energy systems work, they are going to change market, retailer, and consumer relationships, but technology also has a role in helping to understand, manage, and even predict changes.” Roy Baker workers’ experience. The question now is how can utilities learn from other sectors to incrementally exploit and adopt some of these now proven technologies?

Roy Baker SSE recently piloted a technology with our gas and solar teams across Ireland whereby AI on an engineer’s phone was used to conduct audit checks. Over 110 people a day have been using the technology over the course of a year and it has been very well received because it improves safety and offers confidence to engineers.

Pádraig Sugrue In Gas Networks Ireland, we feel that we are close to a connectivity tipping point whereby emerging technologies such as wearables could soon become a viable option. For the past 10 to 15 years, we have had technology utilised by our field workforce and that technology has evolved organically over time with the

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addition of new capability such as survey, GIS, and other apps. In the past, there has been challenges in relation to telecoms and bandwidth for remote locations but that is now changing with advances in this area. Post-Covid, the focus for many organisations has been on the corporate workplace and remote enablement but it feels like now is the right time to refocus back on the field workplace and assess how we can improve productivity and safety with new technologies, including the rollout of Office 365 and Teams

Steve Martin In adopting emerging technology for our field workforce, it is fundamental that we engage with our colleagues to fully understand their pain-points and the opportunities to help them better meet the needs of our customers. Simply designing a process and interface in the office and assuming it will be fit for a field-based engineer just does not work. Design considerations must involve engineers who will be using the technology – and we have a great opportunity to ‘test and learn’ in this space with the emerging technologies on the horizon.

Aoife Aherne Another element of this is around support. A technology problem in the home office can often be ‘worked around’ by the office worker; however, technology problems in the field can have an immediate impact on field worker efficiency and safety. There is a need for a bespoke support service for field mobility, particularly as we roll out new digital and AI enabled technologies.

Paul Cooley If the true benefits for the energy sector are going to be realised through emerging technologies, then there must be greater understanding and awareness among the public of the requirements for this technology. In recent months there has been a spike in interest from the end user about the electricity system, spurred by an increase in bill costs. If we are to fully embrace the 10-years ahead mindset then there needs to be buy-in that these future technologies and future systems will require infrastructure, change, and investment.

Pádraig Sugrue That 10-year horizon scanning is important, and for example in Gas Networks Ireland we are in the process of developing an AI strategy and roadmap which looks to the future, but also aims to cut through the current hype around AI and bring it back to the basics of where AI can deliver clear value for our organisation in the near-term. Value is not only about revenue generation, but also increasing the productivity of people and the workforce. A number of interesting AI use


cases exist around things like demand forecasting and network planning which could potentially be very useful, but we do need to assess as part of our strategy what value they could bring in the context of our specific organisation.

Aoife Aherne The potential for value from AI is clear – however it is not plug-and-play; to scale, you must deeply understand the technology, which is still rapidly changing, and the business value it will bring. The sectors furthest ahead on the journey include banking, communications/media and software and platforms business. In our regulated utility sector, scaled adoption will be considered and measured. Investment will be needed to identify business value; establish secure digital foundations, particularly scalable data platforms in the cloud; prepare the workforce; and close the gap on responsible AI. This is a multiyear journey.

Roy Baker It is around distraction management, understanding where we are placing our bets. We cannot place our bets everywhere, so it is about making an informed decision on where we believe the industry and the consumers are going to go. You cannot try and do everything, so distraction management is key.

Aoife Aherne There are two things that we are focused on to achieve this balance: firstly, our people, and how we engage them and bring them together in an increasingly hybrid world; and secondly, how we capture value from AI. We have been on our own generative AI journey for nearly 18 months and in our experience, the real accelerator with generative AI is not the technology, it is people. To that end, it is about rethinking our talent strategy for the age of AI because every single person in our business will use GenAI in the future. So for us it is about considering ‘how the work that we do will

“The opportunities presented by digitalisation are also the challenges; we give staff devices to be agile and work from home, but we also need that environment to be office secure.”

round table discussion

How is your organisation balancing the demand for increased digitalisation of the workplace environment with the need for human interaction and engagement in an increasingly hybrid workforce?

Paul Cooley change with AI’, ‘how our workforce needs to change’ and ‘how we get our workers ready for this’.

Paul Cooley The big challenge for us is what is coming with offshore wind. We must figure out how to manage that and get ahead. There is a huge amount we can do with things like digital twins to get up to speed and that will all be set by data. We need to create a data platform to cope with everything that we need.

Steve Martin We are in the test and learn phase, setting up an innovation practice. There is all this possibility, and we are trying to get the balance between innovations that support customers, colleagues, and the technology function itself. We are addressing the key foundational enablers to be ready in the future, whilst also trying things. It is too early to place one big bet, so it is about trying new things, capturing the lessons – and hopefully having a bit of fun along the way.

Pádraig Sugrue It is certain that we will see increased digitalisation and use of AI in the coming years. What the last few years have taught us is that it cannot be a one-sizefits-all approach when rolling out this new capability in our organisations. Graduates coming out of college have a very different expectation of digitalisation compared with someone who has been in the workplace for 30 or more years. That is not going to change because we introduce more digitalisation, it is something that we are going to have to manage carefully as we continue on this journey.

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100 days: Ambassador of the State of Palestine to Ireland Exactly 100 days after Israel’s bombardment of the Gaza Strip began and 80 days after its ground invasion commenced, Ciarán Galway sits down with Ambassador of the State of Palestine to Ireland – and Gazan native – Jilan Wahba Abdalmajid. Steam spills into the stillness of Leeson Street from a row of Georgian townhouses, one of which hosts the Embassy of Palestine. It is a perfect winter’s morning by Dublin standards – almost cloudless blue skies, a piercing low sun, and an icy bite in the air. It is a world away from Gaza where the haze shrouding its streetscapes is a noxious mix of pummelled concrete dust, smoke, and death. Unsurprisingly, given the timing, the Ambassador of the State of Palestine is unsmiling. Yet, as she dons her keffiyeh, she still extends a genial welcome into her office. Born in Gaza as an internally displaced refugee, Wahba Abdalmajid began her diplomatic service as an assistant chief of protocol with the Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates (MOFAE) in 1995, followed by a posting to Cyprus, where she completed a PhD.

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Acknowledging her love of the job from day one, she remembers the early challenges of establishing a new government department: “We all worked together. There were no positions at that time. We worked for 24 hours a day. There was no time limit,” adding: “I engaged more with the President’s Office; with Abu Ammar [then-President Yasser Arafat]. That was the first opportunity that I had to engage with or see him face to face. It was a dream that all Palestinians used to have. ‘Am I going to see Abu Ammar?’ I saw him. I attended meetings with him. The journey started there.”

Bilateral relations Tasked with advancing bilateral relations and strengthening the ties between the governments and people of Palestine and Ireland, the Ambassador is cognisant of the “long relations between the Irish people and the Palestinians”.

“Historically, the relations between Palestinians and Irish have always been strong,” she says, adding: “We share the same history of colonisation. When I discuss colonisation, occupation, oppression, and starvation, the Irish people understand what I am talking about.” Describing the diplomatic ties as a practical manifestation of this relationship, the Ambassador describes her experience in collaborating across the political spectrum. “Since I arrived here in Ireland, I have been welcomed in every aspect, from the normal people to the Government, and the different parties. We have found a warm welcome in Ireland. That gives us a space,” she says. “Palestine, if I can say it, unifies all the Irish, whether from the Government or the opposition. Usually, when you are a diplomat in any country, you have to be


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careful, but here in Ireland we are confident because we are talking about an area [of policy] that both the Government and the opposition have the same kind of thoughts.”

Palestinian Authority Established in 1994, the Palestinian Authority (PA) is a provisional government, established under the Oslo Accords. Assuming the role previously held by the PLO as the official voice of Palestinians, the PA was given a five-year lifespan, but it still in existence 26 years after this deadline. As a representative of the PA, the Ambassador insists: “The Palestinian Authority represents all the Palestinians. We came together under the umbrella of the PLO which signed the Oslo Accords. Our governments have people from the right, the left, and the middle. The Fatah movement, the Palestinian Democratic Union, and most of the factions of the PLO are represented in the Palestinian Authority.” However, to date, the PA exerts only partial control of the Palestinian territory, with large sections of the West Bank controlled by illegal Israeli settlers. The PA has no control of its capital, East Jerusalem, which was illegally annexed by Israel in 1980 and, along with West Jerusalem, is claimed by Israel as a ‘unified’ capital. Beyond the West Bank, Gaza has been administered by Hamas since June 2007. Despite these challenges, from 1995 until today, the Ambassador states, the PA has endeavoured to build the foundational institutions of the State of Palestine.

“When I discuss colonisation, occupation, oppression, and starvation, the Irish people understand what I am talking about.” Ambassador of the State of Palestine to Ireland, Jilan Wahba Abdalmajid

less than three months, the West Bank has been under a state of emergency. General elections have not taken place in Palestine since, and while Mahmoud Abbas’ presidential term expired in 2009, he remains in office as the acting president of the Palestinian Authority. When asked about the fact that the PA is not directly elected, the Ambassador says: “The Israelis prevented the Palestinians from undertaking the normal process of elections and they did not facilitate it. That made us decide that without East Jerusalem being part of the elections, there would be no elections.”

Elections and Hamas

Consequently, Gaza continues to be governed by Hamas, with senior figurehead, Ismail Haniyeh leading its government until February 2017, when he was succeeded by Yahya Sinwar, the current leader of the political and military movement. Since Hamas’ ascension to power in Gaza in 2007, Gaza has been totally blockaded – land, air, and sea – by both Israel and Egypt. Of its three access points, two are controlled by the former and one by the latter.

In the January 2006 Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) election, Hamas won a significant majority of seats (74/132). Since the Fatah-Hamas war in 2007, the outbreak of which prompted the collapse of the unity government after

Asked to explain the popularity of Hamas, the Ambassador is contemplative. “The idea of resistance against the occupation in itself is very well recognised in international law,” she begins. “Being under the occupation, we have the right

“We have institutions in East Jerusalem. This is how the Palestinian Authority has worked and will continue to work,” she outlines, while insisting: “Over time, the Israelis deliberately weakened the Palestinian Authority.”

to resist. This right is protected under international law. The idea that Hamas built on resistance to the occupation brought support for Hamas as a faction.” Acknowledging that “resistance is part of our culture”, she emphasises the PA’s trajectory toward “public resistance”. “We chose peace as our path, but we put resistance in a different way that works with the agreements or principles that we signed with Israel. This is a public resistance. Hamas still believes in – and the ideology of Hamas is built on – armed resistance. That is why they [Hamas] have this support among Palestinians.”

‘The day after’ Turning to the ongoing war on Gaza, which has followed the 7 October 2023 attack on Israel launched by Hamas’ armed wing, the Al Qassam Brigades, which resulted in the deaths of approximately 1,139 Israelis – including many civilians – and the capture of around 240 hostages, the Ambassador is reluctant to even contemplate ‘the day after’ the ongoing bloodshed. “We have reached 100 days of this barbaric war against Gaza. The most important thing that all Palestinians think about is stopping this bloodshed. This is the most important thing,” she says. “Talking about ‘the day after’, is not

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[the Israelis] did not kill the idea, they just destroyed Gaza and made it an unliveable place for the Palestinians.” Talking about the casualties, Wahba Abdalmajid is keen to accentuate that “they are not numbers,” rather, she emphasises, they were individuals and indeed entire families, “who lived and who had stories”. “We are talking about 25,000 orphans. There are more than 66,000 injured people; these people need hospitals, they need treatment, and only five hospitals out of 36 are working in Gaza, but not working properly. Israel destroyed the health sector. So, there is no comparison between this one [war] and the previous four wars.”

Claim of genocide

“The main goal of this war is to destroy Hamas, but Hamas – whether I agree with its ideology or not – is an idea.” something that we do not think about, but first we need to stop this war… You look at Gaza and see that more than 70 per cent of the residential areas, institutions, and the health sector is totally destroyed, it is not only for the Palestinian Authority to think about by itself... Without the support of the international community… we cannot move on. We need everybody’s effort to look at the situation and talk.”

Unprecedented destruction While preceded by the Second Intifada, Operation Cast Lead, Operation Pillar of Defense, and Operation Protective Edge in the 20th century alone, it would be a mistake to regard the latest cycle of violence in Gaza as having precedence. Indeed, declaring war on 7 October 2023, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered an extensive mobilisation of military reserves and threatened that “the enemy will pay an unprecedented price”. At the time of print, as per the Gazan Ministry of Health, 28,775 people have

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been confirmed killed, 68,552 wounded, and 1.8 million (80 per cent) internally displaced by Israel’s attack on Gaza. For context, from 1 January to 7 October 2023, 239 Palestinians were killed by Israel according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Meanwhile, 136 Israeli hostages remain in captivity in Gaza (after a brief ceasefire and partial hostage-prisoner exchange in late November 2023). IDF projections suggest that some 20 per cent of the remaining hostages have now been killed in ambiguous circumstances. Commenting on the devastation unleashed upon Gaza in the name of Israeli ‘self-defence’ – including the destruction of over 60 per cent of housing units – the Ambassador is subdued: “This is a savage, barbaric war against the normal people. Around 70 per cent of the people who have been killed are women and children. And until now [today], Hamas is still there [in Gaza]. “The main goal of this war is to destroy Hamas, but Hamas – whether I agree with its ideology or not – is an idea. But they

Alleging that Israel was violating its obligations under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, South Africa filed an application to institute proceedings against the State of Israel on 29 December 2023. Public hearings on South Africa’s request for the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to indicate provisional measures to “protect against further, severe and irreparable harm to the rights of the Palestinian people” and “to ensure Israel’s compliance with its obligations” were heard via oral submissions to the ICJ on 11 and 12 January 2024 respectively. Subsequently, on 26 January, as requested by South Africa, the ICJ indicated six provisional measures that Israel must implement under the 1948 Genocide Convention. First among these was: “The State of Israel shall, in accordance with its obligations under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, in relation to Palestinians in Gaza, take all measures within its power to prevent the commission of all acts within the scope of Article II of this Convention.” Asked whether she believed that Israeli conduct in Gaza amounted to genocide, the Ambassador is unequivocal: “It is. If you saw and you followed the ICJ in the last couple of days, South Africa took a huge landmark decision. It is the first time


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Israel has appeared in this court. It was a courageous step by South Africa.

Vision for peace and reconciliation

“You could realise that it is a genocide because we witness it, and you witness it live on TV. You cannot hide it. If you want to ignore or deny it, that is your prerogative. But what is happening in Gaza now is a real genocide.”

Responding to a question around the PA’s vision for peace, and whether reconciliation with Israel is viable, the Ambassador is adamant that “it will be possible”.

Speaking on the relationship between South Africa and Palestine, the Ambassador observes: “We always remember Mandela’s [1997] quote that ‘We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians’. Subsequent generations, and sons and daughters of Mandela, still walk his talk.”

Palestinian unity On the prospect of revived Palestinian unity, the Ambassador speaks with candour: “I do not see that we can continue without being united. All the Palestinian factions should unite because this disaster – this catastrophe that I call Nakba 2023 – should bring all the Palestinians together. Without all of us being together, I do not think that we will move one step.” Indicating that the PA has “never stopped talking with Hamas”, Wahba Abdalmajid reminisces on the raison d'être of the PLO. “We the Palestinians for so many years, since the PLO was created, worked together with all factions. We used to disagree with each other under the umbrella of the PLO. This will not end, but if there is a democratic system in the country, it protects all these parties to work on the level of democracy for the benefit of the people.” After Israel’s assassination of Saleh alArouri, the deputy leader of Hamas, in a Beirut suburb in January 2024, Jibril Rajoub, Fatah Secretary-General, paid his condolences, suggesting some potential for a renewed dialogue between the two dominant factions. “Definitely there will be talks. We should be together. At this challenging time, I think every Palestinian who belongs to a different faction should think of Palestine and our people first,” the Ambassador remarks.

“We are working for a free Palestine, to end the occupation, to build an independent state on the ’67 borders, and to have peaceful relations with the Israelis,” she insists, adding: “It is very difficult at this moment of the war to say that, but it is not something you say as a tactic, it is a strategy, it is a vision for how we think. “Yes, I am angry, I do not accept what Israel is doing to us, and I want Israel to be held accountable for the crimes that it has committed against our people. It cannot violate international law and leave without accountability; it should be held accountable for all of these crimes. “I still believe that. If there is a will from the international community, there will be a way to pressure Israel to go on this peaceful path. But our vision would not be less than a peaceful solution.” Alluding to the revised charter document published by Hamas leader Khaled Meshall, from his exile in Qatar in May 2017, Wahba Abdalmajid suggests that “even Hamas people believe in that [a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders] now”. A Document of General Principles and Policies outlines: “Hamas considers the establishment of a Palestinian state, sovereign and complete, on the basis of the June 4, 1967, with Jerusalem as its capital and the provision for all the refugees to return to their homeland is an agreeable form that has won a consensus among all the movement members.” However, Hamas has simultaneously refused to recognise the legitimacy of the State of Israel.

Viability of the two-state solution Simultaneously, in January 2024, Netanyahu boasted that he “has prevented… the establishment of a Palestinian state,” further vowing: “As long as I am Prime Minister, I will continue

to strongly insist on this.” In this context, asked whether it is conceivable that Palestine has endured a decades-long national liberation struggle to achieve autonomous rule over just 22 per cent of historic Palestine, as per the 1967 borders, the Ambassador replies: “Our vision for this is the two-state solution on the ’67 borders; Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. If I want to discuss with you the other options, it does not work for anyone, even the Israelis. To suggest a one-state solution to them, they would not accept almost 6.5 million Palestinians to live next to them. “The two-state solution is the only viable option, but you need to have the will from the international community to put it on the table and activate it. We [the PA] accepted this. Yes, [the state would comprise only] 22 per cent of Palestine. That was a compromise that we accepted. We need to think of peace. So, we have to pay for this – we as Palestinians.”

Optimism While at several stages, Wahba Abdalmajid’s responses reveal the weariness weighing on her – as a Palestinian and as a Gazan – at no point does she betray a hint of hopelessness. “We have a right to exist, and we defend our rights and I have to look to the future, the future of the Palestinians, the young generations. I wanted my children to grow in a peaceful place, to grow without thinking of war, to look for a better future. I believe in that, and all the Palestinians believe in that; even those who live now through the most savage war on this earth, they still have hope, with all the catastrophe and with all the disaster that they live through. They still have hope. “You cannot imagine how resilient they [the Palestinian people] are.” Naturally, her concluding thoughts bring to mind the words of Terence MacSwiney when addressing the Cork Corporation at his inauguration as Lord Mayor of Cork in March 1920: “This contest of ours is not, on our side, a rivalry of vengeance, but one of endurance. It is not they who can inflict most, but they who can suffer most, will conquer.”

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Improved productivity in construction key to multi-market supply challenges Labour shortages in the construction sector are posing key challenges to supply in all housing markets in Ireland and Britain, research has found. In an extensive report analysing the Irish, Northern Irish, Welsh, Scottish, and English residential markets, with a particular focus on their capacity to increase housing supply over the short to medium term, the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) highlights a need for changes to traditional recruitment methods. Suggesting adaptations that include hiring trainees and apprenticeships to allow young workers to learn on the job, alongside attracting skilled workers who have left the industry to return, the research highlights that while the challenge exists across all markets, the situation is particularly acute for the Northern Ireland and British markets, where Brexit has made net immigration into the UK more difficult. “Traditionally over the past 25 years, housing markets in Ireland and the UK have sourced a significant amount of labour from the European Union. By 28

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definition, this is now more difficult for the UK and the Northern Ireland markets,” it states. Brexit has also had an impact on the ‘hard costs’ experienced by individual housing markets. While the Republic of Ireland has in recent years experienced higher materials and labour costs than housing markets in Britain, the rate of growth in costs in those markets has been faster, exacerbated by Brexit. “This is putting further upward pressure on wages and prices of materials, on top of international trends generally,” the report states. However, it is noted that Northern Ireland’s housing market has been somewhat shielded from Brexit-related cost increases in relation to materials, due to the arrangements of the Windsor Framework. This is not the case when it comes to wages, with Northern Ireland seeing the fastest rate of wage increases compared to the

Republic of Ireland and the rest of the UK. Contrasting housing supply in Ireland, Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom identifies a number of substantive factors impacting the supply side of the housing market, not least production costs, regulatory environments and the economic dynamics, across the different markets. Alongside labour market shortages, another key finding across all markets is evidence that the “traditional financial sector” no longer appears able “to provide the requisite amount of credit for the level of housing activity which has been deemed necessary to meet the underlying structural demand for housing”. The report identifies increased government investment in social and affordable stock across all markets but highlights the Republic of Ireland as the most prominent case.


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Total housing supply per capita (1,000): Northern Ireland, Ireland, England, Wales, and Scotland 25

20

15

10

Northern Ireland

Ireland

From around the 1970s, governments have been less involved in the housing markets as the private sector worked to increase supply, however, the financial crash in 2008, a significant weakening of the construction sector, aligned with slow recovery and increasing demand has seen sharp rent and house price increases. “Governments have become more active again in the housing markets, with many publishing housing plans outlining specific targets for housing supply. Given the significant fall-off in supply in Ireland, it is not surprising that the Irish Government has set the highest targets per capita across the regions discussed.” However, recognised by the report is the fact that government housing plans usually refer to the annual increase in housing required to meet new demand due to demographic pressures, but typically do not take into account the backlog of demand due to targets not being met in the past.

Planning While all housing markets share similarities in navigating challenges of the planning systems, the ESRI research suggests that Northern Ireland is being most hampered by a lack of standardisation in planning across local areas. Highlighting recent reform of the planning process in Ireland, the report suggests that the Scottish model, whereby local authorities when preparing local plans place a significant emphasis on consultations with interested parties and community members, might be beneficial across other markets.

England

Wales

2021

2019

2017

2015

2013

2011

2009

2007

2005

2003

2001

1999

1997

1995

1993

1991

1989

1987

1985

1983

1981

1979

1977

1975

1973

0

1971

5

Scotland

“The report therefore suggests a greater degree of aggregation may be more practical in devising and implementing such development plans,” it states. Linked to the planning system is a suggestion that housing markets in Ireland and Britain could benefit from greater regulation in the provision of land for housing, recognising the potential to reduce land prices, and lower overall production costs. In this regard, it is noted that Irish and British housing markets are “somewhat idiosyncratic” compared to other European models. Detailed statistical analysis within the report also identified a number of key findings, namely: that compared to Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland’s housing market has a much stronger longrun price elasticity of housing supply, suggesting that investment in the Irish housing market responds more strongly to an increase in house prices than in Northern Ireland. Additionally, Irish house prices have a significant negative relationship with housing stock, meaning that an increase in stock will lower house prices. However, the impact is weaker than in Britain, while in Northern Ireland, where increases in dwellings do not have the same deflationary impact. Finally, the report points to analytical data which suggest that across all housing markets, house price response to changes in supply is weaker when the percentage of social housing stock is increased.

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UK legacy legislation: Ireland pursues legal avenue

Houses of Parliament, London. Credit: Amnesty International

Ireland has initiated its first interstate case against the British Government at the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) since the ‘hooded men’ torture case in 1971. In December 2023, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar TD announced that his Government would pursue a legal challenge against British Government legislation relating to ‘Troubles’ legacy under the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR). Indicating that all political options had been exhausted and expressing regret that “such a choice had to be made”, Tánaiste Micheál Martin TD asserted: “The decision by the British Government not to proceed with the 2014 Stormont House Agreement and instead pursue legislation unilaterally, without effective engagement with the legitimate concerns that we, and many others, raised left us with few options. The British Government removed the political option and has left us only this legal avenue. “The incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into Northern Ireland law is a specific

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and fundamental requirement of the Good Friday Agreement. Since the UK legislation was first tabled, the Government have been consistent that it is not compatible with the Convention.” Following the unilateral pursuit and enactment of the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Act 2023 in September 2023, the Irish Government has decided to challenge the British Government in the European Court of Human Rights. Commonly referred to as the Legacy Act, the legislation is ostensibly intended to “address the legacy of the Northern Ireland Troubles and promote reconciliation” by: •

creating an Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery;

limiting criminal investigations, legal proceedings, inquests, and police complaints;


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extending the prisoner release scheme in the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998; and

providing for “experiences to be recorded and preserved and for events to be studied and memorialised, and to provide for the validity of interim custody orders”.

However, the Act has succeeded in unifying victims’ groups and political parties of all shades in their opposition to it. Indeed, the Government has noted the “near universal opposition to the Legacy Act on the island of Ireland”. To date, in spite of five multilateral agreements – from the Good Friday Agreement 1998 to New Decade New Approach 2020 – consensus on the investigation of unsolved serious crimes during the ‘Troubles’ has not been reached. Disparate inquests, investigations, and civil litigations have filled the vacuum. Speaking in Dublin in December 2023, Varadkar insisted: “We would prefer not to be in this position. But we did make a commitment to survivors in Northern Ireland and to the families and victims, that we would stand by them. respect their wishes, and also stand by the Good Friday agreements, which specifically references the European Convention of Human Rights... we really have no option but to ask the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg to carry out a judicial review of this legislation.” Before the legislation’s enactment, and following a visit to the UK in June 2022, the Council of Europe suggested that the UK Government should “consider withdrawing the Legacy Bill in view of the widespread opposition in Northern Ireland and the serious issues of compliance with the European Convention on Human Rights it raises”. In her December 2022 report, Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović observed: “Any further steps on legacy must place the rights and needs of victims at its heart.” That same month, the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers also “strongly reiterated” calls for the legislation to be amended “to allay... concerns about compatibility with the European Convention”. In January 2023, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk echoed Mijatović’s observations and indicated: “Respect for rights of victims, survivors, and their families to truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence is essential for reconciliation. Their rights must be placed at the heart of all attempts to address the legacy of the ‘Troubles’.” Urging the UK Government to “engage in further meaningful and inclusive consultations” to address the ‘Troubles’ legacy, he noted that the draft legislation – which was subsequently enacted – “appears to be incompatible with the UK’s international human rights obligations”.

“Introducing conditional immunity in this manner would likely be at variance with the UK’s obligations under international human rights law to investigate and, where appropriate, prosecute and punish those found responsible for serious human rights violations... “Concerns remain that the Bill would obstruct the rights of victims, survivors and their families to effective judicial remedy and reparations, including by prohibiting most criminal prosecutions and civil actions for ‘Troubles’-related offences,” he said. Welcoming the “state-level” legal challenge, Amnesty International’s Gráinne Teggart asserted: “The Irish Government is doing the right thing for victims, for the rule of law, and for the upholding of human rights. Victims’ rights to truth, reparations, and justice must be realised. This challenge is vital for victims here and around the world, who face the prospect of similar state-gifted impunity. “The UK Government doggedly pursued this legislation which shields perpetrators of serious human rights violations from being held accountable. It is important that the Irish Government takes this stand... We hope this critical litigation will bring all Troubles victims closer to the justice they deserve.” Speaking at the International Academy of Trial Lawyers Conference in Killarney, County Kerry in April 2023, the current President of the ECtHR, Síofra O’Leary warned: “Our rulings do not always please, either the respondent governments to which they are addressed, or members of the public,” adding: “As a court of law we are charged with interpreting and applying the law of the Convention whilst often navigating very choppy political waters... politics are never far from our courtroom, but politics is not what we do.” The Strasbourg Court is, O’Leary suggests: “A judicial canary in Europe’s democratic mine; an early warning signaller which points to where European states are failing with reference to their commitments to democracy, the rule of law and the protection of human rights.” In January 2024, the ECtHR has now confirmed that it has formally received Ireland’s case in which it contends that provisions of the UK legislation are incompatible with Articles 2 (right to life), 3 (prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment), 6 (right to a fair trial), 13 (right to an effective remedy), and 14 (prohibition of discrimination) of the ECHR. However, with both the metaphorical and literal clock ticking for victims and survivors, and a backlog of some 76,000 cases pending according to O’Leary, it remains to be seen whether the legal process against the UK will reach a timely conclusion.

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Having “successfully overcome” a series of successive shocks through Covid-19, the energy crisis, and the cost-of-living crisis with “surprisingly little damage”, the Irish labour market and economy are stronger in many respects than before the pandemic, new NERI research suggests. Overview Despite emerging from such shocks relatively unscathed, the report by Nevin Economic Research Institute (NERI) codirector Tom McDonnell states that the “post-pandemic bounce in the Republic of Ireland’s economy has ended”. Retrenchment in sectors dominated by foreign direct investment such as ICT and pharmaceuticals has seen the end of sector-specific “booms” in investment and exports, while cost of living pressures have “eroded” consumer confidence and resulted in demand constraint. Export potential in 2024 will be ‘dampened’ by a “relatively weak external environment” and the unwinding of the savings rate is predicted to restrict the potential for household potential to rise. Coupled with these predictions is that of high interest rates creating a “drag” on

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investment and concerns about higher than usual levels of business failure, although NERI states that these pressures will “hopefully recede over the course of the year [2024] as monetary policy loosens”. McDonnell also claims that these high interest rates will impact housing supply and the ability to address capacity constraints in infrastructure. Despite these pressures, NERI still predicts that the Irish economy will grow in 2024, but that the pace of growth will moderate towards a “more ‘normal’ pace compared to the volatile 2020 to 2023 period”. With price inflation set to continue to fall throughout 2024, consumer and business confidence are expected to be boosted, with modified domestic demand predicted to grow by 2 per cent, and this increased demand to lead to a gradual loosening of the European Central Bank’s monetary policy.

Credit: Merrionstreet.ie

‘A more normal year’

Budget 2024 Despite its “evident flaws”, NERI states Budget 2024 will go down as “one of the most consequential budgets of recent years” that will add to growth and inflation in 2024 due to its “modest stimulatory and pro-cyclical” measures. NERI states that these measures are “hardly ideal” with the economy close to or at full employment and run counter to monetary policy. The report criticises cost of living supports within the budget as “generally untargeted with significant deadweight in terms of averting poverty” and states that once-off supports “make little sense given the permanent nature of the price increases”. The Fiscal Council estimates that tax cuts in Budget 2024 will raise consumer prices by between 0.8 per cent and 1.5 per cent. These tax cuts and their “regressive nature” are said by NERI to have been


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Average weekly earnings by sector (€) versus inflation indices (HICP and CPI) 1,200.00

125.0

1,000.00

120.0

115.0

800.00

110.0 600.00 105.0 400.00 100.0 200.00

95.0

0.00

90.0

2018

2022 Private

Public

All

2023 HICP

CPI Source: NERI

“expected but still unwelcome”, with the main beneficiaries being those earning over €71,000 per annum. NERI states that the most consequential measures in the budget will be the creation of two funds – the Future Island Fund (FIF) and the Climate and Nature Fund (ICNF). The FIF will “eventually produce a new revenue source from the middle of the next decade and reduce the fiscal pressures caused by an ageing population”, with the ICNF said to possibly “end up insulating the capital budget from the economic cycle”. Overall, public finances are said to be performing well, “assisted by the healthy state of the labour market and the ongoing profit shifting into Ireland”, with “very substantial surpluses” projected for the next few years. The medium-to-longterm fiscal position is, however, said to be “much more challenging” due to agerelated pressures, the cost of climate action, and diminishing revenues from green taxes.

Labour market The labour market is “still performing robustly, albeit with some evidence that the boom in employment is slowing down”, NERI says, with the number of people employed having increased by 4 per cent in Q3 2023 year-on-year. The labour participation rate is at its highest rate since 2008 and increased by 1 per cent on an annual basis to 65.8 per cent, with regional participation rates ranging from 62.4 per cent in the mid-west to 67.7 per cent in Dublin. Hours worked in the economy reached a third-quarter record of 82 million hours per week in 2023, up 2.1 per cent from Q3 2022, but NERI states that there is “tentative evidence that the labour market boom is ending”, with the job vacancy rate falling to 1.2 per cent in Q3 2023 and the employee index registering no net growth in employment between August and September 2023. The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was recorded at 4.8 per cent in November 2023, increased from 4.1 per cent in March 2023. Male unemployment rose

from 4.3 per cent to 4.9 per cent in the same period, while youth unemployment rose from 10.2 per cent to 12.4 per cent in November 2023. Despite these concerning increases, the labour market remains “very tight” and its previous growth said to be “unsustainable”, with the Q3 2023 long-term unemployment rate of 1.1 per cent representing a record low. NERI predicts employment to grow by 1.5 per cent in 2024. Wage growth was flat between Q2 and Q3 2023; despite this, Q3 2023 recorded a 6 per cent increase in wage growth year-on-year in nominal terms. Average weekly earnings increased by 4.6 per cent annually (3.9 per cent in the private sector), while average hourly earnings were up 6.2 per cent. Consumer price index increases averaging 6.2 per cent in Q3 2023 mean that weekly earnings fell in real terms, with average hourly earnings growth flat. NERI predicts a real terms growth in wages in 2024, with the consumer price index predicted to grow by 3 per cent and nominal wage growth predicted to be 4.5 per cent.

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Embedding design in the public service Following the publication of Better Public Services in May 2023, the Department of Public Expenditure, NDP Delivery, and Reform (DPENDPDR), has announced a new Action Plan for Designing Better Public Services. Published in December 2023, the action plan calls for a “fundamental shift in how we approach government,” adding that “building a smarter government is the cornerstone for smarter solutions”. The action plan has been based on 10 design principles which were established in a previous DPENDPDR publication, Designing our Public Services: Design principles for Government in Ireland, which was published in October 2022. Using these principles, the Government believes that the role of design can be enhanced in order to improve delivery of public services, and central to this is the integration of new and emerging technologies, as well as viewing design as a strategic priority for the public service, increasing capability, and

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fostering a design culture which seeps through all aspects of the public service.

Demonstrate design commitment The action plan outlines the objective of strengthening the State’s public service by “embracing design as a strategic priority and embedding it across the entire public service”. To achieve this, by the first quarter of 2024, the Department is aiming to establish a dedicated design function to support public service bodies to embrace design values and principles in their organisations. Another objective is the establishment of

new funding mechanisms, with the aim of aligning existing mechanisms to include opportunities for organisations to secure additional funding for design related initiatives. The objective outlined by the Department is for this to be completed by the third quarter of 2024. The development of a national framework for public procurement of design services that is able to encourages greater participation of small businesses is another means outlined by the Department which it believes will demonstrate design commitment from above. It is expected that this will be published in second quarter of 2024. Another facet of demonstrating design commitment is the aim to “work with public service bodies” to integrate


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10 principles of better design 1)

Put people first

2)

Design to be inclusive

3)

Design services together

4)

Design for trust

5)

Design so knowledge can be re-used and shared

6)

Challenge assumptions and design with evidence

7)

Design from the top down and the bottom up

8)

Design to deliver value. In all its forms.

9)

Build, test, learn, and iterate

10)

Work to make things simpler

design as a core consideration in all relevant public service projects, which DPENDPDR says will be completed by Q3 2024.

Increase design capability To increase design capability, the Department states in the action plan that it will increase capacity and empower public servants with design skills and resources to drive innovation and deliver humancentred solutions. By the fourth quarter of 2024, the Department says that it will roll out design programmes and formal learning pathways to upskill and reskill current public service staff, however, the contents of these prospective plans have not been outlined. The action plan outlines that, by the second quarter of 2025, the Department will facilitate staff exchanges between public service, academia, and private sector with the objective of enabling knowledge transfer and skill enhancement that can be applied in a public service setting. In addition, there will be “tailored, useful and practical frameworks,” created, along with resources and assets to support learning and enable effective use of design across the public service, by the fourth quarter of 2024. To adapt to these new demands, new design-specific job descriptions will be created which align with current public service grades and competencies, with the objective of ensuring that design expertise is “recognised and integrated into job functions”. It is intended that this will be completed by the third quarter of 2024.

Foster design culture To act as a pump primer, DPENDPDR commits to nurturing a design-driven culture across the public service, which it says will be done promoting “creativity, collaboration, experimentation, and continuous improvement”. In the first quarter of 2024, DPENDPDR states it will “communicate, socialise and promote the successes, impacts, and key learnings from a design approach across the public service”. As part of this, there will be an important role for collaborate between DPENDPDR and other organisations on projects that showcase the impact of design and serve as examples for other organisations to adopt a design approach. The action plan also says that DPENDPDR will facilitate design-focused innovative challenges including sprints, hackathons, and deep dive workshops that it believes will encourage experimentation and cross-disciplinary collaboration. It will further collaborate with industry partners to host design-focused events to gain knowledge, best practice, and creative inspiration from experts. Minister for Public Expenditure, NDP Delivery and Reform, Paschal Donohoe TD, expressed his confidence that initiatives and strategies which come to a design approach, as is called for in the action plan, will “influence and elevate our public service landscape for many decades to come”. “Embedding design thinking from the outset, and consistently throughout our process, ensures that our solutions and initiatives not only work better for people, but offer value for money and contribute to creating a better society for all.”

eolas issues

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PUBLIC SERVICES 2024

Date for your diary

Wednesday 15 May ● The Gibson Hotel, Dublin

In recent years there has been huge progress in the key areas of promoting innovation, digitalising services and improving the development of people and workforce planning. Launched last year, Better Public Services is the new transformation strategy for the public service aimed at delivering for the public and building trust. Core pillars of the strategy are digital and innovation at scale; workforce and organisation of the future and evidence-informed policy and services designed with and for the public. Meanwhile, the Action Plan for Designing Better Public Services was launched in December 2023, a roadmap for embedding design across our public services. This conference will bring together key stakeholders from across Ireland’s public service to look ahead to what’s next and how we can collaborate to deliver transformation at scale. Sponsorship and exhibition opportunities Join Ireland’s leading organisations in partnering with Public Services 2024. There are a small number of highprofile packages available. For further information on how your organisation can benefit, contact us directly on +353 (0)1 661 3755 or email Lynda.Millar@eolasmagazine.ie.

A high level panel of experts will look at key issues including:

3 Better Public Services: Update

3 Delivering large scale

3 Strengthening public trust in

3 New workforce models;

on delivery;

government;

3 Embedding design across our public service;

3 Innovative leadership; 3 Innovation in healthcare delivery;

3 Engaging with the service user –

3 Creating and using innovative

3 Identifying skills gaps in the

3 Sectoral update: health; justice;

3 Upskilling and reskilling staff;

3 Best practice case studies.

becoming citizen-centric; public service;

Sponsored by

transformation;

solutions for government;

education; local government;

More information available soon! By phone

Online

Email

+353 (0)1 661 3755

www.publicservices.ie

registration@eolasmagazine.ie


Fresh Thinking

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Credit: Fianna Fáil

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Digital Minister Dara Calleary TD: ‘Policymakers must focus on AI beyond election cycles’ Minister of State for Trade Promotion, Digital and Company Regulation, Dara Calleary TD sits down with Ciarán Galway to outline the Government’s priorities in relation to AI regulation, the European context, and a vision for the future role of AI technology in Ireland. Ciarán Galway (CG): In August 2022, you were appointed as Minister of State for Trade Promotion, Digital and Company Regulation at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, what are your reflections since then? Dara Calleary (DC): We were in a good 38

space having the [AI: Here for Good] strategy since September 2021. I want to commend [my predecessor] Robert Troy TD and the officials here in the Department for being that farsighted. We had the fantastic National Youth Assembly on AI in October 2022. We did the first Digital Ireland Conference at the end of November 2022 where we got a

lot of the stakeholders together in Dublin Castle. Then ChatGPT appeared. It is not that it changed anything, but it just brought huge focus and has brought it into the mainstream. We have been very consistent that the principles of the strategy – trustworthy, person-centred, and ethical – still apply.


Fresh Thinking

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“Every [government] department is beginning to look at it [AI technology] and advance it.” Minister of State for Trade Promotion, Digital and Company Regulation, Dara Calleary TD

We have had to keep people focused on that message, and keep people focused on delivering on the strategy. We are nearly signing off on the EU AI Act. Our officials are very involved in that. The fact that we were one of only six countries to be asked to the AI Safety Summit in Bletchley Park [Milton Keynes, UK] last November [2023] is a testament to our standing within the international AI community. Then, just in the last few weeks, we have stood up the AI Advisory Council, which I am really excited about. It is going to be independent; effectually to hold the feet of any government to the fire in relation to AI and also future technologies. There are 14 really experienced people on it; many global experts, all of whom are Irish. That is a good testament to the country. So what are we to do? Skills is going to be my big focus. We are going to be working with Minister Simon Harris TD over in the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science on that. We had the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs identify the skills [required] in spring 2022 and we still have multiple courses across third and fourth level, but also – very importantly for me – across community education, in AI skills. CG: What are some examples of the opportunities that AI present to improve the delivery of public services and to assist in tackling many of the complex societal challenges? DC: There are massive opportunities. We are beginning to use it across the agencies in this department [DETE] in terms of form filling and signing, and data and record management. Everything we are doing is with those key principles in mind: public trust and people centred. For instance, it could be massively used in the Companies Registration Office (CRO). Any company reading your interview knows the level of form filling that goes on there.

Healthcare has enormous potential. There is a really exciting project underway with Dell and UL [University of Limerick] around AI cancer care. Meanwhile, CeADAR – one of the national EDIHs [European Digital Innovation Hubs] for AI – in UCD is doing work on how AI technology can be used to predict future flooding trends. Every [government] department is beginning to look at it [AI technology] and advance it. Minister Ossian Smyth TD is in this space, so we work closely together on AI and how it can be utilised in the public service, in line with the strategy and in line with our aims, but also how we can use it innovatively. CG: To what extent is government’s vision for AI defined by its existence as a tool for assisting humans rather than replacing humans? DC: I do not want people to be replaced, I want their skills to be enhanced. That is why we are so focused on skills. So, yes, it is going to change the way we do work. Equally, every technology does, and I am not being complacent here. Look how vibrant the tech sector is here [in Ireland] at the moment. We are only marking 20 years of Facebook [week beginning 5 February 2024] and now it is a multi-thousand employer in Dublin. Google similarly. At the end of the day, the public service, for instance, is there to serve citizens, and if we can deliver services more efficiently to citizens and give citizens a better experience of public services then everybody wins. CG: How has government sought to ensure ethical and responsible use of AI in public service delivery? DC: The EU AI Act is a good signpost in relation to that. What that has looked at is what the risks are and has designated things that are high risk, 4 medium risk, low risk, and things that are unacceptable; that are not allowed, for instance, 39


Credit: Department of Enterprise Trade and Employment

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Fresh Thinking

emotion recognition technology. High risk is in health and in law enforcement; the really stringent compliance requirements. Medium risks are transparency requirements. Low risk means minimal if any restrictions. If we get agreement in parliament – I do not want to assume EU Parliament agreement – in the next two months, then we will start the rollout of it. Subject to parliament agreement, it will enter into force probably in the early summer and then we have about 36 months to actually get it into place. [While it is] 36 months or three years, we will be doing an awful lot of it in the first 18 months. It builds the guardrails, it is accessible, and people will know what is allowed in terms of what is high risk, what is medium risk, what is low risk, and what is unacceptable in terms of the technology. CG: To what extent is there a potential for AI to produce or amplify inequitable or undesirable outcomes for individuals and communities?

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DC: That is something that I am very focused on and very conscious of. I do not want it to amplify existing inequalities, I want it to be used to break down barriers. That is why we are working closely with Minister Ossian Smyth in terms of public services. I see it making the delivery of healthcare much fairer. When you see the waiting lists for healthcare, it is people on lower incomes that are on the waiting list or

waiting longer. I see using AI and getting access to technologies as having the potential make it far more equal. AI technologies have the potential, if used properly, and there is a strategy in place like ours, to open up all sorts of opportunities for every citizen. CG: How can public service bodies best prepare for the forthcoming EU AI Act? DC: Once it is signed off, and once we have the final version of it, we will be rolling out our briefing. We have worked closely with the agencies here in the Department to make sure that the Act is in good standing. Now that we have it, we have three years to prepare. The main elements will be in place within two. We will be rolling out a pretty ambitious briefing programme as to what is allowed. We also, at some stage this year – the reason I have not got a timeline on it is that we want to get the Act passed at EU level – will run a public information campaign on AI; what it is, what it can do for you, and making people aware of it. People are using it every day. I think that is one thing that people forget about. If you engage with a chatbot, that is AI. CG: Speaking with eolas Magazine in late 2023, Government CIO Barry Lowry referenced the challenge policymakers face in attempting to regulate AI amid a rapid pace of

evolution. To what extent do you recognise that challenge? DC: I recognise it, because it [AI technology] is moving quickly and we have so many other things going on as public representatives. That is why we have the AI Advisory Council, and that is why it is going to be independent of government. That is why I think it is important that we [policymakers] all take time to consider it [AI]. I know there are proposals – it is above my paygrade – that there will be an AI committee in the Oireachtas. I think they [the proposals] are worth pursuing but that is a matter for the Oireachtas to decide. One of the things that I notice in the discourse is that there is a lot of focus on AI in elections; obviously, in the context of forthcoming European elections, everyone is talking about AI in the election campaign. I would like to see people focus on AI after the election. So, what is the policy platform for the next European Parliament? What is the policy mandate for the next European Commission? We have the AI Act, so what are going to do? Equally, in the context of the next general election in this country – whenever it happens over the course of the next 12 months – let’s focus on AI policy as well as AI as a campaigning tool.


Fresh Thinking

“Every party should lay out their stall on AI and how they see it being utilised over the course of the next five years.”

CG: Ireland’s AI Ambassador role was established under Strand 1 of AI: Here for Good. What is the remit of that role? DC: I have described it as talking plain language about AI that people can access. The great thing about [AI Ambassador] Patricia Scanlon is that she comes from a very successful AI background, but she can explain the concepts in a language that people can understand. I have heard a lot of her interviews and her ability to put that across to people is excellent. We did a fantastic event with about 75 teenagers – the National Youth Summit on AI – that she spoke at, and she was brilliant in the way she interacted and the way she picked up on their thoughts and their concerns. She is the national AI Ambassador and continues to be. Separate from that role, she is the chair of the AI Advisory Council. She has put huge work into getting the membership of that council right, into getting the dynamics right, and I know they are working hard now to get it up and running. CG: In January 2024, the AI Advisory Council met for the first time. How will the establishment of the AI Advisory Council bridge the gap between the public and an understanding of AI, which can ultimately lead to a better understanding of AI by decisionmakers? DC: We had just under 400 applications to be on it [the advisory council]. There is an extraordinary level of talent on AI within the country. It is going to offer strong advice. It is going to offer independent advice. I met the Advisory Council, but I did not sit in on their meeting because have been very clear, we want it to be independent.

I would ask policymakers to listen to what the Advisory Council comes up with and to engage with the work it is going to produce. I see it as having an ESRI style role, without the budget, in terms of advice and issues. They are all voluntary and we are terribly lucky to have them. Part of the role is to engage in communication, and I want them to demystify it [AI technology] and come back to the principles: is it trustworthy; is it person-centred; is it ethical? In terms of the communications campaign, they will have a role in advising that as well. But I want them to focus on policy as well, focused on the specific challenges of it. Ultimately, they are in charge of their own workplan which will then be given to government for sign off. CG: Upon the news that the EU AI Act was endorsed by all member states in February 2024 and will enter into force in the coming months, you reiterated your ambition for Ireland to “become a leading country in using AI to the benefit of our people”. What does that look like? DC: Healthcare. Education. General government services. That we have an innovation culture as well. As the new products and new services come out of Ireland, it is important that we have sandboxed structures in place here for AI companies to test technologies and future uses. That our citizens have trust in AI and that our citizens benefit from the AI Act, but equally our innovators are confident in producing the new products on the island here. CG: What are your ambitions for the year ahead? DC: Our focus at the moment is the DSA, it has been since Christmas. I want to get the communications campaign up and running AI, and to make sure that the Advisory Council gets bedded in.

artificial intelligence report

Every party should lay out their stall on AI and how they see it being utilised over the course of the next five years.

Ireland is the current chair of the D9+ Group [an informal alliance of digital ministers from the digital frontrunner EU member states]. We are hosting the D9+ events in Dublin in the middle of April 2024, so we are preparing for that at the moment. As I said, there will be elections across Europe on the weekend of 7 June 2024, but I also want to see discussion on the digital priorities for the next five years in Europe, not just the next five months. CG: How can Fianna Fáil stamp its identity on the coalition government’s digital policy? DC: Firstly, it [digital policy] is government, and it is crossgovernment. I have mentioned two of my colleagues – Simon Harris and Ossian Smyth – from the two other coalition parties. That is why I am challenging my colleagues in Fianna Fáil to focus on the policy implications of AI and of digital. I am very determined that in the course of our next Fianna Fáil election manifesto, it will have a digital policy element. I have been really focused. We have made changes through [Finance Minister] Michael McGrath TD in terms of the taxation around angel investors. We had a really good Fianna Fáil session with members of the start-up community and business organisations, with Michael McGrath, ahead of the budget [2024] where he heard their proposals directly from them and they were implemented in the budget. Equally, I am gathering a lot of ideas and thoughts that will be in a Fianna Fáil digital manifesto at the next election. I am very focused. We are all focused on campaigning with AI and what AI will do to campaigns. Let’s focus on governing. Where will AI go in the next five years?

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Empowering people with intelligent automation

Ailish Hansen, Chief Commercial Officer of Fexco Managed and Advisory Services.

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Ailish Hansen, Chief Commercial Officer of Fexco Managed and Advisory Services, explores the rapid technological advancements and challenges in customer-facing sectors and the integration of AI in the public sector. The pace of technological change has emerged as a disruptive yet profoundly progressive force, particularly in the realm of customer-facing services within both the private and public sectors. The influence of current technological change mirrors the transformative effect of the smartphone on global connectivity: connecting was always possible, but never with such speed, ease, and accessibility. For decades, our corporate and personal lives have been enriched by technological change. We source information and fact-check data using search engines by default; we consume knowledge in digital format as the norm. As we anticipate the latest technological trend of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and

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Fresh Thinking

robotic process automation, collectively referred to as intelligent automation, 2024 emerges as a milestone year where we will further equip our people, products, and services with AI-enabled features and utilities, aptly named “Intelligent People supported by Intelligent Automation”.

However, this journey is not without its hurdles. The integration of cutting-edge technologies into public and private sector service delivery raises critical questions about privacy, security, and the digital divide. As we approach this new future, we discuss how AI can aid customer service providers and what customers should keep in mind.

Be curious, but exercise caution and manage expectations Curiosity is one of Fexco’s core values. We have never been afraid to explore and expand into new areas, a mindset that has served us very well. We are now applying this approach to AI and its potential use. As the world around us evolves, so do the tools and technology at our disposal. AI, IoT, and quantum computing are current disruptors, with more to come.

Recently, Metamo, Fexco’s joint venture with 16 of Ireland’s largest credit unions, has designed, implemented, and launched a new personal lending automation solution based on quantum AI to digitise the loan application process. Tens of thousands of loan applications processed now receive automated, immediate AI-driven loan decisions based on large data historical trends and patterns.

Humans prefer humans; focus on “supporting”, not “replacing” As an operator of services on behalf of both the public and private sectors that interacts with millions of individuals and businesses in Ireland annually, Fexco has a clear view of what makes a good user experience and what customers want. We see AI as a support for users, assisting with data analysis and generating intelligent responses in natural language to questions, prompts, or interactions. We will continue to focus on personalisation – but at scale. There is a fear that AI will eventually take jobs from humans. But human oversight will always be needed and desired. As Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI, says: “Humans care about what other humans think.” People will still be needed to make

Trust is your currency Trust and certainty are crucial elements in the effective use of AI. In the rapidly evolving landscape of AI-powered products and services, trust is not just a benefit – it is the very currency of success. When users entrust their decisions, personal information, or business processes to an AI system, they are essentially investing their confidence in the technology’s reliability, accuracy, and fairness. This trust is hard-earned and easily lost. Users need assurance that their data is handled carefully, from the transparency and clarity of the AI’s decision-making process to its consistent performance and adherence to ethical standards, supported by robust privacy and data security all play a pivotal role in building trust. Without it, AI solutions may find themselves struggling to gain traction in a world where consumer and enterprise users are becoming ever more discerning about where and how they place their digital trust. With 30 years of experience of being curious, interacting with millions of individuals and businesses, and building trusted partnerships, Fexco Managed and Advisory Services offers tailored solutions to enhance efficiency, reduce costs, and improve customer experiences and we have truly embraced the next technological advances in AI to ensure benefits are realised for both our partners and ourselves. But remember, AI supports, not replaces, human oversight. Trust remains the key to AI’s effective use.

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Our support functions have long utilised AI, from researching and creating initial drafts of marketing materials to providing AI assistants to support code development and test case creation for our IT engineers.

We understand the importance of caution with AI. While it adds value, it is not a universal solution for all our problems. Expectations must be realistic. AI is not infallible. Quality control and good judgment are still essential. Fexco has robust risk management protocols in place. Understanding the limitations of AI is key to making the most of it.

decisions. AI will support this, but it will not replace the need for human oversight.

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Fexco has been using intelligent automation for a while, but in the past 18 months, we have embraced new AI advancements. Worldwide, businesses, governments, and institutions are also realising the potential of these technologies to streamline operations, boost efficiency, and provide better services to people.

Following the successful rollout of robotic process automation (RPA) projects within Fexco in recent years, and the rollout of new generative AI utilities in the last year to support our colleagues in enhancing efficiency, accessing knowledge, and improving overall business outcomes, we are now exploring new use cases across financial services, HR, health and safety, tourism, housing, and energy sectors. These are designed to enhance productivity and efficiency, improve data analysis and insights, be scalable, and adhere to all required governance and security controls.

W: www.fexco.com

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Fresh Thinking

AI strategy: Progress comes with need for overhaul The implementation report on the AI: Here for Good strategy outlines that important first steps are being taken to roll out AI. However, with new guidance and regulations emerging on AI, it is likely that there will need to be an overhaul to the strategy. AI: Here for Good is the State’s national AI strategy. Established in July 2021, it was founded on three core principles: adopting a human-centric approach to the application of AI; staying open and adaptable to new innovations; and ensuring good governance to build trust and confidence for innovation to flourish. The National AI Strategy itself is divided into eight strands, under three broad headings: •

Building public trust in AI: 1.

Strand One: AI and society

2.

Strand Two: A Government ecosystem that promotes trustworthy AI

Leveraging AI for economic and social benefit 1.

Strand Three: Driving adoption of AI in Irish enterprise

2.

Strand Four: AI serving the public

Enablers for AI 1.

Strand Five: A strong AI information ecosystem

2.

Strand Six: AI education, skills, and talent

3.

Strand Seven: A supportive and secure infrastructure for AI

4.

Strand Eight: Implementing the strategy

The report on the implementation of the strategy to date lists the actions taken to date under each strand.

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Fresh Thinking AI and society Of the five strategic objectives under the AI and society strand of the strategy, three have been completed, with the implementation report claiming that two objectives are “in progress”. The Government completed the goal of appointing a national AI Ambassador, with the appointment of Patricia Scanlon in May 2022. The implementation report states that a full report on Scanlon’s activities over the first year will be published separately.

artificial intelligence report

With the objective of education young people about the benefits of and precautions pertaining to the use of AI, the implementation report classifies this strand as completed, owing to the establishment of the National Youth Assembly on AI, which was done in October 2022.

An AI governance ecosystem The report assesses that, with collaboration at an EU level to discuss regulations throughout the Union, the objective of establishing a “horizontal framework” for the governance of AI is “in progress”. In December 2023, the European Commission outlined a draft EU AI Act, although reception of this regulation has been mixed among computing and systems experts, as there is a perception that AI is too complex and nuanced in different sectors for a single regulatory framework to be an effective way of governing it.

“Changes to the world of work are to be expected, but it is likely that much of the disruption caused by AI will result in changes to job roles, tasks, and distribution, rather than actual job losses.” Minister of State Dara Calleary, TD AI in the private sector If it can be successfully integrated into private sector operations, it is likely that use of AI will lead to enhanced levels of economic growth. However, these positive projections have been mirrored by questions as to whether increased use of AI will lead to job losses. The Enterprise Digital Advisory Forum, established in May 2022, brings together representatives of indigenous enterprises, multi-national enterprises, and experts in digital technologies and their adoption by business, as well as representatives of government departments and agencies. The implementation report states that meetings of this forum to date have focused on “the building blocks of AI” and perspective digital transition to be taken by corporations, which include new skills challenges and prospective supports from government. The forum has included AI adoption by enterprise as one of its dedicated workstreams in its 2023 work programme. On meeting skills challenges, the report states that work is underway to find a successor to Technology 2022, Ireland’s third ICT skills action plan. The report further states that this successor plan will target digital skills right across the labour market and will take into account broader digital skills labour market priorities, as well as themes emerging from the Funding the Future and OECD Skills Review reports, the EU Structured Dialogue on Digital Education and Skills, as well as ongoing close collaboration with enterprise. Upon publication of the implementation report, Minister of State for Trade Promotion, Digital Transformation and Company Regulation at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Dara Calleary TD, said: “The pace of advancements is rapid and over recent months AI has really entered the public consciousness and discourse. There are concerns, both real and perceived, and we must address these to ensure that we are not letting opportunities pass us by. We must ensure that we are having open and informed conversations on AI and all its potential. “Changes to the world of work are to be expected, but it is likely that much of the disruption caused by AI will result in changes to job roles, tasks, and distribution, rather than actual job losses.” 45


artificial intelligence report

How generative AI can transform public services

Peter Rose, Group CTO.

Nick Connors, Group MD.

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Generative AI is a branch of artificial intelligence that can create new content, such as text, images, audio, or video. It can learn from patterns, styles, rules and preferences, and generate novel and realistic outputs.

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Generative AI has many applications in various domains, such as entertainment, education, art, and design, but it can also have a significant impact on public services.

efficiency, reducing costs, and enhancing quality and its use has been approved by Cabinet, provided it follows the guidance on the use of AI in the public service issued by Paschal Donohoe.

Public services face continuous challenges such as limited resources, complex regulations, and high demand. The good news is that generative AI can help overcome some of these challenges by automating tasks, improving

In this article, we will explore how generative AI can help public services from central government to healthcare improve quality and increase service provision and examine the benefits and challenges of using this technology.


“TEKenable subscribe to Accessing generative AI in a safe, private, and secure way does not have to be difficult. Microsoft offers co-pilots in Office 365 as well as Dynamics 365 which support the users in the activities below and more beside: •

Document summarisation – Applications, reports, emails, and conversation transcripts summarised for quick review, discover key ideas, actions, decisions, etc;

Document writing – Idea generation (writers block), drafting text, reviewing text for clarity/style, ageappropriate versions (“explain to me like I am five years old”), etc;

Suggested responses – semiautomating the response to customer service cases, applications, and the never ending stream of email;

Presentation generation – AI can create a PowerPoint presentation from a detailed document or your high-level notes capturing and structuring key concepts;

Automating financial and other processes – Microsoft Business Central can use AI to automate bank reconciliation for example.

Unlocking institutional knowledge Probably the most frequently encountered challenge TEKenable sees is around access to institutional knowledge. Every organisation of any significant size has around 70 per cent of its institutional knowledge locked away in documents and only around 30 per cent in structured databases such as a finance systems and CRM. Each person that leaves the organisation takes a part of that knowledge with them and new joiners are more and more challenged to acquire that knowledge.

artificial intelligence report

a code of ethics that governs how we design and deploy AI services... By doing so we ensure that the AI performs as the best version of itself and complies with the Government guidelines and the EU AI Act requirements.

AI on your desktop

We have seen Chat With Your Documents successfully applied to areas as diverse as HR policies, financial regulatory rules, software support, customer service, sales and, in our own case, providing information about TEKenable’s past projects to support public tender writing and remembering lessons learned from the past.

What are the benefits and challenges of using generative AI? Generative AI has the potential to transform public services by offering many benefits, such as: •

increasing productivity and efficiency by automating tasks and reducing errors and delays;

enabling greater service provision without increasing resources;

enhancing quality and satisfaction by improving accuracy, relevance, diversity, and creativity; supporting decision-making and problem solving by providing insights, scenarios, and solutions; and

increasing engagement of users and stakeholders by offering personalisation and choice.

The ability to ask questions and receive answers from documents and other data sources is the next evolution of the search engine and unlocks knowledge that is presently locked away improving the user’s efficiency and providing information that can enhance the quality of their work.

However, generative AI also poses some challenges. Generative AI is not suitable for autonomous operations other than in some very tightly defined domains. It is better suited to acting in a supportive role, assisting and recommending rather than actioning. This is the human-in-theloop model with the AI referred to as a CoPilot.

Conclusion Generative AI is a powerful and promising technology that can transform public services. It offers many benefits, such as increasing productivity, reducing costs, enhancing quality, and supporting decision making. However, it also poses some challenges, such as ensuring reliability, security, ethics, accountability, and regulatory compliance. Therefore, it is important to use generative AI responsibly and wisely, and to balance the opportunities and risks of this technology. By doing so, we can harness the potential of generative AI to improve and increase the service provision for the public good.

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To address that challenge, TEKenable has created an AI application called Chat With Your Documents, which, as the name suggests, allows users to hold a conversation with a curated and authoritative set of documents.

TEKenable subscribes to a code of ethics that governs how we design and deploy AI services. This requires us to consider every aspect of the solution from the potential for bias to transparency and accountability. By doing so, we ensure that the AI performs as the best version of itself and complies with the Government guidelines and the EU AI Act requirements.

E: AI@TEKenable.com

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‘World’s first’ AI regulation agreed at European level Political agreement has been reached between the European Parliament and Council of the European Union on the Artificial Intelligence Act, which has been hailed as “historic” and a “global first”.

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The provisional deal for the EU AI Act, agreed in December 2023, will see rules on AI established, with safeguards, limitations, bans, and consumer rights put in place, and fines of up to 7 per cent of a company’s global turnover in place for those who violate the agreed laws.

High-impact general purpose AI models with systemic risk will have to conduct model evaluations, assess, and mitigate systemic risks, conduct adversarial testing, report serious incidents to the European Commission, ensure cybersecurity, and report on energy efficiency.

The agreed laws for AI will include “guardrails” for general AI systems to “account for the wide range of tasks AI systems can accomplish and the quick expansion of its capabilities”. These guardrails will see all general-purpose AI systems and the general-purpose AI models upon which they are based forced to adhere to transparency requirements that were proposed by the European Parliament during negotiations, such as the drawing up of technical documentation, compliance with EU copyright law, and the dissemination of detailed summaries about the content used for AI training.

Other AI systems classified as high-risk due to their “significant potential harm to health, safety, fundamental rights, environment, democracy, and the rule of law” will be subject to mandatory fundamental rights impact assessments and other requirements applicable also to the insurance and banking sectors. Systems used to influence the outcome of elections and voter behaviour will also be classified as high risk, with citizens having the right to launch complaints against AI systems and receive explanations and decisions based on high-risk AI systems. On the other hand, limited risk AI systems will comply


Fresh Thinking

artificial intelligence report

with minimal transparency requirements “that would allow users to make informed decisions”.

biometric categorisation systems that use sensitive characteristics (e.g. political, religious, philosophical beliefs, sexual orientation, race);

untargeted scraping of facial images from the internet or CCTV footage to create facial recognition databases;

emotion recognition in the workplace and educational institutions;

social scoring based on social behaviour or personal characteristics;

AI systems that manipulate human behaviour to circumvent their free will; and

AI used to exploit the vulnerabilities of people (due to their age, disability, social or economic situation).

The Parliament and Council of Ministers agreed on a series of exemptions for the use of biometric identification systems (RBI) in public spaces for law enforcement, “subject to prior judicial authorisation and for strictly defined lists of crime”. Post-remote RBI would be in use strictly for the targeted search for a person convicted or suspected of having committed a serious crime. Real-time RBI will comply with strict conditions, with its use limited in time and location for the purposes of: targeted searches for victims;

Credit: Jernej Furman

With explicit reference to “potential threat to citizens’ rights and democracy”, the Parliament and Council of Ministers also came to agreement in order to ban:

prevention of a specific and present terrorist threat; the localisation or identification of a person suspected of having committed one of the specific serious crimes mentioned in the regulation, such as murder, trafficking, or terrorism. These exemptions have proved the most controversial aspect of the legislation, with Amnesty International stating that the limited ban AI facial recognition sets a “devastating global precedent”. Ella Jakubowska, senior policy advisor for European Digital Rights stated: “It is hard to be excited about a law which has, for the first time in the EU, taken steps to legalise live public facial recognition across the bloc. Whilst the Parliament fought hard to limit the damage, the overall package on biometric surveillance and profiling is at best lukewarm. Our fight against biometric mass surveillance is set to continue.” Failure to comply with the new regulations will result in companies being fined, with penalties ranging from €35 million, or 7 per cent of global turnover, to €7.5 million, or 1.5 per cent of turnover depending on the infringement and the size of the offending company.

The legislation, which has been in the offing since early 2021, passed through multiple drafts as it made its way back and forth through the political arms of the European bloc. With all member states having endorsed the Act in February 2024, the Act will enter into force during 2024 and enter into application 24 months after its entry into force except for specific provisions, such as prohibitions on unacceptable risk AI systems applying after six months and obligations for high-risk systems applying after 36 months. The Act has been delayed in the past due to the constant evolution of AI technologies. For example, the rise of ChatGPT caused a reconsideration of the legislation that had originally been drawn up in April 2021, which had not factored in the application. In January 2024, it was revealed by Euractiv that the European Commission would adopt a decision establishing the European Artificial Intelligence Office as part of the reforms envisioned under the new legislation, with the office due to act within the Commission as the centralised authority on the enforcement of the AI Act and AI development, monitoring the progress of initiatives such as GenAI4EU. 49


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Building AI for the future Artificial intelligence (AI) has transformed industries and societies, offering unprecedented capabilities and efficiencies. However, as the use of AI proliferates, questions around how to create a robust and sustainable strategy for AI have come to the forefront, writes Davin Cody, Chief Technology Officer, HPE Ireland. Environmental impact The first thing that comes to mind when we talk about sustainability is the actual environmental impact, and unfortunately the carbon footprint of AI systems is not small. An AI project needs a clear strategy to not just ensure long-lasting benefits, but also maximum efficiency, including objectives like energy efficiency to mitigate environmental impact. This includes aspects related to the design of AI systems, covering technology infrastructure, through to monitoring and controlling. These decisions need to be aligned with the overall sustainability targets of the organisation to ensure that they can fulfil their commitments.

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Davin Cody, Chief Technology Officer, HPE Ireland.

Especially for those who are still at the beginning of their AI journey, it is difficult to get it right from the start. To get a better idea of how we can future-proof AI projects, we need to understand what aspects of the lifecycle of an AI project, model or platform are pivotal to their long-term success. Drawing from years of providing AInative infrastructure, designing energy-

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efficient IT solutions, engaging with and supporting open-source projects, and being part of the AI Infrastructure Alliance, we at HPE learned that to ensure the viability of an AI project beyond momentary success, we need to look at four key aspects across the whole lifecycle: the environmental impact, longevity, agility, and reusability.

As you start to outline your project, make sure that the project team consist of representatives from stakeholder groups across the organisation as well as a spectrum of skill sets, including IT, data, and software engineering experts. The reason for the latter is that software engineering in particular aims at building efficient, sustainable, maintainable, and supportable applications. With operations being performed hundreds of millions of times (or more), for example during the AI model training and, a small performance hit has a big impact. The adoption of software engineering practices into your data science projects helps to avoid these challenges.


As mentioned above, without data there is no AI. This means it is essential to plan right from the start how data is going to be handled, deduplicated, and metadata stored. It is common for organisations to hoard data, gathering it all up because you do not know yet what is valuable. However, to stay efficient, it is important to have a clear data selection criteria and disposal processes, and core information on the data – where it came from, how it was transformed and by whom, why it was transformed, how long it was kept for and how it will be disposed of. This process should be part of your wider existing data strategy, to ensure your data is handled consistently and efficiently. Truly understanding your data will ensure that your model is robust and sustainable, also benefiting the longevity of your project.

System longevity

Agility One challenge you will encounter when building your AI system while aiming for agility is data debt, which can accumulate rapidly. In essence, this means if you do not keep on top of its classification, any problem gets bigger exponentially. Therefore, it is essential that you follow a process, to keep your AI systems in up to date.

Model reusability Model reuse and pretrained models are great ways of tackling complex challenges. They allow you to avoid additional AI tuning, which, as we already touched on above, can have serious impact on cost and carbon footprint. It is essential to have a detailed plan to ensure you get the most out of your models. At the same time, it is important to keep in mind that the conceptualising an AI model for reusability increases development costs in the short term. Especially when building interdependent AI systems, the management of these systems can turn into a time- and resource consuming

challenge. Therefore, building AI with a firm plan and purpose is key. To summarise, it is crucial, when building AI systems, that we architect them with the future in mind. By prioritising future-oriented and efficient AI practices, we can contribute to a more sustainable planet while harnessing the transformative power of AI. As we navigate the intersection of technology and environmental consciousness, the pursuit of environmentally sustainable AI represents a commitment to building a future where innovation coexists harmoniously with the well-being of our planet.

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With the goal being to build AI that offers continuous benefits, it is vital to create it with long-term aims in mind that align to your AI strategy. If designed for the short-term use or goals only, you will soon need to train it again or build a new one, increasing costs and your overall carbon footprint, with model tuning being the most resource intensive part of an AI lifecycle. However, if designed to tackle real and long-term business challenges, you will derive more value from the projects with a lower impact.

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The efficiency advantages will become apparent with the implementation of machine learning operations (MLOps). MLOps can help save time, resources and reduce carbon output by minimising the number of steps that must be carried out manually, therefore making it repeatable through automation. As with all software engineering, AI has a defined lifecycle, comprising a collection of steps that moves an idea through to production deployment. AI breaks down into five key activities within this lifecycle: data processing, pipelining, model development and optimisation, model deployment, and monitoring. Having a clear strategy on these will enable effective automation for repeatability, and saves time and resources, leading to a successful and more efficient AI project.

To find out more about how you can build sustainable AI, check out our video series at https://www.hpe.com/uk/en/solutions/artifici al-intelligence/nvidiacollaboration.html#SustainableAIEpisodes.

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Ireland’s long journey to ‘trustworthy AI’ Ahead of recent agreement on a new European AI Act, the Government has approved guidance for the use of AI in the public sector. However, the journey to achieve robust and effective regulation has faced significant challenges along the way. Statements obtained from government departments by eolas Magazine (issue 61) outlined how there has been no single, unified approach taken by government departments for the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in the public sector. Therefore, the Government has instructed that departments and public bodies should comply with seven requirements for ethical AI that have been developed by the European Commission’s High Level Expert Group on AI in its Ethical Guidelines for Trustworthy AI document. In the document, the Government outlines the seven overriding principles which will shape how AI is used in the public sector. These are:

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1.

human agency and oversight;

2.

technical robustness and safety;

3.

privacy and data governance;

4.

transparency;

5.

diversity, non-discrimination and fairness;

6.

societal and environmental well-being; and

7.

accountability.


Fresh Thinking

The guidelines, which were shaped by work carried out by the High Level Expert Group on AI, state that public sector AI systems may be developed either in house or procured from a third vendor. In either case, however, the guidelines clarify that there is a high level of responsibility for public sector bodies and departments to ensure that AI is trustworthy and ethical, and that this responsibility rests with the system user rather than the developer, thereby protecting private sector providers and developers. This point is underlined by the directive that this responsibility “cannot be delegated”.

artificial intelligence report

This point is further emphasised by the stipulation that ethics considerations must be built into requirement specifications of systems, and that specific test cases must be written and signed off by senior management of the public sector organisation. The guidelines further outline that subject matter experts should be part of the design process for an AI system and have “an important role to play in ensuring that all service users that will be affected by the system are treated fairly”.

Challenges along the journey Regulating AI remains a difficult challenge for decision-makers, as it is a sector for which a one-size-fits-all approach is not applicable due to the different needs of the various strands of the public sector. Speaking to eolas Magazine in February 2024, Government Chief Information Officer Barry Lowry said that he was “very pleased to note the progress made with the EU AI Act”. “I think it has evolved well to now provide a very good balance between meaningful AI use and risk and privacy management. I look forward to its enactment,” Lowry said As the EU AI Act was being drafted, Lowry had warned in a previous interview with eolas Magazine (issue 60) that “there is a risk that misunderstood attempts to regulate AI are viewing AI as an entity, but it is not about AI as an entity, it is about how you use it”. Lowry had further warned of the potential risks of introducing legislation “without a real understanding of what it is that is being regulated” and “without talking about shared risk”. Development of AI legislation has faced further challenges amid opposition from government TDs to the development of facial recognition technology (FRT), as some decision-makers have suggested that this may involve invasion of citizens’ rights to privacy.

Maintaining trust In an effort to acknowledge these points of concern raised by various stakeholders around data privacy, the government stipulates that GDPR requirement will be enforced when data is being used in AI models. Under GDPR legislation, permission must be sought to use personally identifiable information, which includes facial images and voice. “Data should not be used in AI models in a way that breaches intellectual property rights. Where the system is procured from a third-party vendor, they must confirm that their data is GDPR compliant and does not breach the intellectual property rights of others,” the guidelines state. Speaking following the publication of the new guidelines for AI in the public sector, Minister for Public Expenditure, NDP Delivery and Reform Paschal Donohoe TD said: “AI presents significant opportunities to improve the delivery of public services and to assist in tackling many of the complex challenges we face. Our government and public service must not shy away from the opportunities presented by AI because of the potential risks involved. “The guidance issued… will help public servants avail of those opportunities in a way that is ethical and maintains trust. AI is changing our world significantly and it is important we face that change directly and adapt quickly as required to both protect and deliver for the people we serve.”

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What are the possibilities and opportunities for AI in Irish public sector? artificial intelligence report

instant responses to enquiries, guiding them through various processes and offering personalised assistance. This not only improves the citizen experience but also alleviates the workload on public service staff. AI plays a vital role in supporting IT operations. By integrating AI with existing IT infrastructure, public sector organisations can modernise legacy applications, making them more efficient, scalable, and responsive to current needs. This modernisation is crucial for improving service delivery, enhancing user experience, and ensuring that public sector IT systems can adapt to the rapidly changing technological landscape. These examples represent a true AIdriven paradigm shift, yet underscore its role as a supportive tool, emphasising the importance of human oversight in decision-making. The integration of AI in these areas can lead to more informed policies, improved public services, and a more proactive approach to addressing the challenges faced by the public sector in Ireland.

Nathan Marlor, Head of Data and AI, Version 1.

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AI presents transformative opportunities for the Irish public sector, profoundly impacting how services are delivered both internally within organisations and externally to citizens, writes Nathan Marlor, Head of Data and AI, Version 1. By supporting and augmenting human capabilities, AI streamlines internal operations, leading to more efficient administrative processes and decisionmaking. Simultaneously, it enhances the delivery of services to citizens, offering more personalised, efficient, and accessible public services. For example, in policymaking, AI’s capability to analyse extensive datasets

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What advice would you give to organisations getting started and what do you see as the challenges to implementing AI?

can provide deep insights, expediting and enriching the decision-making process. This can be particularly valuable in areas like social welfare, economic planning, and public health strategies, where understanding complex patterns and trends is crucial.

Starting with smaller, manageable projects that align with specific organisational needs can demonstrate AI’s potential without overwhelming the workforce. These projects can serve as accelerators or kickstarts for broader AI adoption. It is important to remember that “small” in this context does not necessarily mean insignificant; even modest AI initiatives can yield substantial benefits.

In service delivery, AI-driven chatbots can revolutionise the way citizens interact with public sector services, providing

Once a problem statement has been identified, it is essential to secure highquality, relevant data, ensuring it is


organised in a manner which facilitates successful AI implementation. Data quality, availability, lineage, and security are critical factors, especially in the public sector, underscoring the importance of robust data management practices.

What skills and talent do you need to implement and manage AI in your organisation? The successful implementation and management of AI requires a diverse set of skills. Alongside technical expertise in AI, data science, and machine learning, it is crucial to have team members who understand the strategic and business implications of AI. This includes skills in project management, ethical decisionmaking, and the ability to translate complex AI concepts into practical business solutions. For organisations beginning their AI journey, a strategic partnership could accelerate activities by providing access to ready-made, crossfunctional teams of AI specialists. Additionally, fostering a culture of continuous learning and curiosity is essential, as the AI field is rapidly evolving. Teams should be encouraged to stay abreast of the latest trends and developments, ensuring the organisation’s AI initiatives remain cutting-edge and relevant.

Legacy system modernisation remains a major challenge for many organisations. As systems age, their understanding and support diminishes, often exacerbated by outdated or incomplete documentation. This lack of clarity in how applications function presents a significant risk to modernisation efforts, a factor frequently overlooked.

What are the pitfalls of over-dependency on AI in public sectors and what checks should be in place to avoid this? Over-dependency on AI in the public sector can lead to a loss of critical human oversight and an increased risk of systemic biases. To mitigate these risks, it is important to establish a balanced approach where AI complements human decision-making. Regular reviews of AI decisions by human experts, diverse and unbiased training data for AI systems, and transparent AI development processes are essential. Furthermore, maintaining an organisational culture that values human judgment and ethical considerations alongside AI advancements is key to avoiding overdependency.

focusing on foundational skills alongside AI training, employees can maintain a strong skill set that keeps them versatile and capable, irrespective of the level of AI assistance available.

Are there risks with not adopting AI? There are many potential risks of not adopting AI in today’s technology-driven landscape, potentially hindering the ability of public sector organisations to keep pace with evolving challenges and technological advancements. One key area is increased security risk; AI technologies can be powerful in identifying and responding to cyber threats promptly, ensuring the protection of sensitive government data. Datadeluge for public sector is also a risk; without AI, it becomes challenging to extract meaningful insights from big data, limiting the ability to identify trends, patterns, and areas for improvement. Finally, many societal challenges, such as healthcare management, environmental issues, and urban planning, can benefit from AI solutions. Without the adoption of AI, public sector organisations may struggle to develop effective strategies to address these ever more complex challenges.

E: nathan.marlor@version1.com W: www.version1.com

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How do you see AI impacting how IT services are delivered, including the modernisation of legacy systems?

The cost of not modernising results in increased support costs, increased risk due to out-of-support technology and reduced business agility and budget available to work on more transformative IT programs. AI offers a unique opportunity to unleash legacy system modernisation due to its unparalleled abilities to accelerate the many phases of the modernisation process. From documenting existing applications, assisting code conversion and development, to automating test case and data generation, AI will bring transformative productivity improvements.

artificial intelligence report

Organisations should adopt a holistic approach where people and processes are seen as important as the technology itself. Key to any successful AI transformation is addressing core concerns like data privacy, ethics, governance, and reassuring the workforce that AI is a tool for enhancement rather than replacement from the outset.

“Over-dependency on AI in the public sector can lead to a loss of critical human oversight and an increased risk of systemic biases. To mitigate these risks, it is important to establish a balanced approach where AI complements human decision-making.”

It is also important to implement continuous skills development programs that ensure employees retain the core competencies necessary to perform their roles effectively, even in the absence of AI support. These programs should be designed to maintain and enhance traditional skills, ensuring that the workforce is not overly reliant on AI for basic tasks and decision-making. By

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Fresh Thinking

AI in the workplace A permanent joint committee on artificial intelligence (AI) should be established in the Oireachtas, TDs and senators have recommended. The recommendation to the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment was one of several by the Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment contained within a report focused on AI in the workplace. In addition, the committee has also recommended the establishment of a special committee to examine the broader scope of AI beyond an employment perspective, recognising the far reach of the topic. In an interview with eolas Magazine, Minister of State with reponsibility for Digital in the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Dara Calleary TD, stated his belief that the proposals were “worth pursuing” but that the matter was for the Oireachtas to decide. In the meantime, in January 2024 the AI Advisory Council, designed to provide independent expert advice to government on artificial intelligence policy, sat for the first time.

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Fresh Thinking

Alongside the recommendation to establish a Joint Oireachtas Committee on AI, the Committee’s report also called for: •

comprehensive discussions and regulatory measures at a forum level that safeguard both workers’ rights and employer interests on an inclusive basis with all stakeholders;

enhanced safeguards for digital manipulation to be considered for consumers and workers when transposing the AI Act;

measures to provide for transparency in the tracking of employee activities, recognising existing concerns around potential abuse of workplace surveillance technology; and

that the minister revisits the representation on the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment’s GovTech forum board. The recommendation references inclusion of an employment perspective, strongly advocating for trade union representation, and other bodies such as legal, regulatory, governmental, and tech industry experts.

The Committee’s work comes in the context of the forthcoming European Union AI Act, which as part of its digital strategy, will seek to regulate AI to ensure better conditions for the development and use of innovative technology.

On 2 February 2024, the EU’s Artificial Intelligence Act was unanimously approved at a meeting of the Council of the European Union (Council of Ministers). The Act must now pass through a European Parliament plenary vote which is expected on either 10 or 11 April 2024.

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Almost half the labour force is expected to be impacted by changes to their jobs due to automation by 2040, according to an OECD report on Wellbeing in the Digital Age published in 2019. The scope of the committee’s report was particularly focused on the finding that up to 14 per cent of all jobs are at high risk of being lost due to automation, with another 32 per cent at risk of significant change over the next 10 to 20 years.

The Committee’s report focuses on key areas in relation to the workplace, most prominently, surveillance methods deployed by employers, such as webcams, keystroke logging. Highlighting research carried out by the Financial Services Union (FSU), which outlines the importance of research and legislation keeping pace with these changes so society, businesses, and staff can both benefit and the be protected from unforeseen consequences. “The Committee noted the need to establish clear levels of workplace surveillance, understanding that some regulation might be necessary to prevent excessive intrusion,” the report states. It adds: “The Committee note[s] from the report that evidence of AI-driven constant monitoring marks a significant shift, where employers can track employee activities without their awareness. The Committee support the need for transparency in this tracking.” Another theme of the report was around the ‘right to disconnect’, with the Committee noting that “the current pervasive surveillance is generating an ‘always on’ work culture,” which it describes as “problematic”. “The Committee is concerned that monitoring practices being undertaken might not necessarily correlate with increased productivity and acknowledges there could be various reasons behind employers’ surveillance practices,” it says.

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artificial intelligence report

A pathway to AI Adoption for the Irish public sector

John Stobie, Regional Vice President of Public Sector Sales for Salesforce Ireland.

AI is the topic on everyone’s lips today, writes John Stobie, Regional Vice President of Public Sector Sales for Salesforce Ireland. Advertorial

As I sit down to work on this piece, I am listening to Patricia Scanlan, the Chair of the AI Advisory Council in Ireland, sitting for an interview on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland about the many challenges and benefits of AI. A day seldom goes by without a news story about the evolution of this technology. Generative AI and its rapid ascension to the top of the technology stack has thrown a spotlight on a capability that Salesforce customers have been using, for over a decade. In this article, we focus on the fact that 58

AI is not an end itself, but that used correctly it can energise transformation and innovation within the public sector. AI is an accelerator which can personalise services and engagement, increase the productivity of government staff, and drive impact by allowing the targeting of limited resources to deliver the best outcomes. Governments face ever-growing pressure to improve the efficiency and personalisation of their services and overall interactions with citizens. According to a study by the Boston Consulting Group and Salesforce, “93 per cent of respondents

expect government's service quality to be on par with leading tech companies, private sector and digital governments”. We will discuss AI under a number of headings: •

If AI is the engine, data is the fuel;

In the flow of work; and

Trust is paramount.

Ultimately, we must understand that AI is not a silver bullet and to get the benefits of this technology, like any, we need to walk before we run.


“Ultimately, we must understand that AI is not a silver bullet and to get the benefits of this technology, like any, we need to walk before we run.” John Stobie, Regional Vice President of Public Sector Sales, Salesforce Ireland.

It is important to recognise the symbiotic relationship between data and AI. Ultimately, it is not enough to just amass lots of data, it must also be connected and structured. Salesforce’s citizen relationship management (CRM) is built with the citizen at its heart, and information about that individual wraps around it. This includes key attributes, benefit history, touch points, and other key data elements that not only provide agency employees with a rich view of their customers, but also serve as inputs to AI models. However, not all data about the citizen sits in the CRM. Within any agency, dozens of other systems contain citizen data, including ERPs, payment systems, document repositories, and more. To join up this broader set of data elements, Salesforce’s Data Cloud enables agencies to connect and haronise data from other systems in real-time. With powerful identity resolution and graphical mapping capabilities, Data Cloud delivers the essential foundation to both traditional and AI-enabled citizen services. This complete 360° view of the citizen supports improved interactions and also better utilisation by AI models. Just recently, one of our global postal customers revolutionised their digital marketing and customer experiences with AI and data-driven communications. Salesforce Data Cloud has been transformational to the business, taking over 11.5 million contacts and turning that into 3.3 million unified profiles, with rich engagements and transactional data, within six working days.

In the flow of work

Equally, the result should be returned in a way that is immediately useful to the agent. For instance, a draft email to a citizen should show up in the drafting screen itself, so the agent can easily make edits before sending. By embedding the technology, it also allows for seamless and automatic upgrades, including new technologies and capabilities. This has always been the Salesforce approach to innovation, delivering three annual functional releases for nearly a quarter of a century.

Trust is paramount Government must handle citizen data with the utmost care and ensure services are delivered with fairness and precision. This requires an understanding of the risks associated with AI and how to control them. Salesforce have outlined five trusted AI principles to guide both our own development and our customers’ use of these technologies. The use of AI must be: responsible, accountable, transparent, empowering, and inclusive. Salesforce’s Trust Layer helps to mitigate these risks, including protecting personal and sensitive information by not feeding it into the model, controlling for toxicity and hallucinations on the return, including with a human in the loop to review the output before it goes to the citizen, and memorialising the use of any AIgenerated output. These are minimum-but-notsufficient measures; however, any commercial AI solution should incorporate such controls. Experimentation to acquire institutional knowledge and understand the nature of such risks is crucial to safe and successful deployment at scale.

AI is accessible wherever you are on your transformation journey AI continues to evolve rapidly. Customers should look to the old mantra, “think big, start small, scale fast”. Wherever you are on your AI journey, it is essential to understand the maturity of your organisation for the adoption of this technology. To help you get going, talk with us about our AI vision and capability assessment tool (VCAT).

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To derive the greatest value from AI, it should act as an enabler within a process, rather than as its own functional area. When embedded into existing systems and business workflows, it ensures easy access for employees and customers alike, and minimises the implementation and maintenance work required from IT. It is important to not only feed an AI model a training set and prompt, but also the broader context for that prompt. This is known as ‘grounding’, where the surrounding information about the work item and the customer are fed to the model alongside the prompt.

artificial intelligence report

If AI is the engine, data is the fuel

T: 0800 086 8949 E: jstobie@salesforce.com W: www.salesforce.com

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Fresh Thinking

AI exposure risk equal to opportunity

“Waves of innovation have usually been accompanied by anxiety about the future of jobs,” the report reads. “This apprehension persists, even though history suggests that previous fears about labour becoming redundant were exaggerated.” However, in its surveying of various reports and a sample of 16 European countries, the ECB finds “a positive association between AI-enabled automation and changes in employment shares” regardless of which proxy the report authors used. Using the work of Stanford University economist Michael Webb, the ECB states that moving 25 centiles up along the distribution of exposure to AI is associated with a 2.6 per cent increase in sector-occupation employment share; the work of Edward Felten, Manav Raj, and Robert Seamans estimates the increase in sector-occupation employment share to be 4.3 per cent.

“The degree of exposure is as much an opportunity as it is a risk.”

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On the possibility of technology-enable automation affecting relative shares of employment across skill levels and thus impacting earnings inequality, the ECB states that “literature on job polarisation shows that medium-skilled workers in routine-intensive jobs tended to be replaced by computerisation… in contrast, it is often argued that AI-enabled automation is more likely to complement or replace jobs in occupations that employ high-skilled labour”. The literature also suggests that AI exposure “does not seem to shake things up significantly” in occupations where average educational attainment is in the low and medium-skill groups. In contrast, a “positive and significant association” is found for the high-skill group: with the distribution of exposure to AI increased by 25 centiles, the boost to sector-occupation employment is estimated at 3.1 per cent by Webb and 6.7 per cent by Felten, Raj, and Seamans. By age group, AI-enabled automation favours those occupations that employ younger workers, who were found to benefit at double the rate of their older colleagues (when age groups are split into younger, core, and older) regardless of the indicators used. In their own research, the authors of the ECB report – Stefania Albanesi, António Dias da Silva, Juan Francisco Jimeno, Ana Lamo, and Alena Wabitsch – study the link between AI-enabled technologies and employment shares in 16 European countries between 2011 and 2019, years that “saw the rise of deep learning applications such as language processing, image recognition, algorithm-based recommendations, or fraud detection”. The authors find that around 25 per cent of all jobs in these countries were in occupations highly exposed to AI-enabled automation, “specifically in the upper third of the exposure measure”.

Credit: Rawpixel

A report by the European Central Bank (ECB) has stated that projections of AI ending human labour “may be greatly exaggerated”, and that occupations “potentially more exposed” to AIenabled technologies increased their employment share in Europe during the 2010s.


Fresh Thinking

artificial intelligence report

“The degree of exposure is as much an opportunity as it is a risk,” the report states, with the outcome dependent on whether such technologies will substitute or complement labour. Occupations more exposed to AI were found to employ a larger proportion of highskilled workers when compared to occupations more exposed to advances in software, a fact that “supports the case that AI-enable technologies could be in competition with high-skilled jobs”. With the exposure to technology varying across levels of skills, it is found to be “relatively uniform” across age groups. These findings mean that AI-enabled automation is “thus associated with employment increases in Europe – mostly for high-skill occupations and younger workers”, a fact which is “at odds with the evidence from previous technology waves, when computerisation decreased the relative share of employment of medium-skilled workers, resulting in polarisation”. The authors state that they found no evidence for this polarisation pattern in their own work, “even when examining the impact of software-enabled automation”, and that the relationship between software exposure and employment changes is null for their pooled sample, with no evidence of software replacing “routine medium-skilled jobs”. Despite these results for employment shares, the authors also found that neither AI nor software exposure had statistically significant effects on wages, except in the work of Felten, Raj, and Seamans, which “indicates that occupations more exposed to AI have slightly worse wage growth”. The results also show “a mixed picture” across the 16 European countries studied, with the overall positive impact found in the overall research said to “hold true for most countries with only a few exceptions”. The scale of the impact is, however, said to vary substantially across the country, which “might reflect differences in underlying economic factors” such as technology diffusion, education, and levels of regulation and competition in product and labour markets. Despite the common fear that technological development brings with it pressure on the labour market and the widespread possibility of jobs being automated into obsolescence, the authors conclude that, during the deep learning boom of the 2010s at least, “occupations potentially more exposed to AI-enabled technologies actually increased their employment share in Europe”, with occupations with a higher proportion of younger and skilled workers gaining the most and neutral to slightly negative impacts on wages. “These results do not amount to an acquittal: AI-enabled technologies continue to be developed and adopted,” the authors state. “Most of their impact on employment and wages – and therefore on growth and equality – has yet to be seen.”

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Should we be prepared for AI-based critical infrastructure attacks? AI may change the threat landscape essentially in three ways: expanding existing threats, ushering in new threats, and shifting the nature of threats as we know it. Of specific concern is the potential for cyberattacks on critical infrastructure to become more widespread. Critical infrastructure, usually considered to include power generation and electrical grid, hospitals and healthcare systems, and the global supply chain, could also include digital supply chains and the internet itself.

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Depending on the specific needs, resources, and development level of a nation, critical infrastructure represents all the systems, networks, and assets that are essential, with their continued operation required to ensure the security of a given state, its economy, and the public’s health or safety. As the idea behind the attacks is to weaken adversaries by crippling their day-to-day business, an effective AI tool could, hypothetically, help bad actors commit attacks, or even increase the pool of potential attackers, by making malware coding easier. 62

With AI becoming increasingly important, just like companies, people race to figure out how it could be used to serve their own purposes, supporting their endeavours. Specifically in the field of cybersecurity, AI can serve both a destructive, but also a constructive role, with the former attempting to cripple cyber defences, and the latter enabling support of better cyber defences. With a legacy dating back to 1990, ESET has been a forerunner in the integration of AI into its security solutions. Recognising the evolving nature of cyber threats, it embraced the potential of AI early on, leveraging its capabilities to not only detect but also block threats in real-time, using machine learning to combat new threats, to ensure continuous threat intelligence updates through the early adoption of cloud technology that powers the global ESET LiveGrid reputation and response system. ESET employs two distinct

forms of advanced machine learning, comprising a high-powered detection engine in the cloud and a lightweight version deployed on the endpoint. These utilise a carefully selected set of classification algorithms, including deep learning and boosted trees, ensuring swift and precise analysis crucial for thwarting emerging threats. The latest enhancement to ESET software introduces an AI-powered detection correlation engine. This innovative feature automatically generates incidents, empowering security engineers to significantly minimise the time dedicated to investigation and incident management. AI represents a paradigm shift in cybersecurity. Security vendors aim to evolve by improving detection results and reducing false positive/negative rates. Leveraging the power of modern AI techniques helps not only stay ahead of emerging threats but also sets new standards for efficiency and accuracy in threat detection and response.

T: 053 914 6600 E: security@eset.ie W: www.eset.ie



Credit: DETE

artificial intelligence report

Fresh Thinking

New AI Advisory Council Headed up by Ireland’s AI Ambassador, Patricia Scanlon, the Government’s newly established 14-person AI Advisory Council met for the first time in January 2024. The AI Advisory Council was established under Strand 1 of AI: Here for Good, Ireland’s national AI strategy. Appointed by Minister of State with responsibility for Digital, Dara Calleary TD following a call for expressions of interest, the Advisory Council’s members “represent a spectrum of experience and expertise from academia, business, law, security, social sciences, economics, and civil society”. As the Advisory Council is not a consultative or representative forum, its members work on a voluntary basis and represent themselves as individuals with specific experience and expertise. It is intended, therefore, that the Advisory Council provides independent expert advice to government on AI policy via the Cabinet Committee on the Economy and Investment as well as to individual ministers, as requested. Tasked with meeting a minimum of three times annually, the Advisory Council is intended to “build on the mandate of the AI Ambassador and function as an agile sounding board for 64

government on ongoing and emerging artificial intelligence related developments”.

AI to the benefit of our people, through

The Advisory Council has three primary functions:

building blocks in place in our national

1. Responding to requests from government with expert guidance, insight, and recommendations on emerging AI trends;

The Minister of State also paid tribute

2. Developing and implementing a workplan to advise government on strategic priorities (emerging trends, opportunities, and challenges) in relation to AI policy; and

public service in volunteering to Chair

3. Engaging in public communications (including media interviews and public events) “aimed demystifying and promoting trustworthy, ethical, and person-centred AI”. These functions are to be undertaken with due regard for existing government policies.

a human centred and ethical approach to AI adoption and use. We have the AI strategy.”

to the work of Ireland’s AI Ambassador, Patricia Scanlon, since 2022: “I welcome her continued commitment to the AI Advisory Council. I also welcome the commitment of all the members of the Council in volunteering their time, experience and expertise.” For her part, the National AI Ambassador and chair of the Advisory Committee commented: “I look forward to leading the AI Advisory Council in providing timely, impactful recommendations and advice to Government. The members of the Council come from a range of

Following the first meeting of the Advisory Council, Minister of State Calleary asserted: “My ambition is that we become a leading country in using

backgrounds. Their collective insights will be hugely useful.”


Fresh Thinking

Deirdre Ahern

Patricia Scanlon is chair of the AI

Deirdre Ahern is a professor of law and

Advisory Council. She is Founder and

Director of the Technologies, Law and

Executive Chair of SoapBox Labs, a

Society Research Group at the School

leading provider of proprietary voice

of Law, Trinity College Dublin. She

technology for children. She holds a

previously led a research team at the

PhD and has over 20 years’ experience

artificial intelligence report

Patricia Scanlon

Law Reform Commission. She is a

working in speech recognition and AI technology,

member of the Royal Irish Academy’s Ethics, Politics,

including at Bell Labs and IBM. She has served as

Law and Philosophy Committee and a fellow of the

Ireland’s AI Ambassador since 2022.

Information Society Law Centre at the University of Milan.

Abeba Birhane

Bernard Harbor

Abeba Birhane is a cognitive scientist,

Bernard Harbor was formerly head of

currently a senior advisor in AI

communications and media relations at

accountability at Mozilla Foundation and

Fórsa, where he supervised research

an adjunct assistant professor at the

that underpinned the union’s policy on

School of Computer Science and

automation. He has a deep familiarity

Statistics at Trinity College Dublin. She

with industrial relations, the public

researches human behaviour, social systems, and

sector, and the Irish and international media. He has been

responsible and ethical AI. Birhane also serves on the

a member of the ICTU Executive Council and is currently

United Nations Secretary-General’s newly convened High

a Governor of the Irish Times Trust. He is a life fellow of

Level Advisory Body on AI.

the Public Relations Institute of Ireland (PRII) and a member of the board of TASC, Ireland’s think tank for action on social change.

Stephen Kinsella

Susan Leavy

Stephen Kinsella is full professor of

Susan Leavy is an assistant professor

economics and Head of the Department

with the School of Information and

of Economics at the University of

Communication Studies at University

Limerick. He directs UL’s Immersive

College Dublin with research interests in

Software Engineering programme. As an

artificial intelligence, language

economist with tech sector experience,

processing, social science, and AI

he also is a regular columnist with extensive experience

ethics. She is also one of Ireland’s nominees to the

on state boards.

Global Partnership in AI. Leavy is a funded investigator with Insight SFI Research Centre for Data Analytics and is leading several projects on trustworthy AI.

Seán Mullaney Seán Mullaney is currently CTO of Algolia, an AI powered search and discovery platform which serves a range of industries. He actively advises Irish startups and founders as a venture board member at Elkstone and as an angel investor through the Sequoia Scout programme. He also serves on the board of Manna Drone Delivery.

4 65


Fresh Thinking

Ronan Murphy

Barry O’Sullivan

Ronan Murphy is founder and Executive

Barry O’Sullivan is an award-winning

Chairman of Smarttech247 (an AI

academic working in the fields of

powered cybersecurity enterprise) and is

artificial intelligence, constraint

founder of GetVisibility (an AI-driven

programming, operations research,

data security enterprise). He is an expert

AI/data ethics, and public policy. He

artificial intelligence report

in the areas of corporate and enterprise

contributes to several global Track II AI

security, development of cyber defence programs,

diplomacy efforts at the interface of military, defence,

business operations protection, and protection of critical

intelligence, and AI. He was vice chair of the European

infrastructure technologies.

Commission High-Level Expert Group on AI and is a member of the Digital Group at the Institute of International and European Affairs (IIEA).

Emma Redmond

Bronagh Riordan

Emma Redmond has a

Bronagh Riordan is Head of Data and Analytics

background at the intersection of

for Irish international retailer Primark, and Chair

technology and law including at

of the Industry Steering Board for CeADAR,

LinkedIn and Stripe and is

Ireland’s national centre for applied data

currently Associate General

analytics, artificial intelligence and machine

Counsel, Head of EU Privacy and

learning and Ireland’s digital innovation hub for

Data Protection at OpenAI and the first member of

Europe. She is also a UK and Ireland Chief Data Officer

the growing OpenAI team in Ireland. Redmond is

governing body member for Evanta. She has more than 20

an adjunct associate professor of law at University

years’ experience in data, analytics, and AI and prior to joining

College Dublin.

Primark, held senior positions across industry including Director of Global Analytics Centre of Excellence for Deutsche Bank, and Head of Data Science for CarTrawler.

Sasha Rubel

Barry Scannell

Sasha Rubel is Head of Public Policy for

Barry Scannell is a consultant in the

Artificial Intelligence and Machine

technology group of law firm William Fry,

Learning at Amazon Web Services

where his work is focused on AI law. He

(AWS) for Europe, Middle East, and

was previously Director of Legal Affairs

Africa. She previously worked at

and Regulatory Compliance at the Irish

UNESCO on AI and digital innovation, is

Music Rights Organisation. He has

involved in international AI governance initiatives, and is a

extensive experience in public communications around

member of the OECD AI Network of Experts.

AI, and in particular, advising on the legal implications of AI technologies. Scannell is currently finalising a PhD on AI and copyright in UCC.

Alan Smeaton Alan Smeaton is professor of computing at Dublin City University and was a founding director of Insight SFI Research Centre for Data Analytics. He is a member of the Royal Irish Academy and an Academy Gold Medal winner. He has extensive experience in applications and innovations of AI in areas such as computer vision, machine learning, wearables, lifelogging, and educational analytics. He is experienced in giving scientific advice to government and actively participates in educational and public engagement activity, including media appearances. 66


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Enabling transitions – Emerging trends in infrastructure 2024

PENDR Minister Paschal Donohoe TD: ‘Capital funding at all-time high’ Minister for Public Expenditure, National Development Plan Delivery and Reform, Paschal Donohoe TD outlines progress on National Development Plan (NDP) delivery to date, ongoing reforms in planning, developments in MMC, and further innovation in 2024. The National Development Plan 20212030 sets out a positive vision for Ireland, which delivers total public investment of €165 billion over its lifetime. This expenditure will be pivotal in delivering the vital infrastructure we need to support our future economic requirements, climate change commitments and address our social investment needs. The overall level of capital funding is now at an all-time high. In 2024, €13 billion will be made available for investment to provide more schools, homes, hospitals, and other vital infrastructure, that will make a real difference to people’s lives. An additional €2.25 billion of windfall corporate tax receipts is being allocated from 2024 to 2026, to be provided to critical infrastructure projects that are at an advanced stage as well as to the existing Climate Action Fund. Our economy continues to perform strongly with record numbers in employment despite inflationary pressures. I would note the moderation in inflation evidenced in wholesale

68

prices for construction products which increased by 0.3 per cent in the 12 months to December 2023. I would also like to highlight the significant progress being made under Housing for All, with over 32,000 new dwelling completions in 2023, which is a 10 per cent increase over 2022. The government recognises our thriving economy requires continued momentum in terms of increasing housing supply to meet our housing needs.

NDP delivery The Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) published its report, The National Development Plan in 2023: Priorities and Capacity in January 2024. The report provides insights and recommendations on the NDP which I am considering in the context of updating NDP ceilings across different sectors for 2025 and 2026. This update will give certainty to government departments on the level of capital funding available to them over the medium term. My officials and I are currently engaging with departments on this process. I am cognisant of the

ESRI’s suggested approach in terms of prioritisation and the potential for the Government to direct construction activity towards those sectors where demand is highest. In September 2023, I published the Prospects 2023/2024 report which sets out a clear pipeline of 50 of the largest individual projects that make up Project Ireland 2040. This pipeline spans projects which are currently at planning and appraisal to projects which are completing construction in 2024. Another platform to communicate the range of projects and programmes under the NDP is the Project Ireland 2040 tracker and interactive map, which is updated every year. The tracker highlights the diverse range of infrastructure projects across Ireland and serves as a valuable resource for citizens, allowing them to track advancements and developments in their local area. The tracker and map are currently being updated by departments and agencies and will be released in Q1 2024. Since Project Ireland 2040 was first launched in 2018, the Government has


Find out more www.kpmg.ie/infrastructure “The overall level of capital funding is now at an all-time high. In 2024, €13 billion will be made available for investment...”

overseen the delivery of many impactful NDP projects across the country, including major third-level building projects such as the new university campus in Grangegorman, as well as better transport links, including upgrades on the N4 from Collooney to Castlebaldwin, from Gort to Tuam on the N17/N18 and the new N25 New Ross Bypass. In addition, hundreds of projects have been funded under the Rural and Urban Regeneration and Development Funds all across the country.

Ongoing reforms In July 2023, I announced further measures to tackle uncertainty and risk in the delivery of Public Works Contracts. This follows a series of measures introduced by my department over the last two years to address the challenges that the construction industry has recently faced. Notable modifications include the introduction of caps on liability and reform of the price variation mechanisms. In January 2024, I chaired a Project Ireland 2040 Delivery Board meeting where a range of issues, such as the backlog in planning applications and the restructuring of An Bord Pleanála to An Coimisiún Pleanála, were discussed. The Government is prioritising the Planning and Development Bill through the Oireachtas in 2024. The legislation introduces significant reforms in the judicial review processes, including the establishment of Urban Development Zones, which will empower local authorities to strategically advance development projects. Building Information Modelling (BIM) has the potential to transform the design and management of construction projects. BIM can speed up the construction process, reduce

waste, cut costs, and deliver projects to a higher quality. Acknowledging the transformative role it can play, in January 2024, I introduced BIM requirements into the Capital Works Management Framework (CWMF). This requirement now applies to public work projects with a capital value of over €100 million. Over the next four years, these requirements will be extended to cover all public works projects. As part of my reforms to the CWMF we are also adopting the International Cost Management Standard, which will bring benefits such as enabling consistent reporting of costs across the NDP.

MMC

targets delivery of 1,500 social homes, leveraging MMC approaches by the end of 2024. In addition, the MMC Demonstration Park in Mount Lucas, County Offaly will be a crucial resource for developers and construction professionals facilitating the delivery of high-quality, affordable homes. A planning application has been submitted and phase one of the project is on target for completion by Q3 2024. Ernst and Young (EY) has been commissioned to assess the MMC skills need in the years ahead. An action plan for MMC skills will follow the publication of the EY report this year.

Further innovation

The Construction Sector Group (CSG), which is overseen by my department, ensures regular and open dialogue between government and industry. The CSG and its associated innovation and digital adoption sub-group are driving seven actions, which are making substantial progress.

Another innovation currently underway is the digitisation of the planning application process across our 31 local authorities. The Local Government Management Agency (LGMA), under the governance of the CSG Sub-Group has rolled out an e-planning system in twenty-four LAs. The rollout to the remaining LAs will occur by Q2 2024.

For example, ConstructInnovate (CI), which is the construction technology centre, is playing a pivotal role in meeting the infrastructure demands outlined in Project Ireland 2040. The research centre aims to make Ireland a global leader for sustainable construction and built environment technology.

Finally, we are aware of our emission reduction targets and with this in mind the CSG sub-group in conjunction with the RIAI and the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications has developed Construction Sector Circular Economy Guidance. This report will be published in Q1 2024.

Furthermore, there has been significant progress embracing modern methods of construction (MMC) in the construction sector with the Roadmap for MMC Adoption in Public Housing being published in July 2023.

The introduction of BIM requirements to the CWMF in 2024 provides a clear line of sight to the construction industry and built environment in the transition to a more digital construction sector. This development will further increase productivity, support sustainability, and facilitate the delivery of the NDP.

A significant step in this roadmap is the roll out of the Accelerated Social Housing Delivery Programme, which

infrastructure and construction report

Minister for Public Expenditure, National Development Plan Delivery and Reform, Paschal Donohoe TD

69


Enabling transitions – Emerging trends in infrastructure 2024

infrastructure and construction report

Emerging trends in infrastructure in 2024: Enabling transitions

Can we enable transitions in a meaningful way to deliver our key infrastructure needs? Paul O’Neill, Managing Director, Corporate Finance, KPMG, writes.

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When I wrote this article for last year’s publication, our key global themes centred round digital transformation, supply chain disruption and energy transition. All very much remain at the core of what we see looking ahead to 2024, but can it finally translate to accelerated project delivery?

Digital transformation – moving from talk to action Every year, it feels like we predict that the infrastructure sector will finally embrace digital, innovation, and technology. While there have certainly been some pockets of digital transformation seeping into the infrastructure sector, progress has been 70

comparatively slow versus other sectors. So, why do we think things will change this year? Some of our optimism is based on the technology landscape. The uptake of digital twins in asset management and design demonstrates that industry has the capacity and desire to transform. Modern construction methods should also increasingly become embedded in the sector, but there is some cause for scepticism that this trend will not materialise in the near term. At a recent client roundtable, a valid challenge posed was the ability of contractors to bring supply chains along with them given that margins remain tight, and businesses require a degree of certainty in relation to National

Development Plan (NDP) rollout if they are to adopt new technologies, approaches, and training programmes. Few would disagree that these new innovations are needed and will ultimately benefit projects, the economy and society in the long term. We need to start mandating these requirements in procurement processes but also be prepared to back it up and pay for them. Too often tender competitions are eventually decided on price. Competing solely on price does not necessarily indicate a focus on priorities beyond cost that will ultimately help move the industry forward. As a private sector client put it to me: “There is a major opportunity for the Government to play a role in mandating more sustainable and innovative approaches that would force the supply chain to evolve.”

Capacity and supply chain – accelerating delivery Ireland did exceptionally well in the 2000s in attracting overseas expertise and building up our onshore supply chain. We were lauded in so many other


Find out more www.kpmg.ie/infrastructure

To attract back market interest, it is important that we actively market at home and overseas the significant programme of infrastructure spend that is planned over the next 10 years. That would allow the supply chain to invest in developing capability and focus here. To do that we need clear certainty on the programme for delivery of the NDP that the market has confidence in. We also cannot lose sight of the skills deficits we have in many areas across the market. Competition from overseas is a factor here but so too are challenges around the capacity to invest by the public and private sector in building up the skills base.

Transitioning to nature based solutions At COP28, nearly 200 nations agreed to triple renewable energy capacity and double energy efficiency by 2030 in order to meet international net zero goals as outlined in the Paris Agreement. We all know that massive

“To attract back market interest, it is important that we actively market at home and overseas the significant programme of infrastructure spend that is planned over the next 10 years.” investment needs to be placed into scaling up renewables delivery, but what we are not very good at is describing the wider societal risks that we all face if we do not do a project. This has to change.

The 12th edition of KPMG’s Emerging Trends in Infrastructure is now live – the 2024 report explores 10 challenges and opportunities facing infrastructure leaders. Read in full at:

The widespread adoption of valuing nature-based assets and solutions would enable companies to better account for these assets on their balance sheets. It would also enable governments to make more informed decisions that balance infrastructure delivery with sustainable development, increasingly important in an Irish context with a growing, ageing population which has very different infrastructure needs to one which is seeing growth come at the younger end of the spectrum.

https://kpmg.com/ie/en/home/insights/20 24/01/emerging-trends-in-infrastructurecge-infra.html

Paul O’Neill Managing Director, Corporate Finance, KPMG Ireland E: paul.oneill@kpmg.ie W: www.kpmg.ie

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While there are welcome signs, with responsibility for NDP delivery now sitting with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the publication of the new infrastructure guidelines, it remains to be seen whether this will serve as the muchneeded enabler to accelerate project delivery. We also need to address the siloed thinking in approaches and methodologies across departments to provide for increased collaboration and learning opportunities. As one public sector client put it to me simply: “We do not talk to each other enough and we do not learn from each other enough. We need to create more opportunities to do that.”

infrastructure and construction report

jurisdictions for how well we developed our infrastructure and learned from others to develop best practice expertise and delivery. Our star has definitely waned in the interim. While it is often taken for granted in Ireland that market interest to tender for new projects is there, that is not necessarily the case. We have seen the depth of our own contracting market decrease post the recession and indeed seen many of our own parts of the supply chain choose to focus efforts on the overseas or private sector markets. We are competing, especially for the mega projects, against other overseas markets that are often much more attractive.

In conclusion, the platform exists to enable transitions in a meaningful way but the successful implementation of any development plan, including our own, hinges on fostering increased collaboration across government and the construction industry, coupled with a transformative shift in mindset toward sustainable infrastructure delivery and construction industry modernisation. 71


infrastructure and construction report

Enabling transitions – Emerging trends in infrastructure 2024

Capital expenditure in Budget 2024 Total capital expenditure in Budget 2024 amounts to €12.8 billion, a 7.6 per cent increase on Mid-Year Expenditure Report 2023 levels and a 3.2 per cent increase on Budget 2023 levels as Ireland continues infrastructure spending increases to deliver the National Development Plan. Ireland’s total capital expenditure of €12.8 billion in Budget 2024 is made up of €12.6 billion in gross voted core capital expenditure as is set out by the National Development Plan (NDP) and €250 million from windfall exchequer receipts “to be allocated to critical infrastructure projects that are at an advanced stage as well as to the existing Climate Action Fund”. A further €2 billion is being made available across 2025 and 2026 in this regard, significantly boosting effective delivery of capital projects in these areas and other government priorities. Including the €250 million in 2024, this raises the overall increase in capital investment in 2024 to just over 10 per cent above 2023 funding. With the ESRI predicting that Ireland’s level of inflation for 2023 will be recorded as 6.4 per cent, the level of core infrastructure expenditure provided 72

in Budget 2024 represents an increase of 7.4 per cent from Mid-Year Expenditure Report 2023 (MYER23) levels, but total capital expenditure represents a 3.2 per cent increase from Budget 2023 total capital expenditure levels, when €12.4 billion was made available for infrastructure spending. In its expenditure report for Budget 2024, the Government states that the increase of “approximately 8 per cent” from MYER23 levels and the subsequent core total of €12.6 billion as being “in line with the NDP” and providing funding for “key investment across sectors including health, housing, education, and transport while also investing in our climate goals”.

Expenditure by department Of the current 18 government departments, 17 receive capital

funding, with only the Department of the Taoiseach receiving none. The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage retains its status as the most highly-funded department in terms of capital funding, amid high projections of construction needed to answer the housing crisis that has raged in Ireland for a decade. The €3.884 billion allocated to the Department is a 10 per cent increase on MYER23 levels and a 10.5 per cent increase on Budget 2023 levels. The capital funding given to the Department accounts for 30.9 per cent of all voted capital funding, an increase on its proportion of 26.7 per cent in Budget 2023. The departments of transport and health are the second- and third-best funded departments in terms of capital expenditure respectively, with the two and the Department of Housing, Local


Find out more www.kpmg.ie/infrastructure MYER 2023 core

Budget 2024 core

Change to core

Non-core

Total

€million

€million

%

€million

295

287

-2.7%

28

315

Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth

61

74

20.9%

61

135

Defence

176

176

0.0%

0

176

Education

860

940

9.3%

0

940

Enterprise, Trade and Employment

540

534

-1.2%

50

584

Environment, Climate and Communications

848

926

9.2%

24

950

Finance

30

27

-10.0%

0

27

Foreign Affairs

25

25

0.0%

0

25

Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation

575

601

4.5%

19

620

Health

1,075

1,218

13.3%

13

1,231

Housing, Local Government and Heritage

3,522

3,875

10.0%

9

3,884

Justice

272

274

0.7%

0

274

Public Expenditure, NDP Delivery and Reform

260

300

15.3%

8

308

Rural and Community Development

201

201

0.0%

9

210

Social Protection

16

16

0.0%

0

16

Taoiseach

0

0

0

0

215

221

-2.7%

0

221

Transport

2,595

2,592

-0.1%

72

2,664

Gross voted capital expenditure

11,566

12,286

Tourism, Culutre, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media

Government and Heritage being the only three departments to receive over €1 billion in capital funding. Despite this, the Department of Transport’s €2.664 billion in capital funding is a 0.1 per cent decrease on MYER23 levels, but a 1.6 per cent increase from Budget 2023. The Department of Transport’s capital expenditure budget accounts for 21.2 per cent of all capital expenditure, the same proportion it accounted for in Budget 2023. The Department of Health received an increase of 13.3 per cent compared to MYER23 and a 4.6 per cent increase from Budget 2023, with its total of €1.231 billion accounting for 9.8 per cent of total capital expenditure, a slight increase from the 9.5 per cent it accounted for in Budget 2023. Of the 17 government departments which receive capital expenditure funding, four received funding cuts compared to MYER23 levels; in comparison, no departments received a cut in funding in Budget 2023. The biggest of these cuts by proportion is the 10 per cent cut to the Department of Finance’s capital expenditure

funding, falling from €30 million to €27 million, and the biggest in overall cash terms is the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, whose allocation of €287 million represents an €8 million decrease. In terms of increases, the largest by proportion was the 20.9 per cent increase allocated to the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth. The increase of over €300 million allocated to the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage is the largest increase in cash terms. With the ESRI predicting Ireland’s inflation for 2023 to average 6.4 per cent and the IMF predicting 5.3 per cent, eight ministerial vote groups received increases in their funding compared to MYER23 levels, with two departments (Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science and Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media) receiving increases that fall under both predicted rates of inflation, equating to real terms cuts.

infrastructure and construction report

Agriculture, Food and the Marine

293 12,581

GNI* The Government has previously pledged to ensure that voted capital expenditure will be at 5 per cent of GNI* by 2025. The GNI* figures of the Central Statistics Office are typically one year behind, meaning that we can compare 2022’s GNI* to Budget 2024, published in 2023, but cannot be certain of how the budget totals compare with current GNI*. Voted capital expenditure in Budget 2023 stood at 5.3 per cent of 2021’s GNI*. Budget 2024’s voted capital expenditure stands at 4.7 per cent of 2022's GNI* (€273 billion). There is a danger of the 2025 target being missed due to pronounced increases in GNI*, with it having increased by 17.1 per cent from 2021 to 2022, or just under €40 billion, having previously had a yearly average increase of €7.3 billion from 2017 to 2021. From Budget 2023 to Budget 2024, capital expenditure will increase by 3.2 per cent in comparison; significant increases to capital expenditure will be needed if the pace of GNI* increases are to be matched. 73


infrastructure and construction report

National road safety: A Safe Systems approach

Ireland has seen a year-on-year increase in road fatalities over the last number of years, which has become a hot topic. The recent hike in numbers is not limited to Ireland, many other European countries have witnessed the same regression following Covid-19, writes Suzanne Meade, Senior Engineer, TII Road Safety.

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It is beneficial to briefly benchmark our road safety performance against the rest of Europe. The European average, in 2021, was 44 collisions per million population; Ireland has a lower rate of 27 collisions per million population, placing it in the top five best performing countries in Europe. A recent European evaluation of the trans-European road network (our motorways) is also encouraging because the average fatal collision rate was 2.1 per billion vehicle kilometres travelled on these roads, which is almost two times higher than the rates on Irish motorways. Taking a closer look at what is happening in Ireland, comparing national roads alongside the safety performance of regional and local roads, between 2016 and 2023 a diverging pattern emerged. During Covid-19, performance was mixed and it was difficult to draw any conclusions but what is clear is that national roads appear to be experiencing a more favourable return to full operation than regional and local roads. While 2023 collision numbers on national roads are 74

not as low as previous years, notably 2017 to 2019, collisions did not increase to the same extent as regional and local roads when traffic levels returned to pre-Covid-19 levels.

Interestingly, fatalities did not fall during Covid-19 travel restrictions despite significantly reduced traffic on national roads. What we do know about the impact of Covid-19, in terms of road safety driver behaviours, is informed by Road Safety Authority research. After 2019, a sudden deterioration in driver behaviour (speeding, mobile phone use, impaired driving, and seat belt wearing) materialised that has not reverted to pre-Covid levels. This is significant because driver behaviour is known to be a contributory factor in over 80 per cent of fatal collisions. Notably, despite this, national road fatal collisions fell in 2023 compared to 2022 and the long-term rate of collisions continues to decrease. This is also illustrated by the fact that national roads account for only 37 per cent of all fatal collisions and 21 per cent of all serious injury collisions that occur in Ireland. The slope of the trend is not as rapid as we would like, but it is still moving towards Vision Zero. This benefits half (48 per cent) of all traffic in the country and 90 per cent of freight traffic that national roads carry. That is a staggering 22.8 billion vehicle kilometres (over 62 million a day) travelling on just 5,300 kilometres of roads. The safety of


Fatal injuries by broad collision type Injuries reported along the motorway and primary and secondary network

Head-on NMU Other PCT SVC Veh to Veh

Veh to Veh fatal injuries

Single vehicle fatal injuries

NMUs fatal injuries

Other PCT fatal

183

82

84

105

20

infrastructure and construction report

Head-on fatal injuries

Serious injuries by broad collision type Injuries reported along the motorway and primary and secondary network

Head-on NMU Other PCT SVC Veh to Veh

Head-on serious injuries

Veh to Veh serious injuries

Serious vehicle serious injuries

NMUs serious injuries

Other PCT serious injuries

554

744

485

371

123

“Our analysis helps us to understand which part of the network carries the biggest risk. For example, we know that 92 per cent of fatalities on national roads occur on highspeed single carriageway roads. This is significant because they are not the busiest parts of the network in terms of traffic; carrying only 38 per cent of all veh.km travelled.”

There is also a statutory road safety remit for national roads under government legislation, namely the EU Directive on Road Infrastructure Safety Management (EU RISM), that was transposed by S.I No. 612 of 2021. Under this legislation, TII has responsibility for carrying out certain functions and programmes to implement the Directive. Management of the Directive remit is implemented through the TII Road Safety Programme, which is run by the TII Road Safety section within TII. Safety is a cornerstone of the TII Statement of Strategy. It does this in several ways: through the allocation of funding to local authorities for road safety improvement measures; by providing data analytics to local authorities and 4

Alastair de Beer, Head of Road Safety at TII.

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this network is critical because it facilitates mobility and accessibility to education, employment, retail, recreation and tourism and key services such as health.

TII road safety roles The main Irish strategy setting out what we need to do to prevent collisions is Ireland’s Government Road Safety Strategy 2021-2030. Ireland’s Vision Zero targets aim to halve the number of serious injury collisions by 2030, in sixyears’ time, and eliminate fatalities by 2050. Both the Climate Action Plan 2023 and the National Sustainable Mobility policy contain safety actions because road safety impacts the shift to active travel.

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Sign on post 1:9 Timber fence 1:3

Tree 1:1

infrastructure and construction report

Stone Wall 1:1

Wall – Pillar 1:2 Road edge – ditch 1:3

Debris / Boulder 1:13

other stakeholders; by developing and funding third-level training in collaboration with the Atlantic Technological University; by providing regular professional education in road safety; by targeted national road safety intervention; by developing new road

safety tools and standards; by facilitating capacity building; overseeing the management of the national Road Safety Audit portal; by informing policy development with the Department of Transport; and through innovation and research with various partners and

N76 Grangemockler Village County Tipperary

stakeholders in Ireland and across Europe. To help unpick data and trends a variety of techniques have been developed to understand prevalent safety issues, see below example illustrating collision type and changes over time. The most common type of fatal collision, 40 per cent, is a vehicle to vehicle (head-on) collision. This type of collision is particularly prevalent on high-speed single carriageway sections, with high proportions of heavy good vehicles, has a straight alignment and is located close to or in the vicinity of a change of road type, i.e. motorway or dual carriageway. In terms of serious collisions, single carriageway sections of the national road network account for most serious injury collisions (86 per cent).

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This type of high-level analysis of collision data allows TII to target safety improvement funding at particular collision types and to identify where they are likely to happen most.

Data analytics

N53 Park & Share Facility off M1 County Louth

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Another approach that TII uses is safe systems and it is integral to the Government of Ireland’s Road Safety Strategy. The approach is underpinned by three principles: the human body has limited ability to withstand force; humans will always make mistakes; and finally recognising that road safety is a shared responsibility. Simply counting collisions is not enough. At the local level, data is required to understand


“The introduction of TII’s proactive

To do this, TII Safety section provides data analysis and collision analysis at the local and site level to help inform local authorities about what sections or elements of the road carry most risk for users. TII produces two main forms of road safety analysis: the first is called network safety analysis and the second is called road safety inspections.

collected specifically for the purpose of

“Our analysis helps us to understand which part of the network carries the biggest risk,” says Alastair de Beer, Head of Road Safety at TII. “For example, we know that 92 per cent of fatalities on national roads occur on high-speed single carriageway roads. This is significant because they are not the busiest parts of the network in terms of traffic; carrying only 38 per cent of all veh.km travelled.” Network safety analysis is calculated over a three-year rolling period. The network is divided into one-kilometre segments and the collision data, road attributes and traffic data are analysed to identify higher than expected collision frequencies. Sections with a collision rate twice above the average for their reference population, i.e. motorways, dual carriageways etc., and have three or more collisions are classified as a high collision location. TII investigates these further using collision investigation techniques before issuing the sites to local authorities. Typically, TII Safety produces this data every 18 to 24 months. Local authorities use this information to seek grant funding for safety improvement schemes and to inform the selection of minor schemes. Since this process began, over 10 years ago, the number of high collision locations has dropped by half due to local authorities implementing targeted safety measures.

significant shift, with primary data targeting safety interventions that aim to prevent fatal and serious injury across all road users,” says Desmond O’Conor, Chief Road Safety Data Analyst at TII. To gather data about the elements of the road that could increase the risk of a serious or fatal collision the entire national road network is driven and inspected by teams of experienced road safety auditors appointed by TII. This visual inspection takes place over a four-year cycle. Each route is driven in both directions, in daylight and in darkness. The teams tag roadside hazards using a GPS enabled camera. During post inspection processing the hazards that were tagged during the visual inspection are ranked and prioritised based on the severity of the hazard and the likelihood of leaving the road. This process results in tens of thousands of tags each with individual severity and risk likelihoods that are provided to local authorities. The road safety inspections programme has provided a means to improve roadsides by understanding in a

What next Transport is a constantly changing system and road safety systems will always need to be data driven and agile to respond to new or emerging trends. While it is not possible to fully comprehend the impacts future changes may bring the adoption of a data-led approach allows TII Road Safety to understand what needs to change to mitigate serious injuries and fatalities. “It is becoming more challenging to identify areas where engineering countermeasures can reduce future collisions, the future looks promising with the increasing prevalence and accessibility of new tools, such as machine learning (ML) and new data sources,” O’Connor says. The fact that the rate of collisions is falling on national road, despite a background deterioration in driver behaviour, illustrates that the use of network safety analysis and road safety inspections and investing in engineering improvements has facilitated a treat to target framework within which serious and fatal collisions have been prevented. For example, one of the next priorities for TII Road Safety will be treating high-speed single carriageway, by dividing the carriageway, to target 40 per cent of fatal collisions that are headon.

scientific way what improvements will result in a more “forgiving” road and by identifying in detail which elements are likely to cause injury if struck. Some examples of road safety improvement schemes that originated from TII safety analysis and successfully delivered by local authorities are illustrated on the previous page and represent a small fraction of the sixty plus improvements delivered each year.

“The introduction of TII’s proactive programme has brought about a significant shift, with primary data collected specifically for the purpose of targeting safety interventions that aim to prevent fatal and serious injury across all road users.”

“By using a data driven approach to investment the number of high collision locations on national roads has halved in less than a decade,” says de Beer. “The focus for investment over the next decade will be informed by our proactive road safety inspections.” Network Safety Analysis and road safety inspections informs decisions and provides TII with a robust system that given time, resources, co-operation with stakeholders and continued funding will work towards achieving Vision Zero.

E: infosafety@tii.ie W: www.tii.ie

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The second type of road safety analysis is called Road Safety Inspection and is a pro-active way to identify collision risks before they appear in collision statistics. This analysis differs from network safety analysis because it evaluates collision risk rather than collision frequency. This analysis uses historic collision data to evaluate the safety risk or severity of a future collision for various elements on the network to provide data about risk to road users. For example, a collision with the pillar or pier of a wall on a highspeed road has a 50 per cent chance of an injury collision.

programme has brought about a

infrastructure and construction report

how infrastructure or discrete parts of a network contribute to serious injury and fatalities.

Desmond O’Conor, Chief Road Safety Data Analyst at TII. 77


infrastructure and construction report

Enabling transitions – Emerging trends in infrastructure 2024

The impact of planning and regulatory delays Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) Senior Research Officer Muireann Lynch discusses the cost of planning and regulatory delays for the energy system. Contextualising her research, Lynch explains that the idea for the ESRI’s paper investigating the cost of planning and regulatory delays for the energy system was stakeholders querying losses incurred in the time it takes to get energy projects connected to the grid and generating power. Lynch and her colleagues analysed electric renewable energy (RES-E) projects due to such projects being a “major pillar of energy policy, both in terms of decarbonisation and of increasing security and affordability”.

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infrastructure and construction report

“These delays are not costless, they are having power system impacts. Increasing the number of opportunities and reducing An Bord Pleanála’s timelines would both be helpful.” Muireann Lynch, Senior Research Officer, Economic and Social Research Institute

“RES-E projects face various planning and regulatory hurdles; you have to get over various jumps before you finally get your project onstream,” Lynch says. “Once you have got your planning permission, you are looking for grid connection, once you have that, you are often looking for subsidy support. The literature would suggest that delays impact on delivery and these issues are not unique to Ireland. Furthermore, there is anecdotal evidence of delays in the Irish system in terms of getting projects delivered. “On that basis, we had a couple of research questions: what impact do the delays and regulatory setup have on delivery timelines? What are the knock-on impacts on the power system?” The roles of various organisations had to be factored into this research, as Lynch explains. Firstly, planning permission must be obtained through the relevant local authority and/or An Bord Pleanála. The planning authorisation cycle is continuous, with a targeted decision time frame of 18 weeks, although the average time frame is 37 weeks. Grid connection is governed by EirGrid and ESB Networks, with a yearly authorisation cycle requiring applicants to enter in September of every year and a decision time frame of 12 to 15 months. Generation licenses and authorisations to construct are granted in a continuous cycle by CRU. The RESS scheme operated by the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications makes yearly awards with a decision time frame of three months, and the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage’s authorisation cycle for foreshore licensing and leasing is continuous, with a decision time frame of 18 weeks. “We want to consider the impact of these decisions being made faster if the time to get planning permission was reduced and also if there were an increased number of opportunities to apply for grid connection and RESS,” Lynch says, explaining the terms of the research. “We are going to track 2,000MW of approved capacity that will eventually overcome these hurdles and get built. The only question here is when this capacity will get on the grid, not if it will.” Accordingly, the ESRI constructed a number of scenarios (as seen in Figure 1), where various possibilities were considered, such as the reduction of planning decision time to 25 weeks and the targeted 18 weeks, and increases in both RESS and grid offer opportunities per year from one to two. “This is a linear least cost optimisation model which determines the socially optimal generation and transmission expansion assuming a benevolent social planner with

4

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Enabling transitions – Emerging trends in infrastructure 2024

Figure 1: Scenarios Status quo

ABP#1

ABP#2

Grid offer

Weeks to ABP decision

37

25

18

Grid offers per year

1

1

1

RESS offers per year

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Hybrid

Hybrid

RESS

Combined

37

37

37

18

2

n/a

1

2

1

1

1

1

1

2

2

No

No

No

No

Yes

No

No

RESS

Combined

Figure 2: Percentage of 2,000MW installed per scenario Status quo

ABP#1

ABP#2

Grid offer

Hybrid

Year four

0

0

0

0

<1%

0

0

Year five

<1%

<1%

17%

<1%

75%

<1%

58%

Year six

50%

56%

75%

59%

100%

75%

100%

Year seven

92%

95%

100%

100%

100%

100%

100%

Year eight

100%

100%

100%

100%

100%

100%

100%

Figure 3: Results per year of installation of 2,000MW Y4

Y5

Y6

Y7

Y8

System cost

0.0%

0.3%

-3.2%

-3.3%

-0.6%

CO2 emissions

0.0%

-4.2%

-3.4%

-1.0%

0.0%

Marginal price

0.0%

-9.9%

-7.3%

-0.6%

0.0%

perfect foresight,” Lynch says, surveying the results of the scenarios examined (see Figure 2 and Figure 3). “Years one, two, and three see nothing built in any model, and in year four there was no difference between them. From years five, six, seven, and eight, we were seeing up to a 3.3 per cent decrease in system costs just from those 2,000MW getting on those few years earlier. The research shows a possible reduction of up to 4.2 per cent in CO2 emissions with the capacity being installed in year five, a possibility made all the more important, Lynch says, “now that we are in the era of carbon budgets” due to the fact that “if you get that the 2,000MW on by year eight, you still have the extra cumulative emissions from the power system in the meantime”. It is on price where the biggest impacts of these imagined reforms would be felt, with a decrease in marginal price of 9.9 per cent with the capacity delivered in year five and 7.3 per cent if it were to be delivered in year six. “There is a big impact on the difference in price getting those megawatts on those few years earlier. That can make an impact on marginal prices,” Lynch says, before offering another key footnote: “All of this was run pre-the Ukraine crisis, so if we were to re-run this under the higher fuel prices we see now, we would expect the price decreases to be bigger again.” Planning delays undoubtedly have an impact on RES-E rollout, Lynch says, and by providing further resourcing for An Bord Pleanála and/or allowing more opportunities per year to apply for grid connections and RESS, the process can be sped up “considerably”. Concluding, Lynch states that taking on either approach would tackle the costs and increased emissions incurred by such delays: “What I was surprised at was the impact of those delays on the costs, emissions, and particularly prices. These delays are not costless, they are having power system impacts. Increasing the number of opportunities and reducing An Bord Pleanála’s timelines would both be helpful.”

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Find out more www.kpmg.ie/infrastructure

Modern methods of construction: Defining an effective Irish operating model

The construction industry in Ireland has two challenges right now; increasing productivity and building sustainable infrastructure. Quicker adoption of MMC in Ireland can produce three clear outputs to address these challenges:

material use and reduce waste generation by at least 50 per cent.

speed up construction time and volume;

reduce the environmental impact with sustainable construction practices; and

a mitigation against inflationary pressures to improve margins.

MMC use in the Irish construction industry is currently fragmented. For greater standardisation and repeatability, the manufacturing processes and procedures need to be considered in respect to skills and capacity. As an island nation we rely on importing most construction materials. A centralised policy on building materials and components for common infrastructure such as housing would help incentivise the private sector to invest in MMC

Studies that compared modular and traditional construction methods showed that MMC could, with a clear strategy, enable a 35 per cent reduction in

Barriers to adoption: finding a way forward

Safety Safer working environment Offsite activities

methods. The most obvious barrier is the upfront, capital cost. The other key barrier is approaching MMC in housing as different to MMC in schools or energy infrastructure. Cross sector harmonisation of the collective pipeline will alleviate this. Larger state-funded capital programmes such as the new maternity hospital or MetroLink are great opportunities to develop an Irish MMC operating model. These programmes could look to collaboratively centralise the production and logistical processes with an Amazon delivery centre style approach to managing materials, off-site assembly, and delivery to site. This approach would allow housing developers to de-risk their investment in MMC practices and avail of the centralised facility and processes. The industry has already invested in digital workflows, BIM models, and information management and are ready to contribute to an MMC operating model for Ireland particularly in the design phases.

How to make MMC a viable option Three aspects will drive the adoption of MMC in Ireland; •

a national MMC strategy as an output of the governments MMC roadmap;

better formed public/private collaborations to identify capacity and capabilities; and

incentives to offset the capex burden.

Controlled environment

Delivery Off-Site Environment & Social Employ local, lower-skilled labour Reduced CO2

Strategy

35% Material reductions

infrastructure and construction report

Ireland has the necessary tools to take full advantage of the benefits of modern methods of construction (MMC). Jenna Davis, Associate Director with KPMG’s infrastructure team, discusses the barriers and opportunities of MMC.

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MMC in Ireland can offer transformative gains in productivity terms, safety, and environmental impact.

MMC

Programme Quality

20%-60% Quicker

Improve staff wellbeing Reduce number of defects Reduce revisits

On-site labour reduced by up to 70% Improved asset hand-over time

W: www.kpmg.ie

,

15%-40% Reduction

Opex

Capex

Reduced reactive maintenance

Cost certainty

Reduced energy consumption

Programmatic scale

Reduced cost with future layout changes

Standardisation and compounded benefits

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infrastructure and construction report

Recovering the cost of latent defects – contractual claims vs latent defects insurance Contractual claims and collateral warranties: How do they provide protection in the event of latent defects arising?

Maitiú Ó Dónaill, Partner, Commercial Real Estate, Beauchamps

Richard Stowe, Partner, Construction, Beauchamps.

How best to protect against latent defects in construction projects has long been a thorny problem.

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While developers may have direct contractual claims against contractors and design professionals and may extend those claims by collateral warranties to purchasers, funders, and tenants, as the market has become increasingly sophisticated a greater awareness exists as to the potential shortcomings in relying solely on contractual claims. This has resulted in increased market demand for additional protections against latent defects.

Contractual claims (under building contracts, design appointments, collateral warranties, and related agreements) are the obvious first avenue of recourse in the event of latent defects arising post completion of building work. These claims rely on the underlying contractual terms agreed with the relevant contractor or design team members concerned. Such claims will only be available to immediate counterparties to the contracts or their permitted assignees (and not to subsequent purchasers, funders, etc.). The ability to effectively impose liability and recover against responsible parties for latent defects will depend on: •

the availability of contractual rights against those parties;

the ability to prove a breach of the relevant contract (rights of recovery under a contract would usually be “fault based”);

the precise contractual terms of the relevant contract and any exclusions or limitations of liability under those contracts;

whether time to prosecute a claim is still running (under the Statute of Limitations, 1957 a cause of action for breach in this context would usually commence from the date of completion of the works for a builder or the date of issue of defective design by a designer and run for 6 years under an ordinary contract or 12 years for contracts under seal); and

the availability of funds to meet the claim (either from the responsible party’s balance sheet or via then current professional indemnity insurance cover).

arising due to a defect in the design, materials, workmanship, or supervision of contractors or site works which existed on completion of the works but were not apparent at that time. To fund rectification of such defects and consequent losses, recourse to parties responsible for them will often be sought through actions for breach of the contracts put in place for the design and construction of the property concerned. In addition to such claims, those with an

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Latent defects: What are they?

interest in property can take out latent

The term “latent”, sometimes called “inherent” defects, refers to defects

types of developments despite the

defects insurance (LDI). LDI policies are becoming increasingly popular for all additional costs involved.


In relation to the latter point, the availability of professional indemnity insurance is often relevant in the context of latent defects. Such cover will not always be available at contractually required levels when prosecuting claims for latent defects which may come many years after works are completed. Professional indemnity insurance is written on a “claims-made” basis whereby cover extends only as far as the indemnity limit established under the policy at the time a claim is made (and not the cover in place when any relevant negligence or breach actually occurred). In Ireland, the market for such insurance has recently seen some turmoil with many insured parties not being able to secure cover renewals at traditionally sought levels.

LDI: How does it work? LDI is insurance cover against loss or damage arising due to identified categories of defects becoming apparent in the design, workmanship, or materials used in a construction project. Recovery is typically limited to damage to the structure or waterproofing membrane of the insured development which becomes apparent after the contractor’s defects liability period. Unlike contractual claims they are not “fault based” so it is not necessary to prove the cause of the defect or to pursue the contractor or design team to recover under the policy. Developers who require LDI cover must engage with LDI insurers at an early stage of development to allow the insurer and its nominated assessor to begin assessing the scheme and monitoring the construction works from an early stage ensuring increased oversight during the course of the works and clarity for the insurer regarding the underlying risk and ultimate premium. A delay in engaging with the insurer may lead to an increased or loaded premium or indeed, the insurer may be unwilling to provide the insurance at all if it is not involved at a sufficiently early stage.

Claims under LDI policies (at least the LDI policies commonly available in Ireland) do, however, have certain disadvantages when compared with contractual claims, including: •

An LDI policy has the following advantages over purely contractual claims: •

LDI policies are not “fault based” so a claimant is not required to prove a breach of contract or other legal duty prior to recovering under the policy; LDI policies are issued by a suitably rated insurer and, therefore, the financial strength of the contractor or design team is not relevant to a claimant;

LDI policies are a common feature in most other jurisdictions and will give comfort to foreign institutional purchasers, tenants and funders.

LDI policies are expensive and the cost/benefit analysis for a developer incurring those costs is not always immediately clear. As purchasers, funders and tenants are, however, increasingly more sophisticated and global, an LDI policy is often viewed as a “must have” rather than a “nice to have” when offering a development for sale/letting, particularly for mixed use or commercial developments;

LDI policies generally do not cover certain categories of loss such as loss of rent, loss of profit or other consequential loss or otherwise will have indemnity limits on such loss and other types of claim.

Conclusion Latent defects are an unfortunate reality in property development. The turbulence of the property market over the last two decades has shown how contractual claims against contractors and designers can be fraught with difficulties either due to insolvencies in the sector, complexity of claims or changes in the professional indemnity insurance market. LDI policies while adding to the cost of delivering a project can be important in terms of maximising the success of the scheme, whether in terms of delivering the best funding option or the most advantageous purchaser/tenant. When considering the appropriate form of insurance on any project specialist insurance advice should be taken and the detailed terms of any policy interrogated to ensure that

LDI policies cover latent defects that arise in the structure or waterproofing membrane only and not latent defects that arise in other parts of the development such as fit-outs, plant, machinery and equipment (although policy extensions can sometimes be purchased for an additional premium);

whatever route is taken delivers the best

LDI policies generally are written with extensive lists of indemnity exclusions which must be carefully considered; and

Richard Stowe

results in terms of value for money and

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LDI policies typically run with the development for the duration of the cover and are therefore, not limited to a certain number of permitted assignments; and

infrastructure and construction report

“Developers who require LDI cover must engage with LDI insurers at an early stage of development to allow the insurer and its nominated assessor to begin assessing the scheme and monitoring the construction works from an early stage ensuring increased oversight during the course of the works and clarity for the insurer regarding the underlying risk and ultimate premium.”

risk cover.

Maitiú Ó Dónaill Partner, Commercial Real Estate T: +353 (0)1 4180600 E: m.odonaill@beauchamps.ie

Partner, Construction T: +353 (0)1 4180600 E: r.stowe@beauchamps.ie 83


Enabling transitions – Emerging trends in infrastructure 2024

Project Ireland 2040: infrastructure and construction report

Inflation curbs 2022 construction efforts

The 2022 update on the implementation of the Project 2040 infrastructure programme paints a largely positive picture for the strategy’s progression, but with economic challenges having manifested in 2022, significant work remains to be done. The Project Ireland 2040 Annual Reports for 2022 outlines that the volume of output in building and construction in 2022 was 9.7 per cent lower that the production level found in 2019, pre-pandemic. In terms of construction (excluding civil engineering), the volume of output in 2022 was 9.9 per cent lower relative to 2019. With regards to the residential sector, the volume of residential output decreased by 27.5 per cent between 2019 and 2022. The report further outlines how this relative decrease in construction output was caused by the spike in inflation which took place after the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. However, leading economists, including The New York Times’ European economic

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correspondent Peter S Goodman, have argued that global rates of inflation are primarily down to supply chain challenges which took place during and in the immediate aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, with many global haulage firms having become defunct in that time and global logistics entities having become dominant in the sector, resulting in less reliable supply chains with less options for transport for importers for good across sectors. Inflation was then accelerated by the Russian offensive in Ukraine which resulted in disruption to fuel supplies, further increasing the cost of importing building materials. The report outlines the impact of these spikes in inflation, stating that, in the 12 months to December 2022, there was a 16.2 per cent


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increase in the wholesale price index (WPI) of building and construction materials.

infrastructure and construction report

“2022 saw significant increases in the cost of energy and electricity, with electricity and energy products as measured by the WPI increasing by 10.4 and 10.7 per cent respectively in the 12 months to December 2022,” the report explains.

Inflation and supply chains With inflation cited in the progress report as the top challenge to overcome if infrastructure projects are to be delivered as planned, the delivery of new procurement practices is said to be a top priority if supply chains are to be opened up. In January 2022, the Office of Government Procurement published amendments to the public works contracts to reflect inflation pressures that arose on construction materials throughout 2021. The report states: “These changes reduced the fixed price period in the contracts, introduced a provision to permit contractors recover material price inflation in excess of 15 per cent within the fixed price period and allowed for the tender price to be adjusted to reflect for an increase above the defined background inflation level in the Central Statistics Office ‘all materials’ category of the Wholesale Price Index between the tender submission date and the award of contract.” These amendments applied to those contracts whose tenders were received after 18 January 2022. In May 2022, the Department of Public Expenditure, NDP Delivery and Reform introduced the Inflation/Supply Chain Delay Cooperation Framework for parties engaged under a public works contract with the objective of safeguarding public projects that were already under construction and to mitigate the risks of significant losses being sustained by contractors. The report outlines that government departments have reported that in the majority of cases parties are engaging and that agreements have been entered into. In spite of the downtick in residential output observed in 2022, the report claims that this level of engagement has facilitated “the progression of works” and has “avoided substantial delays” to completion by bringing a “greater level of certainty to contractors as to the extent of their exposure to inflation in material and energy costs”.

Analysis Although the Project 2040 report for 2022 paints a pessimistic picture for the state of construction in Ireland, the Government will take solace in that figures released in January 2024 show that building commencement in 2023 rose to almost 33,000 homes. However, with the Parliamentary Budget Office having said that inflation is not likely to be back to government target levels until 2025, it is unclear whether there will be enough of a mitigating factor in the subsequent increase in construction which took place in 2023 to curb the continuing rising prices and resultant housing crisis which continues to blight Irish society.

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infrastructure and construction report

Housing Agency Projects and Procurement: Providing more services than ever before engineers, quantity surveyors, and project managers who provide professional and technical support and advice. We have assisted in excess of 50 AHBs and 10 local authorities since Housing for All commenced. This was achieved through the team expanding by over 100 per cent in that timeframe. We continue to attract construction and design professionals for key roles. We work closely with other services within The Housing Agency and stakeholders including the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and many others involved in public procurement and housing delivery, aiming to ensure that the information and technical assistance we provide is up to date and beneficial.

Norman Jackson, Senior Procurement and Projects Advisor in The Housing Agency.

The Housing Agency procurement unit aims to provide technical and professional services and support to local authorities and approved housing bodies (AHBs) in the delivery of homes within sustainable communities, writes Advertorial

Norman Jackson, Senior Procurement and Projects Advisor in The Housing Agency. The procurement unit was enhanced and expanded in response to the Government’s Housing for All Action Plan as published in 2021. Having worked as Senior Procurement and Projects Advisor with responsibility for the unit since its formation, I have seen the significant impact the team has made through their extensive knowledge and expertise. The residential 86

construction sector is currently going through a transition period, with a greater emphasis on innovation and sustainability and it is therefore an exciting sector to be involved in. Outlined below is a cross-section of the breadth of the work undertaken by the team. Our team is made up of architects,

Our projects team has expertise, and experience in the planning, design, and construction of social and affordable housing. We can assist and support through all stages and sizes of housing projects, which is particularly important to smaller AHBs or those with specialist care requirements, and who may not have in-house technical expertise. We also provide sketch designs and feasibility studies for a wide range of projects. These include large inner-city urban developments, refurbishment, and conversion of existing buildings. The procurement services that our team offers covers the various requirements of the Capital Assistance Scheme (CAS) process. This includes budget estimates and cost plans, advice on procurement strategy, assisting with procurements and assessments to ensure processes comply with the Capital Works Management Framework (CWMF), compilation of contract documents and general procurement advice. We can also assist local authorities and AHBs in


the establishment of frameworks for contractors, consultants, or other technical services.

We have a particular interest in the Town Centre First initiative to support and enable local authorities and AHBs to bring life back into towns and villages across Ireland. Town Centre First is a government policy launched in 2022 and aims to give our towns the tools and resources they need to become more viable and attractive places in which to live, work, visit, and run a business. Our part in this is done through assessment and design to refurbish vacant buildings and redevelop derelict sites.

MMC is used to describe a range of offsite manufacturing and innovative onsite techniques that provide alternatives to traditional construction methods. The benefits to adopting MMC include safer and more efficient delivery of construction projects, high quality homes, increased sustainability, and affordability. We are working with the Department of Housing and the Housing Delivery Coordination Office in supporting local authorities across the country to deliver social and affordable

Completed development in Knocknaheany, Cork, as part of the City North West Regeneration in Cork City.

“We have a particular interest in the Town Centre First initiative to support and enable local authorities and AHBs to bring life back into towns and villages across Ireland.” housing by setting up frameworks for design and build contractors, which will allow innovation in house construction through MMC. We are also focused on developing our expertise in BIM, which is a process for creating and managing digital information on a construction project over its whole lifecycle. Using BIM will be compulsory for most construction projects across all state bodies by the end of 2028. The use of BIM on construction projects allows for better collaboration between design teams and contractors, resulting in improved accuracy, efficiency, reduced risk, and greater sustainability. Our aim is to position The Housing Agency as a leader in this area so we can assist AHBs and smaller local authorities in their implementation of the BIM mandate.

At The Housing Agency, our work affects communities across Ireland, and the team can see the work it carries out making a real and tangible impact. Projects such as building social and affordable housing, domestic violence refuges and homeless accommodation all play a role in the delivery of the Government’s Housing for All Action Plan. The housing sector is fast paced, but it needs to be, to keep up with how Ireland is changing. Our team strives to constantly be at the forefront of policy and innovation in the sector. I am optimistic that the delivery targets can be met by industry across many different delivery streams over the coming years.

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The Government’s Housing for All Action Plan calls for increased innovation in construction. The use of modern methods of construction (MMC) and building information modelling (BIM) has been adopted in the industry as the need for more efficient and sustainable development increases. These innovations will be critical in ensuring the delivery targets set out in Housing for All are met. The Housing Agency has been tasked with promoting and assisting in the delivery of social and affordable housing using MMC. To this end we have developed a guidance document for the use of the design and build public works contract for local authorities and AHBs, as it allows for more innovation and the use of MMC through a public procurement process.

infrastructure and construction report

Our projects section is mainly architectled, with support from other technical professionals. We primarily focus on the development of early-stage feasibility studies for projects, with a limited number being carried through to completion and handover. We have worked with many different specialist service providers including those providing accommodation for those experiencing homelessness and domestic violence, as well as homes for older people and those with additional needs.

E: info@housingagency.ie W: www.housingagency.ie 87


infrastructure and construction report

Enabling transitions – Emerging trends in infrastructure 2024

Need for improved infrastructure review process

In its annual review for 2022, the Major Project Advisory Group (MPAG) states that one of the top challenges for the completion of major infrastructure projects is that of project appraisal. The report calls on the National Investment Office (NIO) to issue an interim advice note strengthening capital appraisal guidance advice on cost forecasting. In order to ensure maximum efficacy, the report claims that the emergence of

The Major Projects Advisory Group (MPAG) has made a suite of recommendations with the objective of improving the review process and maximising efficiency in the construction of major infrastructure projects. 88

best practice for forecasting and derisking large capital projects will inform the development of this advice note. Where possible, the report says that independent reviews of the projects’ base costs by two separate reviewers should take place, and where possible cost ranges should be included.


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Recommendations for improvement

This process includes reducing the volume of material submitted and reviewed to improve the process, including a traffic light system of red, amber, and green to determine whether questions from the group on areas of concern were satisfactorily addressed, or whether matters raised to the MPAG have not been satisfactorily addressed following submissions of responses. Another recommendation by the MPAG is for greater engagement and scrutiny of external assurance reviews. This includes adding a bilateral discussion between MPAG and external reviewers as an agenda item to the full review meetings for proposals and greater consideration of the external reviews submitted as part of the project proposal. The focus of MPAG, the report asserts, should remain on external assurance processes and engagement with relevant departments where challenges arise. The report also recommends adding external experts from an alternate panel on a rotating basis, which is states will allow the MPAG to “draw from their experience and knowledge for specific projects”. “When MPAG was established, a small panel of alternate members was formed who may be called upon from time to time to fill vacancies which may arise, or to augment the group in certain circumstance. It is proposed that one member of the alternate panel would be added to the group for each future review,” the report says.

Learnings from reviews The report states that project building and construction estimates in terms of costs, inflation, and risks, were often outdated by the time the project was

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To improve the review process, the report calls for a streamlining of the response document which each department must complete in response to questions from the MPAG on components of their submissions.

submitted to the external assurance process (EAP) and MPAG process. Given the time lag between when a draft preliminary business case is prepared, and when it is submitted to the reviewer as part of the external assurance process (EAP), the report asserts that PBC estimates and forecasts can become grossly outdated in terms of the costs, inflation, and risks include, among other areas, delays to the process seeing increases in cost estimates. To alleviate this, the report recommends that a summary page outlining the updated cost forecasts should be attached to the PBC submitted to the EAP and the MPAG, as well as setting out details such as base cost, risk analysis, sensitivity, benefit to cost ratios, etc. The report further states that cost estimates do not always adequately account for risks to the scope and delivery programme and inflation. Early cost forecasts, especially at preliminary business case stage, are inherently challenging, due to the nature, scale, long delivery horizons, and complexity of major capital projects. The report recommends that sponsoring agencies and approving authorities ensure that investment costs brought to government are as accurate as possible and estimates should be, as far as possible, based on outturn costs of comparable projects.

Wider conclusions The report says that progress has been made via the introduction of a process which has been put in place to ensure this quick turnaround and this allows the Group time to adequately appraise the project proposals and carry out a comprehensive review. However, the MPAG also says that this process could be improved further by measures such as streamlining the response document which departments complete, having greater scrutiny of the external assurance review, and adding in alternate experts to the group on a rotating basis. 89


infrastructure and construction report

Building a more secure future in the face of climate change

Av

construction to some 100 schemes. Work to protect 80 per cent of all at-risk properties nationally is completed or underway. To date, 55 schemes have been completed, which are providing protection to nearly 13,000 properties and an economic benefit to the State in damage and losses avoided estimated to be in the region of €1.9 billion – significantly higher than the €1.3 billion the overall plan is projected to cost.

The Athlone Flood Alleviation Scheme is nearly complete and will offer protection to over 500 properties in the Midlands town.

In its recently-published Climate Action Plan 2024, the Government outlined in stark terms the implications of the situation Ireland and the world finds itself in. Among the predicted impacts of climate change are a substantial increase in the frequency of extreme weather, including more intense storms and rainfall. “These more frequent heavy precipitation events will create greater likelihood of serious groundwater, river, and coastal flooding.”

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For the Office of Public Works, the words ‘preparation’ and ‘adaptation’ are key to its approach in meeting this generational challenge. In 2018, the OPW completed the Catchment Flood Risk Assessment and Management (CFRAM) Programme – Ireland’s largest and most comprehensive study of flood risk. CFRAM is recognised internationally as “an excellent example of flood mapping that can be used for emergency action plans”. That is the assessment of the US State Department which, when examining 90

standards used in flood mapping specifically related to developing emergency action plans, made contact with the OPW for advice on progressing its own mapping project. The CFRAM Programme included detailed assessments of flooding and impacts for potential future climate change scenarios, as well as under current conditions for 300 communities around the country that are home to approximately two-thirds of the population and 80 per cent of properties potentially at risk from rivers and seas. Flood Risk Management Plans (FRMPs), an output of the CFRAM Programme, provide the evidence for a proactive approach for designing and constructing flood relief schemes, delivery of which is supported by €1.3 billion through the National Development Plan to 2030. This investment has allowed the OPW to more than treble the number of flood relief schemes at design, planning, and

Behind the enormous figures are the people impacted by serious flooding events and whose lives are changed by the work being conducted by the OPW. Harry Waterson, a retired engineer living near the banks of the Shannon in the centre of Athlone, says: “The psychological impact of flooding is not really appreciated until you actually have to go through it yourself and see all your lifetime’s efforts literally floating out the front door.” Among the traumas suffered in 2009 and 2016 by Waterson and many of his fellow Athlone residents were the geysers of sewage, which under pressure from the volume of flood water, repeatedly blew manhole covers open and coated surrounding streets. As soon as the local authority cleaned it up, it would happen again. Incidents like that – the destruction of property, rowing a boat down the street to retrieve treasured possessions from your home, the need to man pumps on rota for 24 hours a day to fight back the flood waters – all have a corrosive effect on one’s peace of mind. Projects like the Athlone Flood Alleviation Scheme, which at the time of writing is 96 per cent complete, are restoring people’s faith that they can live in their homes and run their businesses without undue fear of being flooded out of them again. The Athlone scheme is one of five – along with Templemore, Springfield,

OP ori


A view of part of the flood defences in Fermoy. On top of the wall are receptacles for demountable barriers which are applied when a flood is anticipated. Water levels can exceed the height of the kiosk on the street.

OPW workers applying finishing touches to the flood defences in Athlone which complement the original 1840s limestone finish on the quays.

Demountable barriers were applied to the flood defence walls in Mallow on December 26 during Storm Gerrit, preventing serious inundation in the north Cork town.

Morell, and Glashaboy – on track for completion in the next three years, representing an investment of approximately €100 million.

planning application for a viable scheme must then be undertaken over an extended period. This largely unseen work can take many years to complete.

Plainly, much work remains to be done but delivery of this essential infrastructure is subject to numerous challenges, many of which are outside the control of the OPW.

Along with planning objections and judicial reviews, other factors like poor ground conditions on site and limited capacity in the engineering consultancy market can also cause delays to delivery of schemes.

While the OPW’s approach to scheme delivery is based on best practice, there is no one set of criteria or certainty around the issues that can arise on any scheme, meaning that the time taken to complete a project is associated with its scale and complexity.

CFRAM was a strategic study of viable options to address flood risk for a community. In that way, the CFRAM options are best described as outline concept designs. Arising from those outlines, further detailed assessment of the flood risk including hydrology and hydraulics, design options and statutory environmental assessments to support a

In the days after Christmas 2023, as Storm Gerrit swept across the country, the flood defences in Mallow and Fermoy were called into action and local councillor Pat Hayes of Mallow, told the local media: “Given the rain that fell on St Stephen’s Day prior to the investment [in flood defences], Mallow would have been completely flooded. Now residents and business owners can sleep at night in peace.” Similar remarks could be made about the recently completed schemes in Bandon and Clonakilty.

construction on the Morrison’s Island scheme will begin in 2024. Other major schemes like the Lower Lee, Bride River, and Midleton are at various phases of design, planning, and development. The OPW is working with Cork County Council to help identify feasible interim measures for Midleton – which suffered a serious flooding event in October – as work progresses to bring that town’s proposed scheme to planning. The challenges presented by climate change have been summed up in countless publications by now, but its consequences on the ground are already clear to see. For the Government and the OPW, preparation and adaptation remain the watch words as we face those challenges and build a more secure future for Ireland.

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External factors such as planning decisions and judicial reviews, while important for due process, can have a significant impact on the time taken to deliver schemes.

County Cork represents a good example both of the excellent results that have been achieved in building flood defences and the challenges that remain in completing the job.

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A view of part of the Clonakilty flood defences featuring the vertical stone finish typical of west Cork.

T: 046 942 6000 E: info@opw.ie W: www.gov.ie/opw www.floodinfo.ie www.waterlevels.ie

The €39 million Glashaboy Scheme is in the construction phase now and 91


Enabling transitions – Emerging trends in infrastructure 2024

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Build 2024: What to expect

Published in the summer of 2022, the Build 2022 report is said to have played a key role in informing the stakeholders which comprise the Construction Sector Group (CSG) on skills requirements for the sector. eolas Magazine looks ahead to Build 2024 and what to expect from the upcoming publication. Build 2024 is set to be published, according to the Department of Public Expenditure, NDP Delivery and Reform, in Q3 2024. While it remains to be seen what the contents of Build 2024 will be, it is expected that the report will be shaped by the uptick in building commencements recorded in 2023, as well as challenges outlined by groups such as the ESRI (as acknowledged by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar TD) that the Government’s construction targets in Housing for All need to be significantly increased.

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Employment and enterprise Enabling the transition of the workforce of the construction industry will be an important objective being sought by construction industry stakeholders. At the time of the publication of Build 2022, there were approximately 159,300 construction sector employees, representing 6 per cent of the State’s labour market. Of these workers, only 8 per cent were females. With the likely uptick to come from government for increased housebuilding, one can assert that


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there will be increased focus on increasing the number of construction workers in Ireland.

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The most recent figures on construction from the CSO show that, in Q3 2023, a 9.9 per cent decline was recorded in the volume of production, and that the volume of building and construction fell by 4.9 per cent on a quarterly basis.

Costs and inflation At the end of 2023, the Parliamentary Budget Office projected that inflation will not be in line with the Government’s targets until 2025 at the earliest. Other government reports have demonstrated the level of disruption that has been caused to the construction sector in Ireland, with inflation having been on the rise since the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions, and then being accelerated following the disruption to fuel observed in the aftermath of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. According to the Central Statistics Office, inflation in the State decreased in 2023, from 8.5 per cent recorded in February 2023, to 3.9 per cent, recorded in November 2023. In the fuel sector specifically, there was a 7 per cent increase in demand for wind energy which has led to a decline in demand for gas. With inflation currently decreasing while construction costs continue to increase (see page 98), Build 2024 will, construction stakeholders hope, allow the industry to chart a pathway to bring down construction costs and enable the Government to deliver on its Housing for All objectives.

Skills and capacity Build 2024 is likely to continue the journey set out in its preceding publication to continue the expansion of apprenticeships to equip more workers with construction skills. The Government, citing a study from SOLAS, has asserted that there will be consistent increases in the number of workers utilising construction apprenticeships. With the framework to remain similar, it is likely that the focus will be on expanding the number of people with skills, with he sector facing a high level of demand for workers, again due to the likely increase in construction to be placed by government as Housing for All adapts to an Ireland with an increasing population while renters and house buyers do not yet have adequate access to affordable housing. In addition, modern methods of construction will likely have an enhanced focus. Modern methods of construction ensure that there is an enhanced level of knowledge among construction leaders about construction materials, scheduling, planning, sustainability, and BIM/data analysis. With the Government facing higher demands to meet its climate targets in the Climate Action Plan. The EPA has warned that Ireland is not on track to meet its climate targets, and the residential and manufacturing sectors account for close to 20 per cent of the State’s emissions.

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Making Ireland proud: Delivering the National Broadband Plan on budget and on schedule

eolas Magazine sits down with T.J Malone, CEO of NBI Deployment, responsible for building Ireland’s new national fibre network. Advertorial

In January 2020, National Broadband Ireland became the winning bidder to deliver the Irish Government’s National Broadband Plan. Widely recognised as one of the most ambitious and complex telecom infrastructure rollouts in the world, Ireland’s NBP is the biggest investment in rural Ireland since electrification. In this special infrastructure and construction report, eolas Magazine meets with T.J Malone, the head of NBI’s build company – NBI Deployment – to discuss the company’s progress on this vast megaproject. 94

Can you tell us a bit about your background that led you to NBI and what your current role heading up the build of the National Broadband Plan entails? For over 25 years now, I have been leading the design, procurement, and construction of some of the largest fibre network deployments in the world, which

has taken me to North America, the Caribbean, the UK, and of course large projects here at home in Ireland. Constructing any largescale infrastructure comes with a certain amount of pressure and in some cases, I have headed up workforces of up to 3,500 people. I guess you could say I cut my teeth working on numerous ambitious builds before joining the team here at National Broadband Ireland to take on what is arguably one of the most interesting and transformational network builds in the world right now. As CEO of NBI Deployment, I have built the team responsible for surveying, designing, and building the network for the National Broadband Plan, which will ultimately serve over 1.1 million people across every county in the country. It is a vast project, spanning over 96 per cent of the country’s land mass, using enough cable to circle the world four times over. As you can imagine, it is


also an extremely complex network build, working across all kinds of terrain in some of the most rural parts of the country – including many offshore islands.

We have really hit our stride with the pace and predictably of the rollout, which is testament to the dedicated work of everyone involved in the NBP. That is not just our team, but our partners, everyone in the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications, local authorities, and the many associations that we work closely with to expedite our rollout. The size and scale of the NBP has never been seen in Ireland before, which has meant we have had to develop and mobilise a number of significant processes and ways of working, particularly with the support of the local authorities. After starting work with boots on the ground in January 2020, unsurprisingly the first couple of years were incredibly challenging because of disruptions caused by the pandemic, but we have worked very hard to get through the other side. Today, we have over 80 per cent of the rollout surveyed and passed through our detailed design process, which is vital work. We have around 70 per cent of the entire project completed with construction or currently under construction, which is the final stage. Most importantly, that means over 215,000 premises can place an order to avail of services on the new NBI network.

We hear from the Government that NBI is on budget and on schedule, is that right? That is right. In January, we completed our most recent contractual year and were pleased to report that the project is

Demand for the network is evident. We are seeing take-up rates above 50 per cent in areas where the network has been live for more than 18 months, which is significantly ahead of our original projections and all other international comparisons. This is testament to the Government’s leadership on the NBP and their policy to provide high speed broadband to 100 per cent of the population, no matter how rural or remote someone may live or work.

This is a project that will not just make people’s everyday lives easier, but it will enable a huge array of technological advances across education, healthcare, agriculture, and other key sectors. The National Broadband Plan will ultimately make Ireland the first country in Europe to provide high speed fibre broadband to 100 per cent of the country, and I believe we are creating the blueprint that other nations will want to follow.

Visit www.nbi.ie to find out more and register to receive updates on the rollout specific to your Eircode.

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Furthermore, we have completed the install of 955 broadband connection points (BCPs), which are public facilities where free high-speed internet is now available, and we have connected some 672 schools.

on budget and on schedule. As someone who lives in a rural community, I know full well that for those people who are still waiting, it cannot come quick enough, but that just shows how broadband has now become a vital utility that we all rely on. We are working tirelessly to get the job done as quickly as possible and no one will be left behind.

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You are now just over four years into the build, how are things going?

“Today, we have over 80 per cent of the rollout surveyed and passed through our detailed design process, which is vital work. We have around 70 per cent of the entire project completed with construction or currently under construction, which is the final stage.”

How do you view the importance of the NBP in relation to other major infrastructure projects? It is incredibly rewarding to know that we are responsible for reshaping Ireland’s infrastructure and empowering current and future generations with high-speed connectivity. It really is transformational for people’s lives. 95


Waterford Airport to be expanded

Credit: Tom Nolan

infrastructure and construction report

Enabling transitions – Emerging trends in infrastructure 2024

The sight of Aer Arann ATR 72s landing from destinations in Britain and the European mainland was a frequent occurrence at Waterford Airport until 2012.

As the Irish aviation industry recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic, officials at Waterford Airport are optimistic of a return to commercial operations with work to extend its runway receiving a major funding boost. Waterford Airport, like most of Ireland’s regional airports, has struggled to recover since the onset of the 2008 recession and the subsequent collapse of the privately owned regional airline, Aer Arann. The airport has handled no commercial traffic since 2016, after Belgian airline VLM Airlines ended its operations. At its height in 2008, the airport handled 144,000 passengers, and offered services to Bordeaux, Faro, Málaga, and Amsterdam, as well as UK routes such as Birmingham, London Luton, and Manchester. The limitations with the runway length meant that these routes could only be operated through turboprop aircraft such as the De Havilland Canada Dash 8, the ATR42, and the ATR72. On 1 December 2023, Comer Group

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International, following its owners’ purchase of the airport in 2022, announced that it would invest €12 million into the airport. This investment will cover almost half of the €25 million total cost. The runway is expected to be extended by 854 metres and widened by 15 metres. The upgraded runway would therefore measure 2,287 metres long and would be 45 metres wide. Planning permission for this project was granted by An Bord Pleanála on 4 February 2022, and was originally intended to be completed before the end of 2022. The goal of this project is to allow for jet aircraft such as the Boeing 737 and the Airbus A320 to land at the airport, which could open the possibility of Ryanair (which was founded in 1985 operating a single route between Waterford and London Gatwick using a single Embraer

110) and Aer Lingus being able to establish routes from the airport. Fine Gael Senator John Cummins, a former member of the board at Waterford Airport, welcomed the news of the investment, and said that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar TD “has been a vocal supporter of our goal to develop a runway in the southeast capable of servicing the main aircrafts of choice by most major airlines”. Cummins added: “I have always believed in the ability of Waterford Airport to offer the essential direct connectivity to the region that we require to grow our business and tourism offer. The runway expansion project ticks a huge number of boxes and would undoubtedly drive the propulsive growth envisaged for Waterford in the National Planning Framework.”



Enabling transitions – Emerging trends in infrastructure 2024

infrastructure and construction report

Hard and soft price increases driving construction cost uptick The average cost of delivering a three-bedroom semi-detached house in a multi-unit scheme ranges from €354,000 to €461,000 dependent upon location. The majority of this cost is made up of hard costs such as construction materials, which cumulatively increased by 0.3 per cent in 2023. Research collating the covering seven regions by the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland (SCSI), published in December 2023, found that the cost of delivering a three-bedroom semidetached house in a multi-unit scheme ranges from €354,000 in the northwest region (counties Mayo, Roscommon, and Leitrim) to €461,437 in the Greater Dublin Area (counties Dublin, Kildare, Meath, and Wicklow). This maximum price in the GDA represents a 24 per cent increase since 2020, when similar SCSI data found the average to bring such a house to market was €371,111, meaning that the average price to build a house in the cheapest region of the State in 2023 is now 95.4 per cent of the most expensive region’s average price in 2020. The findings mean that the minimum annual household salary required to purchase a new three-bed semidetached house in the GDA is €126,555 when government schemes such as Help to Buy and the First Home Scheme are excluded and the loan to income (LTI) ratio is 3.3. The corresponding figure for the northwest is €84,545, with other figures reaching as high as €114,545 in Galway and as low as €86,881 in the midlands region, 98

defined as counties Tipperary, Westmeath, and Offaly. The most recent of the Central Statistics Office’s (CSO) Survey on Income and Living Conditions, published in February 2023, found that the median nominal disposable income for households was €46,999 per annum. Hard costs – such as materials, housebuilding costs, and labour – comprise 53 per cent of overall delivery costs, with the remaining 47 per cent comprised of soft costs such as land prices, margin levies, financing costs, and VAT. Hard costs ranged from an average of over €198,000 per house in the northwest to over €227,000 in the GDA, a 15 per cent differential; soft costs ranged from €156,000 in the northwest to over €233,000 in the GDA. While hard costs outweigh the soft costs overall throughout the State, this balance is flipped in the GDA, where soft costs account for 51 per cent of costs and hard costs for the remaining 49 per cent. The significant increase in the average price of building a home in the GDA is attributed by the SCSI to increases in both hard and soft costs, which increased by an average of 27 per cent

(€49,000) and 21 per cent (€41,000) respectively. Land and acquisition costs are said to average at 13 per cent of overall delivery costs per unit across the State. Land and development costs average €78,962 per unit in the GDA and fall as low as €44,543 per unit in the northwest, with the proportion of the overall cost land and development costs account for 17 per cent in the GDA to 13 per cent in the northwest.

Material costs The SCSI states that increases in hard costs are driven by increases in energy, fuel, and building materials price inflation. The Banking and Payments Federation Ireland, in its Housing Market Monitor Q3 2023, states that Irish construction costs increased by almost 23 per cent from the end of 2019 to the third quarter of 2023, having increased by just 9 per cent between 2015 and 2019. The CSO’s wholesale price indices for building and construction materials reflects these findings, with materials key to the construction of new homes seeing significant increases during 2023. The December 2023 indices


Find out more www.kpmg.ie/infrastructure Cost of providing new private housing per unit on average by region, 2023 € 450,000 € 400,000 € 350,000 € 300,000 € 250,000 € 200,000

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€ 150,000 € 100,000 € 50,000 €0 Greater Dublin Area

Cork

Galway

Northeast

Northwest

Southeast

Materials

Siteworks

Professional

Development

Utility

Land

Finance

Margin

Mid lands

Source: SCSI

Construction materials index, 2023 (2015 = 100) 210 200 190 180 170 160 150 140 130 120 January

February

March

April

May

June

July

August September October November December

Stone, sand, and gravel

Cement

Ready mixed mortar and concrete

Concrete blocks and bricks

Other concrete products

Structural steel and reinforcing metal

Rough timber

Machined, treated engineered timber

Bituminous macadam, asphalt and bituminous emulsions

Electricial fittings

All other materials

All materials

show cement prices to have increased by 6.2 per cent on annual basis; stone, sand, and gravel prices to have increased by 8.4 per cent; ready mixed mortar and concrete prices to have increased by 7.1 per cent; concrete block and bricks prices to have increased by 6.5 per cent; and plaster prices to have increased by 7.3 per cent. When annual averages for 2022 and 2023 are compared, these price increases can appear starker again, with the annual average for plaster in 2023 showing an increase of 24.2 per cent from the 2022 average, cement showing a 16.8 per cent increase, and

structural steel fabricated metal showing a 24.8 per cent increase. Some relief will be found in the dropping of timber prices, both rough and machined, with rough timber prices falling by 6.3 per cent on an annual basis and machined timber prices falling by 18.1 per cent. Rough timber’s 2023 average price showed a 15.2 per cent decrease from its 2022 average price, while machined timber’s average price fell by 8 per cent in 2023. Decreases such as these and that of ‘other’ structural steel and reinforcing metal (down 23.4 per cent and 27.1 per cent on an annual basis respectively)

Source: Central Statistics Office

balance out the overall indices, meaning that all materials cumulatively saw their prices increase by just 0.3 per cent on an annual basis. In its capital goods price indices, the CSO records the building and construction price (i.e. materials and wages combined) as having increased by 2.7 per cent on an annual basis in December 2023. The average building and construction price in 2023 was 5.2 per cent higher than the 2022 average, making house prices unlikely to decrease in the short term while the cost of constructing them continues to increase. 99


infrastructure and construction report

The LDA: Supporting the creation of thriving communities

Shanganagh, Shankill, Dublin.

The Land Development Agency (LDA) is a commercial, State-sponsored body established in 2018, created to coordinate land within public control to provide

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affordable and social homes and build communities across the nation. The Agency’s purpose is to maximise the supply of affordable and social homes on public land in a financially sustainable manner, supporting the creation of thriving communities and delivering ongoing positive social impact.

306 affordable cost-rental homes;

91 homes that will be available for purchase under an affordable purchase scheme; and

200 social homes.

Key projects in construction phase includes:

Delivery of the first homes in Phase one is on track for end of Q3 2024.

Shanganagh, Shankill, County Dublin Shanganagh was the first project to be backed by the LDA, which was established by the Government to unlock state land for new homes and improve the supply of new homes throughout Ireland. At Shanganagh the LDA will deliver 597 homes in partnership with Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, the first partnership of its kind. The 597 new homes consist of: 100

St Kevins, Cork The LDA is repurposing this well-known Cork landmark into an attractive residential development with a mix of social, affordable, and private homes. With the support of Cork City Council, a Strategic Housing Development planning application was approved by An Bord Pleanála in 2021. The planning application documentation can be viewed here: http://stkevinsshd.com/

Planning was granted in November 2022 for the advanced infrastructure followed by full SHD permission in March 2023. The project aims to deliver 266 (46 houses and 220 apartments).

Devoy Barracks, Naas, County Kildare The Devoy Barracks located on John Devoy Road, to the southwest of Naas Town Centre, and immediately to the west of Kildare County Council’s headquarter offices and associated car parking area. A strategic housing development planning permission was approved in October 2022 for the development of the Devoy Barracks site is for the construction of 219 new affordable homes. Construction has begun on phase one of the development, which comprises of 42 new terraced houses and 56 new duplex units. Andrews Construction Ltd was the


infrastructure and construction report

Cromcastle, Dublin 5.

successful tenderer and has been appointed by the LDA to deliver the first phase of this exciting new housing development.

Donore Project, Dublin 8 Constructed in the 1950s, St Teresa’s Gardens was one of the largest public housing complexes built by Dublin City Council (DCC). The LDA, in partnership with DCC, has brought forward development plans for the subject site which extends to circa 1.8 hectares and is located adjacent to the Coombe Hospital, Donore Avenue and is approximately 2km from Dublin city centre. An Bord Pleanála was granted permission in June 2023 for the development of 543 new homes, a crèche, commercial/retail space, community/cultural/arts space, and associated public open space. For more information, please see: https://donoreproject.ie/

Clongriffin, Dublin 13

The development will be one of the biggest single state housing projects in decades that will have a transformative impact on the area. As part of the delivery at Clongriffin on an overall basis, a key focus has been the identification of an element of the consented development that can be prioritised for early delivery for much-

Castlelands, Balbriggan, Dublin An Bord Pleanála granted planning permission to the (LDA) in early 2023 for the construction of a €290 million 817 unit residential scheme for Balbriggan in north Dublin. This strategic housing development site is located at Castlelands in the townlands of Hampton Demesne, Kilsough North and Balbriggan, County Dublin. The site is 25.33 hectares in size. The proposed development consists of 817 residential units, public open space and crèche facility.

Hacketstown, Skerries, County Dublin An Bord Pleanála granted planning permission to the (LDA) in early 2023 for the strategic housing development at this site located at Hacketstown in the townlands of Milverton, Townparks, and Hacketstown, Skerries, County Dublin. The subject lands are accessed via Golf Links Road to the south and Ballygossan Park phase one to the north. The site is bound by the Dublin– Belfast railway line to the west, the Golf Links Road to the east and south, and by individual houses to the east and south. The application site is 6.7 hectares. The development consists of a total of 345 residential units consisting of a mix of houses, duplex units, apartments and a crèche, ranging in height from two to four storeys. The development also includes surface and undercroft car

parking, provision of site services and infrastructure works including hard and soft landscaping, public open space, and internal link road. Delivery of the scheme will be phased with 176 units (including crèche) in phase one, and the remainder of the scheme in Phase 2. The LDA are now seeking to carry out a procurement competition for the design, construction and delivery of Phase 1 of the development, commencing post grant of planning and running through to delivery of the various tenures.

Cromcastle, Dublin 5 A project in partnership with Dublin City Council (DCC), The Cromcastle Project is a new scheme that will deliver 146 affordable and social homes to Dublin 5. The development will be delivered over three blocks. Blocks range in height from three to eight storeys, this includes community/cultural spaces. The development will also include public open and communal amenity spaces with new landscaping, ancillary car and cycle parking, and all necessary above and below ground infrastructure to facilitate the proposal with undercroft level to incorporate residents’ car parking.

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In late 2023 the LDA acquired a large site from NAMA next to Clongriffin Dart Station. This comprised the Project Capital North site and also the Barina Lands, and has the potential in the future to deliver about 2,300 homes.

needed affordable housing, while a strategic review of the overall landholding can be carried out.

The project followed the temporary Part VIII exemption process, which seeks to accelerate the delivery of public housing, and in partnership with DCC will commence construction by the end of 2024.

T: 01 9103400 E: info@lda.ie W: www.lda.ie

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Housing supply targets ‘understate need’

There is a high likelihood that the Government’s targets for housing supply “might understate need” given the stronger than expected increase in the population seen in the recent release of results from Census 2022, a report has found. Published in January 2024, The National Development Plan in 2023: priorities and capacity report by Alan Barrett and John Curtis of the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) finds that, although there are capacity constraints which limit the output available in the housing sector, that increased housing output “should dampen the price of existing houses and rents”. The report adds: “Any increase in the costs of new building arising from increased investment could be offset by an easing in housing costs.” In addition to population increases, the report outlines that there are other

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challenges which contribute to the need for increased supply. These include the relative strength of the economy compared to those of Ireland’s EU neighbours, meaning that there is a higher demand placed on the homeowner market as more homeowners “seek to buy their own home, or upgrade into better quality housing”. In the report, however, it is unclear how many houses are required to be constructed per annum. The report was published with construction figures based on the Government’s commencement of new unit figures for 2022, which was 29,851. This figure has a broad consensus of being

insufficient despite exceeding Housing for All targets. However, the commencement figures for 2023, published in the aftermath of the ESRI’s report, show a commencement figure of 32,801. The ESRI informed the Government’s construction targets in Housing for All, and in a 2020 study called for an annual construction figure of between 30,000 and 35,000 homes per annum. The ESRI analyses that there are a number of factors which are likely to increase pressure on the housing markets, both in homeownership and in the private rented sector. On high levels of inflation and


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subsequent increases in interest rates by the European Central Bank (ECB), the ESRI states that the increase in inflation has prompted monetary authorities globally to tighten monetary policy by increasing select policy rates.

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“Increasing interest rates has an almost immediate impact on housing demand via an affordability channel,” the report explains. A key policy target within Housing for All is construction of an average of 33,000 units per annum, reaching a maximum of 40,500 new units by 2030. However, the ESRI states: “It now appears likely with more up-to-date demographic data and given the increase in inward migration particularly associated with the war in the Ukraine, that this figure is too low and will likely be revised upwards.” Taoiseach Leo Varadkar expressed a belief that the upward revision of the targets “makes sense” in January 2023.

Other sectors With the ESRI study examining Ireland’s infrastructure more broadly, it too makes note of Ireland’s energy, transport, healthcare, and education sectors. On energy, citing targets in areas such as the Climate Action Plan, as well as the suite of energy policies currently in place, the ESRI states that there is a need for the State to transpose energy transition targets into levels of investment in terms of euros, but also in terms of labour inputs.

“Departments will be engaging with my officials in the coming months to ensure that capital projects have funding allocated up to 2026.” PENDR Minister Paschal Donohoe TD

“Combining likely labour needs for onshore wind, offshore wind, solar PV, conventional generation, and energy efficiency, it is estimated that the annual additional employment requirement would be approximately 24,000,” the report states. On the transport sector, the report, echoing a report by the OECD which found that Ireland’s transport system is “car dependent by design”, says that there is a need for “truly transformational policy with a focus on sustainable mobility at a system level”. “In that context, even if the 2:1 expenditure ratio favouring public transport over new roads is maintained, the roads element of expenditure should be based on design which includes active travel modes,” the report asserts. On health and education, the main challenge, according to the ESRI, is the higher-than-expected population growth which can put higher demand on resources in these sectors. “The pace of population ageing presents particular issues for healthcare, especially with regard to long-term care. So, while the basic policy framework is in place and identifies the needs for investment in acute, primary and community care, the required scale and geographic distribution of the investment is likely to be evolving,” the report analyses on healthcare challenges. On education, the report adds, in addition to population growth challenges, “many school principals rate school facilities poorly”. “Investment in digital infrastructure is also needed in education if stated policy ambitions are to be realised.” Responding to the report, Minister for Public Expenditure, NDP Delivery and Reform, Paschal Donohoe TD was reluctant to commit to spending increases which would invariably be necessary if recommendations were to be implemented by the Government. He added: “Departments will be engaging with my officials in the coming months to ensure that capital projects have funding allocated up to 2026.”

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Respond: Delivering large scale, mixed-tenure developments in Ireland

Elanora Court, Long Mile Road Development.

In the face of Ireland’s housing crisis, Respond, a construction-led approved housing body (AHB) and service provider, is pioneering an innovative approach to housing development and placemaking in urban areas.

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Respond has approved plans to move forward with the construction of large-scale mixed-tenure developments across Dublin, including sites in Charlestown (590 homes), Tallaght (502 homes), Clonburris (318 homes), and Donaghmede (397 homes). The first 1,800 of a total 2,906 total homes will be built across these four sites. These projects will split approximately 50:50 between cost rental and social homes.

A new era in housing: large scale, mixed tenure developments The developments will be the first large-scale mixed-tenure schemes delivered by an AHB in 104

Ireland, with the first homes due to be completed by September 2024. With 1,508 homes already in construction, this will bring the number of homes Respond has in construction to 4,414, expanding the value of its construction programme over the next 12 months to €2 billion. Respond will leverage its large development and property team’s expertise to oversee and deliver these developments. In addition, the organisation is well placed to successfully deliver and manage these developments with over 40 years of housing management experience and a 92 per cent tenant satisfaction rate according to a Behaviour and Attitudes Survey undertaken in 2023.


Cost rental

The urban village placemaking approach: building communities By integrating social and cost rental homes, we aim to create diverse and inclusive communities. Respond offer both social and cost rental homes as ‘lifetime homes’ providing tenants a secure and affordable long-term tenancy. The cornerstone of Respond’s strategy is the urban village placemaking approach. This concept focuses on creating small, integrated neighbourhoods within larger urban areas, designed to be pedestrianfriendly and diverse. These urban villages combine housing, shops, workplaces, parks, and recreational facilities, fostering a vibrant street life and reducing the need for long commutes. Key characteristics of the approach include:

Human scale: Designed to be walkable and human-scaled, meaning they are built to a size and scale that feels comfortable for people, rather than for cars or large-scale infrastructure. Mixed-use development: These areas typically combine housing, shops, workplaces, parks, and recreational facilities in close proximity. This mix encourages a vibrant street life and reduces the need for long commutes.

“Respond’s vision extends far beyond the realm of quality construction. Their housing model advocates for ‘lifetime homes’, ensuring secure, affordable long-term tenancy.” •

Community focus: Public spaces, like squares and parks, are central to the design, encouraging social interaction and community activities.

Diverse and inclusive: A variety of housing types are included to accommodate a diverse population.

Lifetime homes: a commitment beyond quality construction Respond’s vision extends far beyond the realm of quality construction. Their housing model advocates for ‘lifetime homes’, ensuring secure, affordable long-term tenancy. This vision is reinforced by the presence of on-site staff, dedicated to providing high-level, professional services to tenants, and fostering community engagement and development. This will include: •

tenant involvement and support as needed;

developing and improving public spaces;

Tenants have recently moved into a new 153 home development at the new Respond development Elanora Court on Dublin’s Long Mile Road. Elanora Court brings affordable living to a new level, with bright, well-designed modern homes located close to many great amenities and easy links to public transport. The development was designed to offer spacious, modern living and built with comfort, safety, and wellbeing in mind. The development includes landscaped gardens, seating and play areas, Community Hub and a permanent on site Respond staff member. Respond will work with tenants to determine how to best use the shared community space and develop a programme of events based around the community that live there. As well as being superbly located, Elanora Court features homes built to a quality that is second to none. All of the homes have an impressive A BER rating, making them highly efficient and environmentally friendly.

helping people feel connected to their community; and

Elanora Court

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Respond were among the first AHBs to deliver cost rental homes. The cost rental housing model is designed to provide secure, affordable housing for people, with rents set at a level that covers the cost of the construction, management, and maintenance of the new homes. Here rents are set at a minimum of 25 per cent below the market rents in the area where the homes are located offering a long-term secure and affordable home. The success of this tenure is crucial in responding to the needs of many households who do not qualify for social housing supports and find it hard to access affordable housing to rent or buy within the private sector. In November 2023, Respond received 575 applications for 13 new cost-rental homes in Swords in just three days, emphasising the high demand for such secure, affordable homes.

working with local businesses and community groups.

T: 01 808 7700 E: info@respond.ie W: www.respond.ie 105


Infrastructure Guidelines replace Public Spending Code Published in December 2023, the Government’s new Infrastructure Guidelines set out value for money guidelines for the evaluation of public investment projects, replacing the Public Spending Code and the interim changes introduced in March 2023. The Infrastructure Guidelines will act as the new centralised source of guidance from government for the completion of capital projects in Ireland, refreshing the requirements for such projects, reducing the number of approval stages, and streamlining the requirements for major projects, while “retaining the international best practice governance and oversight arrangements already in place”.

Key changes Key changes have been made in various areas of the process in order to streamline project applications, including the introduction of shorter form strategic assessment informing the development of the preliminary business case at approval gate one. Minimum thresholds for projects have also been increased: those needing a detailed project brief and procurement strategy (approval gate two) have been increased from €10 million to €20 million; and the threshold for Major Projects Advisory Group (MPAG)

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assessment has been increased from €100 million to €200 million. External assurance process and MPAG assessment for major projects will be focused on approval gate one, but the guidelines state that MPAG will be able to compel projects with which they are unsatisfied to revert for further pre-tendering scrutiny where warranted. The final business case (approval gate three) remains in place, stipulating that the case includes: •

final confirmation of the strategic relevance of the investment proposal and detailed specification of the objectives of the proposal;

the detailed business case as set out in the planning and design phase and as confirmed by the tendering process;

economic and financial appraisal using updated information from the tendering process as necessary;

Credit: William Murphy.

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Enabling transitions – Emerging trends in infrastructure 2024


Find out more www.kpmg.ie/infrastructure re-examination of affordability within existing resources and with particular reference to the mediumterm exchequer capital envelope for projects funded from voted expenditure;

full risk assessment and consideration of remaining optimism bias;

detailed delivery schedule;

benefits realisation plan; and

evaluation plan.

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Timeliness With long timelines and delays in decision-making a common complaint with regard to capital projects in Ireland, the Infrastructure Guidelines state that there is a “necessity to ensure that projects are delivered in a timely manner and that there are no unnecessary administrative delays hindering this”. Changes that have been made within the Infrastructure Guidelines in order to streamline the process include the approving authority performing consideration of the strategic assessment prior to further development of the business case and further clarity on the roles of the approving authority and the sponsoring agency, with the sponsoring agency given “primary responsibility for evaluating, planning, and managing public investment projects within the parameters” of the guidelines. Clarity has also been provided on requirements within the preliminary business case in an attempt to demystify the process and allow applicants to understand it before application, informing would-be applicants of the elements required within, which include: •

confirmation of the strategic relevance of the proposal and detailed specification of the proposal’s objective;

description of the shortlist of options to deliver said objectives;

demand analysis and description underlying assumptions;

climate and environmental performance assessment;

appraisal options, such as financial and economic appraisal and sensitivity analysis;

affordability assessment within existing resources;

risk assessment;

proposed approaches to procurement, implementation, and operation;

assessment of delivery risk;

key performance indicators monitoring and assessment plan; and

recommendation for the approving authority.

Changes in this regard are manifold, with further details on the procurement strategy now required, including considerations of supply chain capacity and appetite, risk management approach, and how value for money will be achieved. Climate and environmental performance assessments will be required to include greenhouse gas emissions projections and resilience forecasting for the project. An assessment of construction productivity requirements, particularly in relation to modularity will also be required. With objections a constant challenge with such large infrastructure projects, business cases are now required to include consideration of likely objection levels within the planning process.

Strategic assessment The Infrastructure Guidelines now stipulate that an applicant must carry out and submit a strategic assessment of their proposal to the approving authority before a preliminary business case for the project is developed. The strategic assessment will set out: investment rationale; objectives; strategic alignment with government policy; preliminary demand analysis; and the longlist of potential options. The introduction of the strategic assessment stage is similar to the strategic assessment report and Decision Gate 0, which had been introduced in the Public Spending Code but removed from the process by Circular 06/2023. The new strategic assessment stage is, however, designed to a lighter-touch process, with the approving authority and accounting officer given an earlier say in the preliminary business case development. Thus, while not constituting a full decision gate, this stage allows the approving authority to remain informed of a project’s progress at an earlier stage and request amendments, thereby avoiding situations where a sponsoring agency allows an unsatisfactory project to progress towards a decision gate.

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Construction outlook: Dissecting 2023 and expected trends in 2024

To best describe the current state of affairs of the Irish construction sector, the phrase “cautious optimism” comes to mind. Rhona Henry and Harry Healy of Matheson take a closer look at some key trends in construction throughout 2023 and what we can expect as we venture forth into 2024.

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We also take a helicopter view of the types of transactions encountered in 2023, and those we expect to see emerging in 2024.

Emerging sense of optimism For many in the construction industry, 2023 was a challenging, if not difficult, year. Cost and material inflation remained persistent challenges and Dublin office vacancy hit its highest point since 2013. Supplier stress and skilled labour shortages provided further headaches. However, as 2023 drew to a close, so too did the lingering sense of foreboding in the industry and a new sense of optimism has slowly and quietly emerged. CIF’s Outlook Survey for Q3 2023 saw over half of construction companies 108

surveyed feeling positive about the health of the sector heading into Q4 and only 11 per cent feeling pessimistic. Similarly, a BNP Paribas report shows that business sentiment is at a seven-month high. Employment in the sector grew in December 2023, further demonstrating confidence in the industry. Recent reports demonstrate legitimate reasons for this positivity. Euroconstruct have forecast that Irish Construction output will expand by 4.4 per cent in 2024 – the largest forecasted growth in Europe and the Banking and Payments Federation Ireland’s latest Housing Market Monitor estimates completion of 32,000 housing units in 2024, meaning the national target should be met, if not exceeded. Arguably the largest contributor to a lacklustre 2023


was inflation and interest rates. However, the trends are slowly but steadily moving in the right direction. The Central Bank’s latest bulletin forecasts a gradual decline in inflation. This can be felt in the industry. Construction material prices moderated towards the end of 2023. Further moderation in material prices is expected through 2024, allowing developers to progress plans with relative certainty around costs.

What we saw (2023)

Forecasted multi-building developments are also beginning to work their way out of the difficulties encountered with the planning system. We also noticed an uptick in the refinancing of assets at the tail-end of 2023 particularly in the context of assets not yet completed or where the related defects liability period was still running.

What we foresee (2024) With some improvement in availability of materials and more cost certainty, the 2023 growth in construction/development financing/refinancing is expected to continue in 2024. While this has been most noticeable, to date, in the residential and student-accommodation sphere, we have also seen steady work with respect to mixed-use space developments.

Alison Bearpark, Partner, Construction and Engineering, Matheson.

“Arguably the largest contributor to a lacklustre 2023 was inflation and interest rates. However, the trends are slowly but steadily moving in the right direction... Construction material prices moderated towards the end of 2023. Further moderation in material prices is expected through 2024.” lowest scoring buildings over time. Property owners and tenants may well find themselves in a position where their property must be renovated or redeveloped to avoid the threat of becoming a ‘stranded asset’.

Rhona Henry, Partner and Head of Construction and Engineering, Matheson T: 01 232 2110 E: rhona.henry@matheson.com

Keep calm and carry on strong

Alison Bearpark, Partner, Construction and Engineering, Matheson T: 01 232 2218 E: alison.bearpark@matheson.com

The future certainly looks brighter than it did during much of 2023. While inflation and supplier stress remain critical issues, we appear to be moving in the right direction. The forecasted growth in the industry is welcome. Nevertheless, challenges still lie ahead.

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Fit-out/refurbishment and alteration projects look likely to be another feature of the market in 2024. The new challenges that are anticipated to arise out of the long-awaited revision of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive will certainly be one of the drivers behind this growth. While not yet in force, this recast directive looks set to introduce more onerous regulatory efficiency standards for new and existing buildings in the EU and encourage member states to renovate their building stock. The main objective of the recast directive is to have all new buildings emission-free by 2030 and have the existing building stock transformed into zero-emission buildings by 2050. The latter of these objectives is set to be achieved by a gradual, bottom-up approach to improving the energy performance of existing buildings. This means the staged phasing out of the

Rhona Henry, Partner and Head of Construction and Engineering, Matheson.

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Despite many economic pressures being felt, 2023 nevertheless saw some noteworthy transactions take place. Multi-building and multi-use, campus style developments continued to progress. This progression was not restricted to residential but included commercial and retail spaces.

Harry Healy, Construction and Engineering, Matheson T: 01 232 2439 E: harry.healy@matheson.com W: www.matheson.com

Matheson’s Construction and Engineering team look forward to once again engaging with clients and stakeholders this year. Should you have any questions in relation to anything discussed, please do not hesitate to contact a member of our team. 109


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Enabling transitions – Emerging trends in infrastructure 2024

‘Challenging’ demand for construction workers The Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science has launched the Careers in Construction: Action Plan, aiming to ensure that the Government meets the estimated 23,000 annual demand for new construction workers. Published one year on from the Report on the Analysis of Skills for Residential Construction and Retrofitting 2023-2030, which claimed that the Government will need to ensure that there are at least 23,000 construction workers recruited annually in order to meet retrofitting targets, the action plan revises this figure to a need for 50,831 new entrants into the wider construction sector. The report also highlights a shorter-term challenge for craft professions, with an estimated shortfall for 2023-2025 of 4,483 such professionals. Noting this, the action plan states: “The requirement – at just over 30,000 new

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entrants – is much greater than the requirement for the other skills, and the combination of the pandemic and low growth in new housing prior to 2018, has had an adverse impact on the numbers of apprentices registering, and qualifying as craft workers.”

Bridging the gap A working group established amid the publication of the Report on the Analysis of Skills for Residential Construction and Retrofitting, 2023-2030 has found that there are age and gender challenges which, if alleviated, could contribute to an accelerating of the meeting of labour


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demand in the construction sector.

More women (73 per cent) than men (57 per cent) acknowledge “an issue with female access to construction apprenticeships at second level”, with the report outlining that gender differences were evident in a student survey carried out by the working group, with only 18 per cent of girls reporting a good understanding of the construction apprenticeship compared with 42 per cent for boys. The report asserts that the “low level of understanding of the industry amongst girls” impacts their career decision making, with only 24 per cent positive about pursuing a career in the construction sector compared to 49 per cent of boys. Additionally, parents of senior cycle students, according to the action plan report, “overestimate their understanding of the sector and many incorrectly hold the view that girls are afforded the same access to opportunities”. Attitudes pose a major challenge to bridging this gap, as outlined by the fact that, according to the report, parents (76 per cent) and senior cycle students (54 per cent) continue to view apprenticeships as “more suitable to less academic school leavers”. In addition, the report finds that parents and students continue to associate the industry with on-site work while a majority of parents (76 per cent) see a

Social attitudes play an apparent role in preventing women from accessing careers in construction, with 76 per cent of parents seeing working in the industry as a more suitable environment for men while 70 per cent hold the view that it is unsuitable work for people as they get older, from the age cohort of 50-60 and upwards.

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The working group states that there are “notable differences” between women and men regarding attitudes to the construction sector.

career in the sector as a financially unstable option.

On recruiting women into construction, the report explains that women have only been 10 per cent of the construction workforce in recent years. This ratio is also reflected in the CSO’s Gender Balance in Business Survey 2021 where, in construction, just 9.5 per cent of the senior executives are women, a percentage that falls to just 4.5 per cent for directors. In reference to these statistics, the report asserts: “The construction sector needs to address this [gender] imbalance but by addressing it and removing the other barriers to careers in construction noted in this report, a pathway to ensuring a successful industry into the future can be found.” From collaborative stakeholder engagement, the report also asserts that employers recognise that the sector has a challenge with attracting and retaining staff, with a prominent view in business that the key barriers to attracting new workers are “a lack of promotion in schools, disinterest, job insecurity, and an unwillingness to work hard”.

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Credit: Rory Moore

infrastructure and construction report

Tunnel vision

Egis operates Ireland’s Motorway Operations Control Centre on behalf of TII in a facility employing intelligent traffic systems and communications technology.

Steve Preece of Egis in Ireland explains why delivering the best infrastructure solutions must be matched with an ongoing commitment to maximising their full potential.

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As chief executive of Egis in Ireland, Steve Preece knows that designing and delivering quality infrastructure is crucial to facilitating economic and social growth that meets sustainability targets and stands the test of time. He also knows, however, that intelligent asset management and maintenance is paramount in building bigger and better in a way that can meet the future needs of communities, industry, and the planet. “When it comes to key sectors such as transport, we need to secure the value and maximise the potential of the assets we manage. At the same time, we need to deliver new and better infrastructure, but it is not just a case of delivery. To 112

get the full benefit it is vital to ensure that every existing asset is operated to the highest level of efficiency and that future assets go beyond current expectations. By doing this we can ensure they have the greatest impact for the longest time, achieving the best return on investment,” he says. When it comes to engineering and mobility service companies, Preece believes Egis is uniquely positioned. “At Egis, we share the same level of ambition for Ireland as our policymakers and we have unrivalled experience in matching ambition with delivery. Egis operates in over 100 countries with over 18,000 dedicated professionals. We are

involved in major infrastructure projects throughout the world and the expertise and insight this gives our teams means we can provide the best solutions at national and local level in the countries where we operate including Ireland.” Egis, he explains, designs, but also crucially operates tunnels, airports, water and energy infrastructure, buildings, bridges, roads, and other structures in addition to rail, bus, and active travel systems. “Our insight comes from our focus on providing end-to-end services from feasibility studies, through design and project management to handover. Meanwhile – and in a point of difference


from our peers – we can offer and have developed considerable expertise in ongoing operation, maintenance, and asset management,” he adds. The latter, Preece explains, involves optimising the use of a piece of infrastructure, and extending its life. On a day-to-day level, it is about maintaining standards and keeping infrastructure working safely while minimising disruptions.

Egis has been active in Ireland since 1994 and the business, which recently acquired JB Barry & Partners consulting engineers, now has over 600 staff across 16 offices nationwide. Egis participated in the design of the Luas system in Dublin and is involved in planned extensions of the transformative light rail service. They are active as designers in Bus Connects, and major road projects like the N/M20. The company has also operated Dublin Tunnel for TII since it opened in 2006 overseeing everything from toll collecting, to incident response, inspections, cybersecurity, asset management, and maintenance. Egis has undertaken a series of capital projects at the Tunnel including upgrades to the electrical systems, communications systems as well as current upgrades to Tolling system.

Steve Preece, CEO of Egis in Ireland, which offers end-to-end infrastructure design and operations services to clients.

“With strong national policies on transport, planning, sustainability and climate change mitigation, we stand at a time of unique opportunity to shape a better future for Ireland.” Globally, we are involved in 4,500km of road operations,” he adds. The expertise Egis offers is matched by a determination to constantly explore and deploy new technology and innovative approaches. “Innovation is central to achieving a more sustainable future including in our energy use and ongoing operations. A good example in this case is the upgrade of the Dublin Tunnel’s SCADA system, overseen by Egis which will deliver further improvements in the use of data to inform decision-making and enabling greater use of a predictive maintenance approach,” Preece says.

“We are actively involved in tunnel projects throughout the world and the experience we gain in one country can be applied elsewhere,” Preece says.

ESG principles are a central pillar of Egis’ approach. “The need to meet our own ESG responsibilities and to enable our clients to meet theirs informs every decision we make,” Preece says.

“In Australia, we operate and maintain Queensland’s tunnel network in Brisbane. In Turkey, we operate and maintain the Eurasia Tunnel, which is 5.4km long and connects two parts of Istanbul under the Bosphorus Strait.

“We are constantly exploring how we respond to the climate emergency. Over 50 per cent of our global road network, is now powered by green energy. And in Ireland, to give another example, we have reduced energy consumption in

the Dublin Tunnel by 60 per cent through measures that include the replacement of 1,800 lights with LED alternatives. No change is too small – that is why our maintenance team at the tunnel now carry out their work using electric bikes,” he says. Egis, Preece adds, is also focused on the S in ESG. “We prioritise working with the communities we operate in, engaging with local groups and supporting their work where possible,” he says. This is essential when your work involves delivering and overseeing major projects that can and should last for a long time.

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The company also monitors traffic on 1,200km of Ireland's primary road network from the Motorway Traffic Control Centre on behalf of TII. In addition, it operates 470km of motorway, which includes the Jack Lynch Tunnel in Cork, the Limerick Tunnel, and sections of the M7/M8, M1, and N25 Waterford Road.

Credit: Rory Moore

“We achieve all of this in partnership with our clients – like TII and the NTA, with whom we have been working for decades, relationships which are based on mutual trust as supportive flexible partners.”

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“It is also about continually driving down carbon emissions,” he says. “Improving climate change resilience, increasing efficiency and, where possible, lowering costs, and allowing for increased investment while reducing risk.

“Everything we do is focused on ensuring value and the greatest impact over the long term, so that is a big part of who we are and our approach,” Preece concludes.

W: www.egis-group.com

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Construction Sector Group programme for 2024 The Construction Sector Group announced its work programme for 2024, published prior to the group’s first of four meetings to take place during the year. The Construction Sector Group (CSG) has confirmed that four meetings are to be held throughout 2024, with the first having been held on 25 January, and meetings to come on 18 April, 11 July, and 24 October. With the minutes of the first meeting to be released during the 18 April meeting, it is understood that members of the group discussed an update on the Innovation Sub-Group, procurement reforms, construction skills and apprentices, and an update on Project Ireland 2040. Key items of work for the group include the publication of the Build 2024 report, typically published in the summer; the Prospects Report 2024/2025, which will provide an overview of 50 of the largest construction projects included in the Project Ireland 2040 tracker; and CSG meetings in 2024. The work programme states that meetings in 2024 “may need to change in response to feedback or unforeseen circumstances”. However, the group’s

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objective is that the core discussion topics in the form of standing items and associated cross-sectoral issues will be discussed as planned. These key items are complemented by four proposed broad themes and discussions for 2024. These are: improving regulation and public procurement; supporting innovation and digital adoption; securing the skills pipeline; and communicating the public investment pipeline. Established under the aegis of the now Department of Public Expenditure, NDP Delivery and Reform (DPENDPDR) in 2018, the Construction Sector Group aims to be a forum for regular dialogue between government and representatives from the construction industry. Chaired by the secretary general of DPENDPDR, its members include government officials, construction business representatives’ groups, and a representative from the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU).

Its establishment is aimed to be an accelerant of Project Ireland 2040, the Government’s flagship long-term infrastructure and economic strategy. The group’s remit includes: •

working with industry and government bodies to (a) benchmark and improve productivity and environmental sustainability and (b) to modernise public works delivery;

considering opportunities to introduce reforms within the sector that will help in controlling construction price inflation, improving efficiency, and delivering value for money for investment;

assessing the supply of necessary skills and measures enhancing capacity (including potential use of overseas contractors); and

challenges arising from inadequate or ineffective regulation, poor performance, and systemic poor quality.


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Publication of first NPF revision imminent infrastructure and construction report

forum, which is to be chaired by a Minister of State with the stated objective of ensuring “the participation of relevant organisations, professional bodies and technical experts in the [planning policymaking] process”. The second of these is the reconstitution of the Project Ireland 2040 Delivery Board and Co-ordination Group, which is aimed at reducing the “administrative burden in delivering major projects”.

According to A Road Map for the First Revision of the National Planning Framework, and the Housing Minister, a draft of the first revision of the National Planning Framework (NPF) will be published in Q1 2024. Recent demographic and econometric modelling projects that population increases in Ireland and demand for accommodation has been underestimated and the State may require the delivery of tens of thousands of additional homes – beyond what was envisioned in Housing for All – by 2030. As such, in June 2023, government approved the commencement of the process to revise the NPF, the document which guides Ireland’s strategic planning and development to ensure sustainable growth alongside population growth. Under the Planning and Development Act 2000, government is required to either revise, replace, or state its rationale for not revising the NPF every six years after its publication. The NPF was originally published in March 2018. Publication of the draft revision of the NPF and accompanying technical assessment, as well as a national public consultation, had been slated for November 2023 to January 2024, with amendments considered and applied in February, and final approval in March.

However, at the time of print, this has not materialised. Speaking with eolas Magazine in June 2023, Minister for Housing Local Government and Heritage Darragh O’Brien TD made a commitment to “stick to the timeframe”, indicating that the revised NPF would progress “its various stages and back to go through by the first quarter [of 2024]”. The timeframe for the first revision was included in A Road Map for the First Revision of the National Planning Framework which had four objectives: 1. provide outline of the process and the intention of the revision to the NPF; 2. inform all interested parties of the revision; 3. outline the background to the process and the timeframes for each stage of the revision; and 4. confirm the consultation processes involved in the revision. It also proposed the creation of three new engagement structures. The first of these is a planning advisory

Third, the Government claims that higher-than-expected levels of migration will drive up construction requirements. With the objective of meeting the higher-than-expected levels of population growth, a joint ESRI research group has been established which can examine “demographic and econometric modelling”. In August 2023, the three-person Expert Group for the First Revision of the National Planning Framework published its report, which is informing the preparation of an Issues Paper being developed for stakeholder consultation. To strengthen and build upon the NPF, the report recommended: 1. the new targets should be more ambitious and more clearly defined; 2. the roles of the bodies involved in its implementation should be clarified and strengthened and mechanisms put in place for more detailed measurement and monitoring of its progress; and 3. there should be greater coordination at whole of government level across all infrastructure projects and new efforts made to generate broader support for national spatial planning across all of society. In the meantime, the Expert Group asserted: “Delays in the financing, planning, and delivery of key infrastructures have negatively affected our competitiveness over the past decade, and the benefits of greater sustainability in how we live and work will be key to competitiveness in the future.” 115


The challenges of building wind farms in Ireland Building wind farms in Ireland presents several challenges due to infrastructure and construction report

regulatory, environmental, and social factors. While Ireland boasts significant wind energy potential, harnessing it effectively requires navigating these complexities, writes Colm McGrath, Managing Director of Surety Bonds.

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One major obstacle is the planning process. The planning permission process in Ireland involves extensive environmental assessments, public consultations, and regulatory approvals. This can be time-consuming and costly, often leading to delays in project development. Additionally, Ireland’s landscape is rich in natural beauty, with many areas designated as protected habitats or cultural heritage sites. As a result, proposed wind farm sites may face opposition from environmental groups and local communities concerned about the impact on scenery, wildlife, and historical landmarks. Ireland’s wind resources are abundant but variable, relying heavily on turbulent weather patterns driven by the Atlantic Ocean. This intermittency poses challenges for grid stability and energy supply reliability requiring sophisticated forecasting and energy storage solutions to mitigate risks. Moreover, Ireland’s grid infrastructure faces constraints in certain regions,

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particularly rural areas where wind resources are abundant. The country’s electricity grid was designed primarily to accommodate traditional, centralised power generation sources, such as fossil fuels. Integrating large amounts of wind power into the grid requires upgrades to transmission lines and substations to handle the variable nature of renewable energy sources and to facilitate the transmission of electricity from remote wind farm locations to urban centres. Offshore have even more development challenges. While Ireland has vast offshore wind potential developing offshore wind farms involves even greater technical, regulatory, and financial complexities compared to onshore projects. Dealing with harsh marine environments, securing seabed leases, and addressing concerns from fishing industries and coastal communities all contribute to the difficulty of offshore wind development. Additionally, there are economic considerations. While wind energy has become increasingly cost competitive in

recent years, initial investment costs for wind farm development can be substantial. Securing financing for projects and obtaining favourable terms for grid connections can be challenging, particularly for smaller developers or in the face of uncertain policy support or market conditions. In conclusion, while wind energy holds great promise for Ireland’s renewable energy transition, the numerous challenges inherent in wind farm development underscore the need for comprehensive planning, stakeholder engagement, and innovative solutions to overcome barriers and realise the full potential of this clean energy source allowing Ireland to become a net exporter of renewable energy.

T: 086 818 9702 E: colm@suretybonds.ie W: www.suretybonds.ie



Conference 2024 Wednesday 06 March • Croke Park, Dublin ORGANISED BY

Digital

Events

IN ASSOCIATION WITH

SPONSORED BY

Publications

eolas Magazine is organising its ninth annual Housing Ireland conference, which will examine the key challenges facing Ireland’s housing policymakers and senior practitioners across the sector. The conference will attract stakeholders engaged in all aspects of housing policy, funding, delivery, and management, including senior managers in the public, private, and third sectors in Ireland. The conference also has busy exhibition zone featuring Ireland’s leading providers.

Expert speaker panel includes: Darragh O’Brien TD Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage

John Coleman Chief Executive and Board Member The Land Development Agency

Fidelma McManus Partner and Head of Housing Beauchamps

Bob Jordan

Áine Stapleton Assistant Secretary, Social Housing Delivery, Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage

Chief Executive Officer The Housing Agency

Dara Turnbull Research Coordinator Housing Europe

Caroline Timmons Acting Assistant Secretary, Housing Affordability, Inclusion and Homelessness, Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage

Pat Barry

Ali Grehan

CEO, Irish Green Building

City Architect

Council

Dublin City Council

Magdalena Hajdukiewicz

Declan Dunne

Co-Director

CEO, Respond

ConstructInnovate Owen Reidy, General Robert Burns, CEO,

Secretary, Irish Congress of

Monaghan County Council

Trade Unions (ICTU)

Niall Cussen

David Duffy, Director,

Chief Executive and Planning

Property Industry Ireland, Ibec

Regulator, Office of the Planning Regulator

Mary Conway, Chairperson Irish Property Owners

John O’Connor Chair The Housing Commission

Enda McGuane John Hannigan Chair

Association

President, Society of Chartered Surveyors of

The Housing Alliance

Ireland

Exhibition opportunities available! Contact Sam Tobin on +353 (0)1 661 3755 or email sam.tobin@eolasmagazine.ie

To register: Online www.housingireland.ie

By email registration@eolasmagazine.ie

By telephone +353 (0)1 661 3755


Retrofitting report


retrofitting report

National Retrofit Plan: ‘A lot done, more to do’ Barry Quinlan, the Assistant Secretary leading the Energy function with responsibility for Built Environment, Retrofit and Heat Policy at the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications (DECC), reflects on National Retrofit Plan delivery progress in 2023. The Climate Action Plan and National Retrofit Plan set ambitious targets to retrofit the equivalent of 500,000 homes to a Building Energy Rating (BER) of B2/cost optimal and the installation of 400,000 heat pumps in existing homes to replace older, less efficient heating systems by end-2030. Ireland is aiming to be a world leader in terms of our retrofit programme. We have set ourselves ambitious targets and we are serious about meeting them, but this is also a decade long project and is an iterative process. The first half of the decade is about significant scaling up activity year-on-year.

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“The retrofits provided under the [Warmer Homes Scheme] are the best long-term approach to alleviating energy poverty.” Barry Quinlan, Assistant Secretary, DECC

retrofitting report

2023 demand In recent years, demand across the SEAI grant supported schemes has been exceptionally high and this continued into 2023 which shows:

47,952 home energy upgrades were supported – an increase of 76 per cent on 2022;

17,599 homes achieved a B2 Building Energy Rating – up 107 per cent on 2022; • 5,897 free upgrades the Better Energy Warmer Homes Scheme – up 33 per cent •

on 2022;

22,214 Solar PV Scheme domestic installations – up 122 per cent on 2022; • 67,411 applications for grant support were received by SEAI – up 34 per cent on •

2022; •

18 One Stop Shops are now registered under the National Home Energy Upgrade Scheme;

7 additional contractors (36 in total) on the Better Energy Warmer Homes Scheme; and

€324.5 million in expenditure – up 68 per cent on 2022.

Average cost of works and the average grant support provided by SEAI in 2023: • Better Energy Warmer Homes Scheme: average cost of upgrades supported

€24,000; • Better Energy Homes: average cost of works €6,883 and average grant paid

€2,935; • Solar PV: average cost of works €11,838 and average grant paid €2,344; and • National Home Energy Upgrade scheme (one-stop-shops): average costs of works for private homes €62,099; average grant paid €22,689.

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retrofitting report To promote and incentivise the demand necessary to achieve these targets, the Government has launched a package of supports to make it easier and more affordable for homeowners to undertake home energy upgrades, for warmer, healthier, and more comfortable homes, with lower energy bills.

2024 capital funding A record €437.2 million capital funding has been allocated to SEAI residential and community energy upgrade schemes, including the Solar PV Scheme, for 2024. The overall allocation will mean that the progress made in 2023 under the National Retrofit Plan will be further ramped up in 2024 and with very high applications the pipeline is strong. Of the 2024 budget, a record capital funding allocation almost €210 million has been provided to the Warmer Homes Scheme, including funding from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). The retrofits provided under the scheme are the best long-term approach to alleviating energy poverty as set out in the Government's Energy Poverty Action Plan.

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Environment, Climate and Communications in conjunction with the Department of Finance, the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland, the SEAI, the European Investment Bank, and the European Investment Fund. An agreement with the European Investment Bank (EIB) Group underpinning the new Home Energy Upgrade Loan Scheme was announced in October 2023. The €500 million scheme is the first of its kind for both Ireland and the EIB Group. Homeowners will be able to borrow from €5,000 to €75,000 on an unsecured basis for a term of up to 10 years. The interest rates will be significantly lower than those currently available on the market as a result of the combination of the EIB Group loan guarantee and a government-funded interest rate subsidy.

Testimonials from homeowners who have benefited from Warmer Homes Scheme can be found on the SEAI’s YouTube channel.

The Home Energy Upgrade loans will play a crucial role in helping homeowners to invest in energy efficiency, making their homes warmer, cheaper to run and helping to lower emissions. The loans can be used for comprehensive energy efficiency and renewable energy upgrades where those works are also being grant-aided by SEAI. These loans can be used by people who want to undertake a deep-retrofit or who might prefer to undertake individual measures, for example, external wall insulation or the installation of a heat pump.

Loan guarantee scheme

It is anticipated that the loans will be available in Q1 2024 through participating retail lenders.

The Home Energy Upgrade Loan Scheme has been developed by the Department of the

A lot done, more to do and strong momentum and commitment to get it done.


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51,000 worker shortfall to meet retrofit and construction goals 51,000 workers will need to be newly recruited and trained by 2030 if the Government is to meet its retrofitting and construction targets, a government report claims. Within the retrofitting sector specifically, the report, published by the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, outlines that almost 23,000 workers would need to be trained and recruited just to meet retrofit targets.

that its 22,779 estimate for recruitment will mostly be accounted for by the expansion of the scheme – with 18,180 workers needed to address this expansion and the remaining 4,598 acting as replacements for those leaving the retrofit workforce.

The bulk of the 22,779 extra workers needed in order to satisfy workforce requirements for the meeting of the Government’s target of retrofitting 500,000 homes to B2 BER standard by 2030 is made up of craft workers, with an estimated 12,266 needed between 2023 and 2030.

The Government is targeting 500,000 homes to be retrofitted to B2 BER standard by 2030.

A further 8,142 workers in other trades are estimated to be needed, along with 2,369 professionally qualified workers. The report, entitled, Report on the Analysis of Skills for Residential Construction and Retrofitting, 2023 to 2030, says that these new workers may be a combination of those currently employed in the industry who are seeking to upskill, or jobseekers who wish to pursue a career in building or retrofitting. Using the report’s base figure from 2019, when only 3,870 workers overall were employed to work on the retrofit scheme, the report reasons

Data from the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications and the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) states that 33,300 homes were retrofitted to such standard in the three-year period 2019-2021 and that it is expected that 14,400 will have been retrofitted in 2022. 71,300 homes are to be retrofitted to B2 standard in the three-year period between 2023 and 2025, meaning that 375,000 houses – 76 per cent of the total target – will be retrofitted in the five-year 2026-2030 period. Achieving this goal would require an increasing of the average amount of homes retrofitted per year to 75,000 during this period, which would mark a large increase on the 26,400 houses to be retrofitted in 2025 and “presents a significant challenge to the education and training system”.

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SSE AES: Making Irish homes cosier and more energy efficient systems, and electric vehicle (EV) charging points. Part of the Irish Government’s Climate Action Plan includes a national retrofit programme aiming to see 500,000 homes, one-third of Ireland’s housing stock, retrofitted to a B2 building energy rating by 2030. SSE AES is supporting the retrofit of 40,000 homes in Ireland over the next 10 years, with around 4,000 upgrades already completed. These works will drastically reduce the emissions of thousands of homes, saving millions on energy costs for consumers and making their homes warmer, healthier. Once delivered, this will equal approximately €20 million in reduced energy costs every year.

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SSE Airtricity is working with governments, local authorities, and domestic customers to support the decarbonisation of homes across the island of Ireland.

Generation Green Home Upgrade As a leading provider of cleaner, greener energy for homes and businesses across Ireland, we are all about making Ireland a more sustainable place. 124

Stuart Hobbs is the Director of SSE Airtricity Energy Services (AES), a business dedicated to delivering home energy upgrades and utilising energy efficiency technologies to deliver a cleaner greener environment. SSE AES offers home energy upgrades under a number of different government-funded programmes: SEAI One Stop Shop retrofit programmes, Better Energy Homes, Local Authority Energy Efficiency Retrofit Programs (EERP), and SEAI Warmer Homes. Up to 1.5 million homes in Ireland are in need of energy upgrades by 2050, as energy efficient buildings are essential to meet our climate action targets. These upgrades typically include external wall insulation, energy efficient windows and doors, attic insulation, heating controls, heat pumps, solar PV and battery

1. One Stop Shop: A Generation Green Home Upgrade from SSE Airtricity is the perfect way to upgrade your home. Hobbs states: “We offer an award-winning retrofit service with a full range of home upgrade options, expert project management and a streamlined grant application process. We have partnered with Ireland’s leading experts in energy efficiency upgrades. From solar PV to windows and doors, internal and external insulation, heat pumps, and EV chargers, we only work with the best. Our customers receive a free home consultation to discuss their home upgrade requirements and receive expert recommendations from our team of specialists. It is one call, it is one job, it is one point of contact.”

2. Local Authority Energy Efficiency Retrofit Programmes (EERP) SSE Airtricity has been providing home energy upgrades since 2012, working with SEAI, local authorities and other housing bodies on joint initiatives. SSE AES help local authorities deliver their


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Energy Efficiency Retrofit Program (EERP) obligations by taking a lot of the hassle and complexity away, enabling them to deliver larger projects at a better cost and with more flexibility than their own resources might allow. “Over the last decade, we have delivered significant energy upgrades to fuel poor and social housing units, and we have significant ambitions to expand and increase these partnerships. SSE AES’s award-winning service provides a full EERP turnkey solution for local authorities, managing the works from start to finish on a partnership basis with local authorities or housing bodies. We offer pre- and post-BERs, full project design, guidance and preparation and management of all tender documents to be fully compliant with EU procurement requirements, including full end-to-end project management.” SSE AES also compiles all certificates and associated paperwork for the local authorities to make a successful claim to the department. In addition, SSE offers financial support to the project in the form of energy credits generated, as well as offering bridging finance for local authority EERP projects. SSE AES has a body of retrofit contractors and resources ready and able to deliver in all 26 counties in the Republic of Ireland.

SSE AES and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council receiving their SEAI Residential Energy Upgrade Award 2023 for the Beaufort Project. (L-R): Darrell Crowe (SSE AES), Stuart Hobbs (SSE AES), Willie Walsh (SEAI), Denis O’Callaghan, (Cathaoirleach, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council), James Ryan (DLR Co Co).

3. SEAI Warmer Homes Warmer Homes is a nationwide retrofit scheme administered by the SEAI delivering free energy upgrades for households in receipt of certain

“It is cosier. There was a desperate draught from that door and that is all gone. The heat – and being able to regulate it – is wonderful. It is excellent.” Local resident of Beaufort OAP Complex in Glasthule.

Award winning service SSE AES retrofit programs received awards and recognitions over the past

few years for their various retrofit services. Last year alone SSE AES received nominations and secured wins alongside their local authority partner, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, for their upgrade to 58 units in Beaufort OAP Complex in Glasthule. These included winning the Residential Energy Upgrades Awards category at the SEAI Energy Awards 2023, the Local Authority Innovation Award category at the Chambers Ireland Excellence in Local Government Awards, and achieving the gold award in the Energy Initiative/Project of the Year at the AllIreland Sustainability Awards.

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government benefits. Energy retrofit measures delivered under this scheme include high energy efficiency heating systems, ventilation, external wall insulation, attic insulation and in some cases windows and doors – making these homes warmer, helathier, and more economical to run. SSE AES is a registered SEAI Warmer Homes contractor to deliver energy upgrades under this national scheme. SSE AES has delivered over 270 home energy upgrades under this scheme since 2020 across a range of shallow and deep retrofit measures and have recently been successfully reappointed to the SEAI 2023 Warmer Homes Contract, to continue delivering energy retrofit upgrades on behalf of SEAI over the next four years.

For further information on SSE AES programme supports, contact Stuart Hobbs on: T: 087 923 6404 E: stuart.hobbs@sse.com W: www.sseairtricity.com 125


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Modelling household decisions to adopt heat UCD energy economist Lisa Ryan outlines some of the research being undertaken to understand household attitudes to adopting heat pumps. Highlighting a context whereby many countries across the globe are targeting the electrification of heat and transport as part of national strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Ryan believes that research to help understand the drivers of behavioural change will be key to underpinning effective policy. The UCD Energy Institute is home to multidisciplinary research and brings together a mix of academic disciplines, such as economists, electrical and mechanical engineers, political scientists, and finance experts to look beyond the technical solutions that are needed for a future decarbonised energy system. The EMPowER Project sees the Energy Institute provide electricity systems modelling services to the Climate Action Modelling Group within the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications (DECC). Ryan’s work, investigating the adoption of electricityusing technologies, utilises decisionbased models to explore a range of 126

technologies from solar PV to electric vehicles, however, in this instance, she focuses on heat pumps and, in particular, the residential sector.

was the understanding of the potential for buildings to provide flexible load, as economies move into higher shares of renewables.

Electrification is widely recognised as the cleanest means to transition energy systems to renewables, but the scale of the challenge ahead can be seen in figures produced by Shell which show that the energy sector has electrified by just 2.3 per cent per decade between 1980 to 2020. In contrast, the Paris Agreement sets out that at least 8 per cent per decade will be required between 2030 to 2060.

“Our whole energy system is flipping from being one where the supply has to meet whatever demand is required, to one where the demand needs to be able to be able to flexible when the supply is not available,” she says.

“This means that between 2030 to 2050, we need to rapidly grow the rate of electrification, because, despite the emergence of other green fuels, renewable electricity is going to be a major driver of the decarbonisation of the energy sector,” explains Ryan. While Ryan’s work is broadening into the commercial sector, the initial focus was on the residential sector. She explains that underpinning this decision

“We need much more flexible electrical load on the system and electrifying heat and transport can provide flexibility and storage for times when there is not any wind.” Additionally, as Ryan explains, greater electrification poses benefits of lessening air pollution, improving efficiency, and ideally, reducing costs for households.

Early adopters However, despite these known truths, the characteristics of early adopters are not well established. The EMPowER Project employs a set of models of deep


Attitudes and behaviours towards new technology 50%

47% 43%

45%

43%

40% 35%

30%

27%

28%

26%

25% 18%

20% 15% 10%

11%

9%

8%

8% 3%

5%

8% 5%

5%

5%

7%

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0%

0% Usually one of the first to try new technology

Willing to try new Tend to hold off technology but trying new generally wait until technology until someone I know majority of people I purchases and uses know purchase and first use it Total

electrification, with three interacting modelling approaches, including the agent-based microsimulations of technology uptake. Ryan explains that these models are calibrated to Irish survey and historical data, and include the economic, social, and risk-aversion (barrier) effects that influence individual consumer decisions. “Essentially, we are modelling individual household decisions to purchase an individual technology, taking into account economic factors, social factors, and behavioural influences, such as risk aversion. The impact of behavioural influence is important, because more and more, there is a recognition that cost is not everything for consumers.” Ryan explains that a range of factors influence household decision-making, including: Spatio-technical factors: Building type, socio-demographic, household density, fuel economy etc. Economic/non-economic (monetisable): Upfront price, annual operation, and maintenance cost. Government incentives and policies, energy cost savings, and non-financial benefits such as noise reduction, aesthetics, and emissions reductions. Psychographic/behavioural: Awareness, technology interest, risk preference, and innovation attitude etc. Socio-demographic: Home ownership, education, peer effects, image etc. Ryan outlines that the research motivation was driven by conflicting evidence on factors characterising early adopters, tied into a recognition that more evidence was needed on the Irish

Have renewable technology

One of the last Prefer to use what I None of the above people to buy new have in the past technology instead of purchasing new technology

Do not have renewable technology

market, particularly in relation to heat pumps. Initial work included focus groups, online surveys, the development of accountbased marketing for each technology, and policy scenario modelling, via a nationally representative sample. The initial survey in 2018 focused on people’s awareness of renewable energy technologies (RETs) and provided some interesting results; for example, while awareness of RETs was quite high, 82 per cent of people had not installed renewable technologies at all. Solar thermal had the highest installation rate of all the technologies, correlating with the fact that this was the first technology to be awarded household government grants in Ireland. A further finding was a correlation between whether or not neighbours or peers had installed technology, with those aware of other adopters more likely to install technology themselves. Only 11 per cent of people categorised themselves as innovators, in that they said they were usually one of the first to try new technology. Whereas the majority of people (43 per cent), said that while they were willing to try new technology, they generally wait until someone they know purchases or uses it first. A further 26 per cent said they tend to hold off trying new technology until the majority of people they knew purchase and use it. As expected, early adopters tend to be innovators in their outlook, an important insight when trying to establish how best to ensure a technology is adopted on a large scale. However, not all trends are as easily identifiable, for example, 71

per cent expressed concern about the environment, yet many had not adopted any renewable technologies. Summarising a statistical analysis of findings, Ryan says: “Looking at different adopters we found that generally, the type of person most likely to invest in renewable technologies are usually younger, full-time employed males, who have a higher socioeconomic status. These people tend to live in newer residences, have higher energy uses, and have larger social networks.” Alongside these surveys, researchers also developed an agent-based model, accounting for individual heterogeneity. Applied specifically to heat pumps, the model predicts that around 12.5 per cent of the 1.76 million Irish households will install a heat pump at their home in 2030 under current price and technological conditions. This figure can reach 17 per cent depending on cost and type of heat pumps. In summary, younger households, homeowners, households in County Dublin, and households with a higher education, and a larger number of bedrooms are more likely to adopt a heat pump. However, Ryan caveats the findings by highlighting that the model is based on empirical data collected in 2018. Concluding, she says that while models are not foolproof, evidence to date highlights that attitudes to sustainability are not sufficient predictors of uptake. “Policies must help translate attitudes into pro-environment behaviour and all analyses show that monetary incentives are most important, especially in the short term.” 127


®

learning works

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Further education and training: Driving innovation for the future of construction

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As the world shifts towards a more sustainable future, it is crucial to develop the necessary skills in the Irish construction workforce. This will ensure that we meet the requirements of the construction industry’s sustainability agenda and achieve the Government’s climate action and retrofit targets in line with Ireland’s green transition. 128

The green economy presents a massive opportunity to generate jobs, upskill employees, raise awareness, and expand sustainable areas such as retrofitting, renewable energy, and electric vehicles. Given that Ireland’s future competitiveness will increasingly be linked to its ability to decarbonise, the further education and training (FET) sector is playing a vital role in driving the green transformation of the economy and society, through the development of green skills programmes.


retrofitting report

Delivered nationwide by the Education and Training Board (ETB) network, they have been designed to equip every learner with the right skills to play their part in the climate response, ultimately ensuring a sustainable future for everyone. Construction is a key part of the green skills FET provision, with a focus on training and upskilling those in the sector in the latest green technologies, such as nearly zero energy building (NZEB), retrofit, and modern methods of construction. The provision of these courses in construction is crucial to respond to the future skills requirements of the green economy to ensure that Ireland can meet its net-zero greenhouse gas emissions targets by 2050.

Contributing to building and developing the green construction supply chain, the NZEB centres of excellence provide training and upskilling in all areas of retrofit and NZEB construction starter programmes from the NZEB fundamental awareness course, right through to trade

Since the establishment of the network of centres of excellence, the NZEB and retrofit training provision has increased rapidly and has reached over 8,000 enrolments nationwide. It is clear that the demand is there with the number of enrolments having doubled in 2023. Collaboration with industry is at the heart of what the NZEB centres of excellence deliver to ensure that training is targeted to the current and future skills needs of the construction sector. All courses delivered are developed in conjunction with industry such as Uisce Éireann, Construction Industry Federation, NSAI, SEAI, National Association of Scaffolding & Access Contractors (NASAC), Civil Engineers Contractors Association (CECA), and many more. This collaborative approach with industry extends to the delivery model where many NZEB programmes are provided in a hybrid and flexible manner to accommodate work schedules of employees and employers, and to minimise the time spent off-site for companies. Many courses are available during evenings, weekends, and traditional operating hours and the theory element is delivered online when possible.

Upskilling opportunities has been further opened up to construction workers with demanding work schedules by the development of a new mobile NZEB training unit, by the National Construction Training Campus at Mount Lucas, under the provision of Laois and Offaly ETB. This innovative approach is a real gamechanger in training provision in that it has been designed to travel to construction companies and schools across the country, providing even greater flexibility in NZEB training delivery, as well as introducing students to modern methods of construction. All courses are fully funded for both unemployed and employed learners and are City and Guilds assured or QQI validated and are delivered in a flexible way for both unemployed and employed learners at little to no cost. FET continues to shift the dial in the construction sector in driving the expansion of the national training infrastructure to deliver on critical NZEB and retrofitting commitments.

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NZEB centres of excellence have been established and strategically located across the country to deliver a broad range of NZEB and retrofit courses. Funded by SOLAS, the further education and training (FET) authority, training is available in City of Dublin ETB, Cork ETB, Laois and Offaly ETB, Limerick and Clare ETB, Mayo, Sligo, Leitrim ETB, and Waterford and Wexford ETB.

specific NZEB courses suited for postapprenticeship and upskilling programmes developed for site supervisors, carpenters, plumbers, plasterers, electricians, and bricklayers.

Discover NZEB and retrofit courses provided across the country at: thisisfet.ie/nzeb Locations include City of Dublin ETB, Cork ETB, Laois and Offaly ETB, Limerick and Clare ETB, Mayo, Sligo and Leitrim ETB, and Waterford and Wexford ETB.

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retrofitting report

The HSE’s retrofitting journey Vincent Brennan, estates manager, HSE Capital and Estates’ Deep Retrofit Programme, outlines the progress being made with the programme and how other public and private sector organisations can learn from the HSE’s journey. The HSE estate is comprised of over 4,500 properties located on around 2,500 different sites throughout the State. A chartered engineer with 25 years’ experience working across the public and private sectors, Brennan has spent 11 years managing capital project delivery for the HSE, and over the last 12 months has been focused on his work as part of the climate action team. Currently, the HSE’s deep retrofit programme is undertaking a series of 10 pathfinder projects, the lessons from this will inform the wider suite of measures to be adopted by the HSE, with Brennan mooting district heating

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and geothermal as potential ways for the HSE to share the benefits of this costly exercise with other organisations.

Deep retrofit pathfinder Currently, the deep retrofit aspect of the HSE’s plan is in early stages, with a pilot pathfinder programme currently underway to ascertain the best methods to bring the scale of change needed for the HSE. Brennan outlines that there are 10 sites which encompass four acute hospitals, four long-term residential facilities, one primary care facility, and one office. He explains that the results which arise from these pathfinder projects will


Reflecting on the early stage lessons from these projects, Brennan says: “We see a lot of common themes in our buildings; we see a lot of our buildings from the 1940s vintage, and they are still in use today. “I have continually reflected on what prompted building programmes from that time. At the time, there was not much money in the State, but what we can see from our ability to build back then is that there is always a way of making things happen. We still need to figure out what our equivalent building programme will be to enable us to do a deep retrofit, but with these things, where there is a will there is a way.”

Maximising energy efficiency Brennan outlines the seven action areas of the HSE’s deep retrofit plan, explaining that he is currently focused on three of the action areas. Action area three, maximising energy efficiency, is listed as a priority which Brennan says the HSE is currently focused on. “We have set up energy teams in place which has allowed us to have started the retrofit programmes. To date, there has been a fairly reasonable return on that; there has been approximately €30 million invested in the Shannon retrofit project and there around 500 projects in total have been completed and we have seen reasonable returns on that.” Whilst Brennan is satisfied with the returns seen on the investments outlined, he nonetheless

retrofitting report

inform how the HSE approaches the changes needed in at least 100 large scale sites that will be the initial areas of focus on the HSE’s deep retrofit project.

believes that wide-scale measures based on what has been tried and tested thus far will “only get us so far in reaching our 2030 targets”. “The only way we will meet our 2030 Climate Action Plan target is with a deep retrofit. We are looking at making our energy efficiency approach more integrated rather than the architect coming in on the design and providing a box of tricks which work for the building. “We are trying to define our vision from an early stage, what we want to achieve from the building and the energy performance, we must be looking at the fabric first approach to achieving that including the building aspect where possible, and then building an environmental model for the building that we can define,” he says. “We can then see how the fabric and windows and ventilation can work, all the key aspects for a building that will make it an A-rated building in practice rather than one which works on paper but not in practice. That is key to us, we have set up our own energy efficiency design in line with the IS399 standard.” Concluding, Brennan admits that the challenge is vast, but that there is a much better understanding of sourcing the necessary finances and that the pathfinder projects will ultimately save money on the deep retrofit project. “I am very positive about what I am seeing in the HSE. There is an overarching plan there to be part of this and lead out on climate action works which are badly needed. That will give us the tools and expertise to then get on with the projects and realise their potentially vast benefits.”

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A retrofit one-stop-shop for approved housing bodies and local authorities

The Large Projects Team – Front: Tracey Webb, Mike O’Rourke. Back: Joanne Quaid, Isolda Heavey, David Ahearne, Vanesa Carolina.

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Electric Ireland Superhomes is a joint venture between Tipperary Energy Agency and ESB (Electric Ireland) established in 2021. We are an SEAI registered one-stop-shop looking after all the key stages of a home energy retrofit, from design, contractor selection, project completion, and management of SEAI grant funding to bring houses and apartments to a minimum of a B2 BER standard. Electric Ireland Superhomes’ vision is to empower our customers to achieve warmer, healthier, low-carbon homes with a renewable energy focused approach. We are currently on track to achieve our target of retrofitting over 30,000 homes by 2030. Electric Ireland Superhomes delivers retrofit solutions with the support of a multidisciplined staff of over 50 people comprised of retrofit advisors, energy engineers, surveyors, and BER assessors. We now have a dedicated team that specifically focuses on larger projects with special focus on housing owned and managed by local authorities, approved housing bodies, and non-corporate landlords. This team is led by Mike O’Rourke who has over 28 years’ experience in building services 132


engineering, with the last seven years in the housing retrofit sector and supported by David Ahearne with over 25 years in project and account management roles and experience within the retrofit sector.

For local authorities, Electric Ireland Superhomes can provide a range of services to meet their needs from a full energy retrofit consultancy service to the provision of services expected under the Energy Efficiency Obligation Scheme.

retrofitting report

The dedicated large projects team bring a wealth of expertise in planning, execution, and oversight, ensuring that projects are delivered on time and within budget. With a keen understanding of the intricacies of project management, they can effectively navigate potential challenges, mitigate risks, and optimise available resources. Their ability to anticipate potential roadblocks and implement strategic solutions contributes to the overall success of the project. Ultimately, by entrusting Electric Ireland Superhomes with the oversight of their energy retrofit programme, a local authority or approved housing body stands to benefit from enhanced efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and successful project outcomes.

David Ahearne and Mike O’Rourke.

Before Retrofit

From 2022 to date, our large projects team have been engaged by several local authorities, for the delivery of energy retrofit works of over 750+ units. Our minimum objective is to deliver a B2 post-BER rating on all homes and in 2023, 44 per cent of all our local authority houses achieved an A postBER rating. In 2024, we have been contracted by additional local authorities for their Energy Efficiency Retrofit Programme and are forecasting significant growth in this sector. After Retrofit

The process for an energy retrofit starts with an initial consultation to establish your requirements followed by a detailed house survey that includes the building fabric and heating systems. An energy report is then prepared that recommends a package of measures. Once satisfied with the

recommendations in the report, we can finalise the design of the works, prepare documents for tender or pricing, and manage the grant process. We carry out interim checks on the retrofit works in progress and a detailed final inspection once the project is completed. A health and safety file and post-works BER Certificate are provided on completion of the project.

For more information contact: David Ahearne, Corporate Account Manager T: 087 489 6572 E: david.ahearne@electricirelandsuperhomes.ie Mike O’Rourke, Head of Contracting and Safety T: 086 440 2565 E: mike.orourke@electricirelandsuperhomes.ie or E: multiples@electricirelandsuperhomes.ie

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For approved housing bodies and noncorporate landlords, Electric Ireland Superhomes can provide a full onestop-shop service that can avail of the SEAI grants for houses that were built and occupied before 2011 and have an existing BER of B3 or lower. SEAI grant supported retrofit measures include insulation upgrades (including roofs, walls, floors), replacement doors and windows, mechanical ventilation, airtightness, solar PV, and heat pumps.

Grants offered are provided by the Government of Ireland through the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI). 133


‘Refined energy performance system’ recommended retrofitting report

around the thermostat’s set point temperature during the main winter heating months. This serves as a “proxy measure” of variations in energy use for home heating across the BER scales, attributed to building fabric performance alone. The authors assert that dwellings with better BER scales are anticipated to have a shorter duration of boiler operation to maintain the indoor temperature within the thermostat set points. “The differences in observed energy performance attributed to BER scales are considerably lower than what is projected. This does not imply that upgrading dwellings’ energy efficiency is not beneficial,” they write.

Leading energy experts have argued that aligning energy efficiency investments to the achievement of a ‘B2’ BER standard is a necessary but not sufficient condition for meeting the State’s retrofitting objectives. Writing for RTÉ Brainstorm, Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) energy and economics experts Tensay Hadush Meles, Niall Farrell, and John Curtis argue that improving building energy efficiency, as measured by BER scales, leads to a reduction in energy use for home heating and an increase in home heat retention. In two studies published in 2023, the ESRI has examined the accuracy of Irish BER scales in capturing observed energy use for home heating and home heat loss. The energy experts note the results of these studies carried out by the ESRI, which show that energy performance attributed to BER scales is “considerably lower” than what has been projected and strategised for by government. “This does not imply that upgrading dwellings’ energy efficiency is not beneficial,” they say. “Instead, the 134

findings suggest that BER scales do not capture the insulative performance of dwellings as accurately as we would have anticipated.” The ESRI studies find that dwellings with better BER scales are expected to retain heat and minimise heat loss, thereby having relatively a lower drop in indoor temperature. Both studies focus on building fabric performance in isolation while excluding the influence of occupants’ behaviour on energy consumption, as factors associated with occupants’ energy consumption behaviour would complicate building energy performance comparisons. The first study looks at the drop in indoor temperature during early morning hours (midnight to 6am) of winter months when the heating system is confirmed as being turned off. The second study explores differences in boiler operation for home heating while the indoor temperature hovers

“Instead, the findings suggest that BER scales do not capture the insulative performance of dwellings as accurately as we would have anticipated. This could be due to their reliance on standardised values and their nature as aggregate measures.” The findings from the two studies, the ESRI experts argue, present “significant implications for both policy and homeowner decision-making”. “Aligning energy efficiency investments to the achievement of a ‘B2’ BER standard may lead to achieving targets at greater costs than necessary. “A BER system that more accurately captures the insulative performance of individual dwellings could guide us toward a more cost-effective decarbonisation trajectory. This also affects homeowners, who factor in the change in BER, when planning home energy efficiency upgrades.” Concluding, the authors recommend that a refined energy performance system that more accurately captures the performance of each individual home could guide homeowners toward investments tailored to their dwelling’s specific characteristics. This, they say, could involve “a more data-driven approach to evaluate and identify the most suitable upgrades”.



retrofitting report

Mixed-technology approach to retrofitting rural homes could boost adoption rates not only environmentally sound, but also socially and economically viable. Recent data underscores the urgency for a range of solutions, particularly in the retrofitting sector, as oil usage in households continues to rise. As key decision-makers and influencers, it is incumbent upon government and industry to partner and deliver a range of innovative and inclusive approaches.

Catherine Hannon, Public Affairs and Sustainability Manager at Calor Ireland.

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Catherine Hannon, Public Affairs and Sustainability Manager at Calor Ireland, explains the challenges linked to the existing ‘one size fits all’ solution to heat decarbonisation. She highlights that choice and affordability are key to empowering rural homeowners to play their part in Ireland’s energy transition. Energy needs are changing in Ireland. There is a drive to reduce the environmental impact of our energy choices and to reduce carbon emissions. At this pivotal moment for meeting our climate targets, companies need to propose pragmatic solutions to

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the energy and environmental challenges that our society faces. Decision-makers and influencers must recognise that the success of Ireland’s ambitious retrofitting and decarbonisation targets lies in our ability to craft policies and solutions that are

“Choice and affordability are crucial for rural energy consumers who are located off the natural gas grid, or those living in older homes using higher carbon fuels like oil, coal and peat,” explains Hannon. “Consumers should be made aware of all options, including the benefits of using cleaner, lower carbon and renewable liquid gases in their current heating system, along with improved energy efficiency measures.” For almost 90 years, Calor has ensured that homes and businesses across Ireland – and particularly rural Ireland – have had access to clean, reliable, lower carbon energy, regardless of location. Calor’s purpose is to drive Ireland’s energy transition and create a sustainable future for generations to come. That purpose is underpinned by Calor’s achievement of the coveted Business Working Responsibly Mark in 2020, Ireland’s Environmental, Economic, Social and Governance (EESG) standard. Calor’s responsible product strategy is to ensure that the source and supply of its products becomes increasingly renewable and sustainable, to meet its


customer’s future needs. With the launch of a certified renewable liquid gas (BioLPG) in 2018, Calor demonstrated its commitment to playing an active role in Ireland’s transition to a decarbonised economy.

At present, the scale of the task risks overwhelming consumers living in rural off-grid areas, leading to disengagement and inaction. Recognising the significance of factors influencing adoption is crucial, especially when acknowledging that climate targets require behavioural changes among citizens and urgent, transformative actions in key industries such as housing, transportation, and power generation. In a recent report, Liquid Gas Ireland (LGI) analysed the latest census data and found that 46 per cent of all households are still reliant on high carbon fuels including oil, peat, and coal for heating. There has also been a national increase in the number of homes using oil since 2016. While the overall national proportion of households using these high carbon fuels has decreased slightly from 2016, the total number of housing units using oil has increased by 28,173 to 714,177.

A further consideration is the age of Ireland’s housing stock, 65 per cent of all houses were built before 2001, according to CSO figures analysed by LGI. This equates to just over 1.2 million

homes, which are typically less energy efficient and more costly to heat. This ageing infrastructure poses a substantial challenge and often requires more extensive and costly interventions. It is not just about environmental impact; it is about the economic feasibility for homeowners. “Many off-gas-grid buildings are older and difficult to electrify. For heat pumps to operate effectively, it requires the home to be well-insulated and this often requires an expensive, deep retrofit for rural homeowners and often the inconvenience of vacating the property during construction. This is not a viable option for all, therefore, solutions offered to decarbonise these households should be flexible enough to meet their needs,” states Hannon. Calor’s traditional LPG product allows rural off-grid consumers to transition from higher carbon and more polluting fuels such as heating oil, coal and peat to a cleaner and lower carbon alternative. Continuing innovation by the liquid gas sector, has led to the development of rDME, a low carbon, sustainable liquid gas which is complimenting the advances being made by BioLPG. rDME can be produced via gasification and catalytic synthesis, using feedstocks such as municipal solid waste, forest residues, animal waste,

sewage/industrial sludge, and energy crops. It offers a versatile and flexible decarbonisation route for domestic and industrial heating, cooking applications, and the transport sector. rDME can also be blended with LPG or BioLPG and used in existing infrastructure, making it a more flexible and affordable option for homeowners and businesses in off-gas grid areas. Calor advocates for a technology neutral approach to decarbonisation, which recognises that there are alternative, clean, lower carbon solutions available, including off-grid liquid gases – LPG, BioLPG and rDME. Renewable ready gas boilers combined with solar PV and moderate retrofitting measures, can also result in increased energy efficiency and lower carbon emissions, but at a significantly lower upfront cost. LPG and BioLPG can also be used seamlessly in cutting edge heating systems, such as hybrid heat pump installations. Calor is committed to partnering with policymakers, industry and consumers to achieve an affordable, progressive, and step-by-step ‘just transition’ to decarbonisation.

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“When scrutinising the data in more detail, it is clear that in some counties, especially those located off the natural gas grid, homeowners are extremely reliant on oil for heating. The LGI report shows that 66 per cent of homeowners in Donegal are reliant on oil, this is replicated across other counties too, for instance in Mayo (61 per cent), Monaghan (75 per cent), and Kerry (63 per cent).”

retrofitting report

Recent government figures suggest that the national retrofitting and heat pump targets as set out in the National Retrofit Plan, could be missed. The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) reported that 9,946 energy upgrades were completed, and 3,304 homes were upgraded to a BER B2 or higher, through government-funded SEAI grant schemes in the first quarter of 2023. By widening the choices available to homeowners, those figures could be accelerated.

T: +353 153 32081 E: Catherine.hannon@calorgas.ie W: www.calorgas.ie

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Winning the hearts and minds of residents Winning the support of residents in retrofitting transitions means that landlords and property developers must understand that a zero carbon house is not necessarily a zero carbon home, writes Emma Gilbank, vice chair of the Chartered Institute of Housing Futures (CIH Futures). Picture this: holding a hot cup of tea, you settle into your sofa, surrounded by the familiar walls of your home; a safe place despite life’s challenges. Now, imagine your landlord proposes changes to those walls, they are using terminology and technology that you are not familiar with and disrupting your life, all in the name of a greener future. Convincing residents about the benefits of retrofit and educating them on the urgency of climate change poses a challenge for housing professionals. However, there are strategies that increase the chance of success. Let us rewind; in the above scenario, housing professionals had been planning, assessing, modelling, surveying, and securing funding for retrofit work long before the resident became aware of it. Unsurprisingly, they feel a lack of control and barriers emerge. Research indicates that the ease of a task strongly motivates people, with disruption to their lives being a major obstacle. The ‘fabric-first’ approach is commonly discussed, usually focusing on the energy efficiency measures needed before a heat pump can be installed. Many factors will be assessed: the financials, the carbon savings, smart monitoring and technology, renewables, DMC, fire safety. What is often overlooked is that placing someone in a zero-carbon ready house does not guarantee a low-carbon lifestyle. Behaviour

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“Residents must be able to influence the process and be empowered to adopt the necessary behaviour changes.”

Embracing a collaborative ‘resident-first’ approach, which involves residents in the retrofit journey, can yield co-benefits such as enhanced comfort, better health, increased resilience, and a reduced environmental impact. Residents must be able to influence the process and be empowered to adopt the necessary behaviour changes. To effectively engage residents and drive behaviour change, three key methods of framing communications have proven successful: 1. Language: Simplify the message by eliminating jargon and explaining concepts in an easy-to-understand manner. This is harder than it sounds, retrofit itself is a word few understand. 2. Message: Make it relevant and keep it local. Do not refer to global issues or impacts. Instead, discuss the impact on loved ones and their own community emphasising the multiple benefits including reduced bills, improved comfort, and better health (all of which rely on behaviour change after retrofit). 3. Messenger: People are more likely to trust those they know: their opinion will be influenced by friends and family, their community and even what they think of the housing professional they are speaking to. We upskilled a technician as a TLO (technical liaison officer) because they knew our customers better than anyone else. If you can get someone in the community on board, even better. An argument I hear regularly from professionals is that people do not need to care about climate change, they just need to see it in the same way as home improvement works like a new kitchen or bathroom replacement. They tell me about their (often older) friend or relative who would never care about the impacts of climate change and so it is not even worth trying. Instead, we should just talk of increased comfort and reduced bills. I do not deny that these messages are an important part of the puzzle but there are three main problems with this argument.

Firstly, the complexity of retrofitting means that decisions vary widely from property to property and a one-size-fits-all would not achieve the desired outcomes for resident or planet. The resident may not see an improvement to the physical appearance of the property which sells most other planned improvement works.

retrofitting report

change is crucial for actual carbon footprint reduction and increased comfort.

Secondly, those benefits rely on influencing behaviour change similarly to reducing carbon footprint: lower bills and increased comfort are not always direct result of retrofit. Thirdly, we simply do not have the luxury of leaving climate out of the conversation anymore. We will pass 1.5°C of warming in 2024, the limit, which was agreed as irreversible, harmful level beyond which tipping points would be triggered and suffering would worsen. This language and global scale might not mean much to you, but if I frame it differently it might make it clearer. Have the young people in your life seen many snow days? Do you remember playing in the snow more regularly when you were younger? Have you noticed winters are warmer and wetter? Was your community impacted by the recent storms, and did you feel unsafe? Do you think about the cost before you put the heating on? I have experienced all of these changes in my lifetime. Almost all our residents will either live to experience catastrophic climate change or their loved ones alive today will – this is no longer about future generations. Using the three tips above to try and frame conversations will mean that not only will we have residents who are more comfortable and healthier, but also who are more resilient and hopefully a society that has a safe and habitable future. Emma Gilbank is the vice chair of the Chartered Institute of Housing Futures (CIH Futures) which represents young housing professionals across the UK and Ireland. She joined the sector in 2020 after graduating from the University of Leeds, and has been shortlisted for a Women in Housing Award.

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retrofitting report

Grant supporting skills development with diversification of training

Keith Scully, Grant Technical Sales and Training.

Renowned for its innovative range of heating technologies, leading manufacturer Grant continues to support the journey towards sustainable home heating and the deployment of renewables throughout Ireland.

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Headquartered in Birr, County Offaly, Grant is at the cutting edge of innovation with an evolving product portfolio which includes air to water air source heat pumps, solar thermal panels, underfloor heating, hot water cylinders, aluminium radiators, HVO biofuel ready boilers, and condensing wood pellet boilers. The company’s award-winning Grant Aerona3 R32 air to water, air source heat pumps are being installed in social housing projects, new build developments and retrofit projects throughout the country due to their cleaner, more environmentally friendly performance, and ability to lower a property’s overall carbon footprint. To support the move to heat pump technology, Grant has diversified its education offering for 140

installers, architects, engineers and local authorities, to include heat pump focused CPD courses via its onsite Training Academy and online eLearning Academy. Keith Scully, Grant Technical Sales and Training, says: “We have seen great interest in our education offering during the last 12 months and as demand continues to increase we are working on new renewables-focused courses to launch this year. As interest in renewable technology, in particular heat pumps increases, we are delighted to be in the position to play a key role in supporting the training and development of installers, architects, BERs and engineers so that they can learn more about heat pump technology and best practice in terms of installation.”


Grant Aerona3 heat pumps Whilst air to water heat pumps like the Grant Aerona3 R32 models are commonly installed in new build properties, they are also being installed as part of a deep retrofit project in older homes.

Gorman adds: “When installing a heat pump as part of a deep retrofit, generally Grant Afinia aluminium radiators would be the selected heat emitters. The Afinia range is designed to work effectively with low temperature heating systems and pairs easily with the Grant Aerona3 heat pump range. It is essential however that both the heat pump and radiators are correctly sized and specified to ensure maximum efficiency for the property.” This is an important reason why Grant offers a heating design service free of charge for new build and deep retrofit projects. Upon submission of property plans Grant’s technical specialists undertake in-depth heat loss calculations to enable the heat pump, supporting hot water storage and heat emitters to be sized and specified correctly, to ensure a fully integrated, highly efficient heating system.

T: 057 912 0089 E: info@grant.ie W: www.grant.ie X: @GrantIRL Instagram: @Grant_IRL LinkedIn: Grant Engineering ULC

About the Grant Aerona3 R32 air to water, air source heat pump • Award winning • Highly efficient A+++ energy rating • Available in four outputs (6kW, 10kW, 13kW, and 17kW) • 13kW and 17kW models recognised by Quiet Mark for their quiet operation • Offers a superior seasonal coefficient of performance (SCOP) even at colder temperatures • Can help achieve compliance required under building regulations • Sized and specified by Grant as part of their free home heating design service • Works effectively with Grant Afinia aluminium radiators and Grant Uflex underfloor heating • Every Aerona heat pump is commissioned by Grant at no extra cost

About the Grant Training Academy Grant’s onsite training facilities are based at the company’s headquarters in Birr and include a dedicated auditorium and training suite. Both the onsite training courses, which run throughout the week and the online eLearning offering are developed and taught by Keith Scully, Grant Technical Sales and

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Grant continues to play an important role with its innovative range of heating technologies in helping homes throughout Ireland to reduce carbon emissions and become more sustainable in the journey towards a zero-carbon future.

retrofitting report

Barry Gorman, National Renewables Sales Manager at Grant says: “Installing a heat pump as part of a retrofit does pose more challenges due to the existing heating design, layout and construction of older buildings where a high temperature heating system would have been traditionally installed. Therefore, for an older building to become heat pump ready, upgrades need to be made to the building fabric and air tightness to ensure that the heat pump can work effectively and efficiently – which is a costly process.”

Training. Grant offers a diverse range of training courses both onsite and online through their eLearning academy to advance knowledge on Grant’s heating technologies, develop installation experience, and to continue professional development. To view Grant’s training courses and to book a course visit www.grant.ie/professional

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CAP24: Retrofitting targets remain unchanged In the latest Climate Action Plan update (CAP24), the Government has retained its targets on retrofitting Overall, the plan claims that it provides a “roadmap towards achieving” the State objective of halving Ireland’s emissions by 2030 and reaching net zero by no later than 2050, as government must legally strive towards under the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021. Under policy commitments outlined in Climate Action Plan 2021, by 2030, the Government is committed to:

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achieving 80 per cent of electricity demand from renewable sources;

retrofitting 500,000 homes to a BER

B2 or cost optimal equivalent standard; and •

installing 680,000 heat pumps.

Although there are no new specific objectives outlined, CAP24 nevertheless hypothesises that government must adopt new approaches to address emission reductions, particularly in areas such as retrofitting and renewable energy. It is likely that the need to innovate will be at the heart of any new retrofitting policy developments to come. The action plan document also outlines the importance of the newly established

Heat and Built Environment Taskforce, which it states will “accelerate and drive delivery in relation to retrofitting, renewable heat, district heating and decarbonisation of the building stock”. With fossil fuel prices remaining volatile, in addition to the need for their phaseout amid the State’s carbon reduction obligation, CAP24 outlines the role that retrofits can play is ensuring that there is heightened energy efficiency. Informed by ESRI analysis on the distributional impacts of increasing carbon tax, the Department for the


“This includes expenditure on a socially progressive national retrofitting programme, and agri-environment programmes, to encourage and incentivise farmers to farm in a greener and more sustainable way,” CAP24 states. On retrofitting of public sector buildings, the CAP24 document outlines that there are between 12,500 and 13,700 buildings in the public sector, including approximately 4,000 schools in the school sector and 1,000 buildings in the commercial semi-state sector. Buildings account for 44 to 50 per cent of the energy consumed by the public sector and almost half of total energy related GHG emissions. While this does not lead to new policies in retrofit, it underlines the scope for change which is achievable within the public sector. Although there are frequent challenges with public opinion and getting public buy-in for retrofitting schemes, CAP24 optimistically states that, according to data from the Climate Conversations, the majority of Irish people (73 per cent) “understand the importance of retrofitting their homes to deliver on climate action”. “Two-thirds of people have improved their attic insulation and the same proportion have improved their home insulation. Awareness of grants and supports for retrofitting is high, also at 66 per cent,” the report states.

Progress Looking back on progress made in retrofitting, CAP24 shows that the policies and measures introduced under the National Residential Retrofit Plan have led to an increase in retrofit delivery. In 2023, under the SEAI residential and community schemes, there were:

27,200 home energy upgrades supported, which represents a 79 per cent increase yearon-year;

4,438 homes delivered across the energy poverty schemes, which represents an increase of 85 per cent year-on-year; and

8,481 homes upgraded to a post works BER or B2 or better in 2022, representing a 95 per cent increase year-on-year.

retrofitting report

Environment, Climate and Communications, through CAP24, asserts that the Government has ensured that the proceeds of increases in the carbon tax are “used to protect households most exposed to higher fuel and energy costs, and to invest in new climate action programmes”.

CAP24 further outlines that progress has been accelerated by the reforms previously introduced to the National Residential Retrofit Plan, which was originally published under CAP21. The Government has a target of retrofitting the equivalent of 500,000 homes to a Building Energy Rating (BER) of B2 or cost optimal and installing 400,000 heat pumps in existing homes to replace older, less efficient fossil fuel heating systems by the end of 2030. The Government, in not updating or overhauling policies for retrofitting, has clearly asserted that the policies published in pervious iterations of the Climate Action Plan provide a satisfactory framework for the Government to meet its retrofit targets. Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Eamon Ryan TD, told eolas Magazine in October 2023 that he was confident that the Government will meet its retrofitting targets. “We are going to make this leap in retrofitting because the Irish public like it,” Ryan said. However, if the Government is to meet its retrofitting targets in the residential sector, it will need to find a way to alleviate the cost burden to working and lower-middle class people for whom existing retrofitting schemes remain unaffordable.

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Infrastructure for Good: Retrofitting for sustainable buildings retrofitting report

The climate crisis is accelerating at an alarming rate. Our buildings are significant emitters, currently responsible for 39 per cent of global energy related carbon emissions, according to the World Green Building Council. There is no credible path to net zero without significant changes to our built environment. Ireland’s Climate Action Plan, including the 2024 action plan, recognises this, calling for further acceleration of the various retrofitting programmes in place. The momentum is building across the industry to do more in 2024. The European Parliament also recognised the importance of addressing emissions from the built environment and has developed an ambitious plan, the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD), to bring the energy ratings of every building in the European Union to at least an A rating through retrofitting on a scale never before seen.

Stephen Prendiville, Partner, Real Assets, Sustainable Infrastructure Leader, Deloitte.

Advertorial

Met Éireann declared 2023 as the country’s warmest year on record by a large margin. The year saw unprecedented temperatures, surpassing records set in 2022, eleven named storms and the wettest March and July on record. These alarming statistics underscore the need for decisive action to mitigate the worst potential outcomes of climate change. 144

For years now our team at Deloitte has been helping clients understand their decarbonisation requirements, and energy efficiency opportunities, helping to analyse client situations, design roadmaps, all to support clients’ decision-making. However, often the constraints of time and resources (human and capital), stand as barriers for even those clients most committed to action. At Deloitte, our goal is to make an impact that matters. Providing analysis and support for clients up to a point, is simply not enough when we need to make such a dramatic shift in our society for climate action. So, drawing together our skilled professionals in real estate, corporate finance, sustainability, people and business operations, and infrastructure delivery, we have created a holistic, end-to-end, buildings retrofit solution. Building owners can engage with our team and not only receive a tailored retrofitting programme that is cost optimal and EU taxonomy aligned for green/sustainable finance, but we will


also raise the necessary finance for the works and execute the programme.

“Of the approximately 124,000 commercial/office buildings in Ireland according to SEAI, we believe our solution could be a very strong fit for a large portion,” says Stephen Prendiville, Deloitte’s Sustainable Infrastructure Leader. “The solution is collaborative in nature. We need building owners to reach out, and our team is ready to engage and take that bold action together.” Prendiville knows what it takes to deliver complex projects. He spent nearly a decade in Canada and the US, working for major cities such as Toronto, Edmonton, and Los Angeles, major state and federal authorities and large private industry, delivering critical disruptive infrastructure programmes.

Prendiville returned to Ireland in 2020 and joined Deloitte as a Partner in late 2023, focused on sustainable infrastructure solutions, as part of Deloitte’s continued commitment to making a significant impact in climate action and sustainability this decade.

Prendiville joins Deloitte’s real assets team, which brings together experienced professionals in debt and corporate finance, infrastructure planning and delivery, business case analysis, economics, procurement, project managers, financial modelling, valuations, chartered surveyors, real estate, and chartered town planners, among others. The expertise of our real assets team has positioned Deloitte as thought leaders on delivering sustainable infrastructure. As an example, Deloitte supported Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Energy, Environment, and Sustainability and Economist Impact to develop the Infrastructure for Good Barometer. This first-of-its-kind research initiative aims to drive awareness of the broad-based benefits of smart and responsible infrastructure, establish what “good” looks like and create a roadmap to enable better decisionmaking for infrastructure delivery. In Ireland, we scored in sixth place, with a score of 65.5 out of 100, with plenty of room to improve, particularly in being more deliberate about wider community outcomes from our infrastructure programmes.

With Infrastructure for Good as our guide, and our commitment to making an impact that matters, we are constantly striving to ensure that the expertise and professionalism of our people is engaged in the most critical challenges of the day. Deloitte’s retrofitting solution for sustainable buildings is only one example of the innovative and critical solutions that our teams are delivering for clients every day. Together, we can play a pivotal role in mitigating climate change and creating a more sustainable future.

Stephen Prendiville Partner | Real Assets Sustainable Infrastructure Leader T: 01 417 1379 E: sprendiville@deloitte.ie W: deloitte.ie

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“Even before we had the language of the sustainable development goals, most of my clients in North America had that implicit understanding that there is a delicate balance between economic, social, and environmental sustainability. From 2016 on, alignment to the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement became foundational aspects of our work in urban development, public transport, and social infrastructure delivery.”

retrofitting report

We have team members that can even help with the people and operations aspect of the housed business, ensuring in for example, a floor-by-floor approach, that the day-to-day business functions are least impacted as the programme advances. Time, resources, and business continuity concerns need not be a barrier any longer. Indeed, in most instances we can structure the programme to repay the financing and professional services from the energy savings created through the retrofitting programme. Following the retrofitting programme, the building owner in most cases will receive a nearly net zero building (saving on potential carbon costs anticipated through the European ETS), with energy volume related savings between 50 per cent and 90 per cent.

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conference report

Energy in Transport Forum Colin O’Hanlon, Indaver; Caoimhín Ó Ciaruáin, Department of Transport; Gail Kinkead, Energy Ireland; Neil Walker, Walker Energy Consulting; Mike King, Irving Oil; and Lucien Mattieu, Transport and Environment.

The Energy in Transport Forum, sponsored by Indaver, took place in Dunboyne Castle Hotel on 8 February 2024. The event brought together over 130 key stakeholders and focused on the use of energy by the transport sector and how we can increase the amount of renewable energy used, either directly or through electrification. Expert speakers included Caoimhín Ó Ciaruáin, Department of Transport; Shane McDonagh, International Energy Agency; Lucien Mattieu, Transport and Environment, Brussels; Teresa Fallon, Zero Emissions Vehicles Ireland; Colin O’Hanlon, Indaver and Emer Barry, Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland. A massive thank you to our conference exhibitors, speakers and delegates who joined us and made the conference a huge success.

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Fran McFadden, Gas Networks Ireland asks the panel a question.

Caroline O’Reilly and Sinead Leonard, Iarnród Éireann.

Naoise Greenwood, Department of Transport and Jennifer Sherry, Transport Infrastructure Ireland.

Teresa Fallon, ZEVI, Department of Transport addresses delegates.

Delegates visit the Flogas exhibition stand.

Paul Schutze, Bord na Móna with Nicholas Lincoln, Nephin Energy.


2024

22 AND 23 MAY • Croke Park, Dublin

Energy Ireland 2024 will bring together all the key stakeholders in the Irish energy sector to discuss and debate the key drivers of the energy transition and energy security. Ireland’s main energy conference will look at the developments that will decarbonise Ireland’s increasingly integrated energy system.

Speakers confirmed so far:

Speakers confirmed so far: Eamon Ryan TD Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications Catherine Banet Centre on Regulation in Europe (CERRE) and University of Oslo Aoife MacEvilly Commission for Regulation of Utilities Dave Kirwan Bord Gáis Energy

Niamh McGovern Arthur Cox

Brian Ó Gallachóir UCC

John Reilly Bord na Móna

Laura Brien Maritime Area Regulatory Authority (MARA)

Tanya Harrington Renewable Energy Ireland

Colm O’Neill KPMG

Richard Murphy Pinsent Masons

Tara Reale Goodbody

William Walsh Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland

Cathal Marley Gas Networks Ireland

Major Sponsors

Sponsors

Sponsorship & exhibition opportunities available! Register now

Online

www.energyireland.ie

By email

registration@energyireland.ie

By telephone

+353 (0) 1 661 3755


eolas europe

European elections 2024: What to expect (L-R) Italy’s far-right Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni, with her Lega Nord radical right Deputy Prime Minister, Matteo Salvini, and former Forza Italia leader and Prime Minister, the late Silvio Berlusconi.

The years since Covid have seen a resurgence of the centre, but the polls for the European elections set to take place in June 2024 may spell an end to this and see a resurgent far-right presence, which may be strong enough to hold the balance of power in the next European Parliament, writes Joshua Murray.

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2016 is remembered as a year of backlash against mainstream centrist politics which saw the British people vote to leave the European Union, and the election of far-right populist Donald Trump as the American President.

the European Parliament, and these kinds of politics have formed the backbone of nearly all European democracies since the collapse of communist systems in central and eastern Europe in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.

Trump has since been defenestrated from the American presidency, and in Britain a Blairitestyle Labour leader in Keir Starmer looks set to emerge as the next UK Prime Minister, but 2024 looks almost certain to result in a European farright being as strong as it has collectively been since the 1940s.

However, if polling trends translate into reality, then there may be a strong populist and/or farright contingent to be sent to the European Parliament from some of the EU’s most important member states, including Germany, France, Italy, and, among others, the Netherlands.

Currently, liberals, Christian democrats, and social democrats hold a firm grip of support in

This is backed by a report from the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), which

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states that the upcoming elections will see a major shift to the right in “many countries,” with populist and far-right parties to gain votes and seats across the EU, and centre-left and green parties “losing votes and seats”. Looking at polling, ECFR predicts that far-right and populist right parties will poll in first place in Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, and Slovakia. The aggregate polling further predicts that in a further nine countries (Bulgaria, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Portugal, Romania, Spain, and Sweden), far-right parties will poll in either second or third place. Indeed, recent years have seen elections in the Netherlands and Italy which culminated in far-right parties gaining a plurality of votes and emerging as unambiguous winners among their countries’ electorate, with Giorgia Meloni of the Brothers of Italy party now the Italian Prime Minister, and selfproclaimed Islamophobe Geert Wilders’s victory in the Dutch election leaving the Netherlands without a government more than three months after polls closed. The ECFR report predicts that there may be a European Commission formed which requires the support of a broad right coalition which encompasses Christian democrats, conservatives, and radical and far-right parties, in a system which will likely mirror the Government of Italy, which is a coalition between the Brothers of Italy (a far-right party led by Meloni, a former supporter of Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini), the Lega Nord (a right-wing, anti-immigration populist party) and Forza Italia (a centreright party which was led by the recently deceased former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi). Speaking to eolas Magazine, European Commission decision-makers, including Antoine Oger of the Institute for European Environmental Policy, have already said that there is a need for green energy policies to be able to survive a swing to the right in the upcoming elections as they predict a near wipeout of European

green parties and a collapse in public support for the green agenda.

What will happen in Ireland? Ireland has yet to see the emergence of right-wing populism in its political system – although Peter Casey’s vote in the 2018 presidential election could be perceived as a warning shot of what is to come with immigration policy coming increasingly to the fore as a topic of discussion in Irish politics. However, Ireland has consistently had unique, broad, anti-establishment political waves in the form of support for rural independents, the Workers’ Party, the Labour Party at a number of occasions, and even the Progressive Democrats in the 1980s. This phenomenon is currently manifesting itself, in an unprecedented scale and manifestly on the left, with a projected significant swing to come to Sinn Féin. Sinn Féin won only one seat in the last European election (as well as another seat in the North which was abolished after Brexit), and opinion polls project that the left-wing republicans could win up to four of the State’s 14 MEP seats being contested in June. Likely to suffer from this is the Green Party which – as part of an EU-wide green swing – came joint second with Fianna Fáil and won two MEP seats. Independent MEP Clare Daly is likely to face a significant fight for her re-election, with Labour Party TD Aodhán Ó Ríordáin and People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith having both been encouraged by an opinion poll showing them within touching distance of gaining the final seat up for grabs in the Dublin constituency. For the Government parties, it will be a case of hoping to consolidate, although how Fine Gael will fare is more open to question, with incumbent MEP and former Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald and Deirdre Clune MEP both having announced that they will not seek reelection.

Ireland in Europe Ireland will have 14 seats in the next European Parliament, the most it has had since 1999. This will be the first time voters in the North do not elect MEPs since European elections were first held in 1979. Ireland makes up 3.2 per cent of the EU’s GDP in spite of its population only comprising 1 per cent of the EU total. When Ireland joined the EU in 1973, 24 per cent of Irish workers were employed in agriculture, a figure which has dropped to just 4 per cent.

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Nominating a European Commissioner Tánaiste and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin TD recently said that the Ireland’s European Commissioner will be a Fianna Fáil nominee, but exactly who this will be and how it will be determined is less clear.

Mairead McGuinness has been Ireland’s European Commissioner since October 2020.

The process of nominating a commissioner is a somewhat convoluted one which generally begins in one of two ways. Either a new government gets elected within a member state, or there is a change in the aftermath of elections to the European Parliament, which take place quinquennially. In Ireland, there is no formal process outlined for determining a commissioner. Nomination of Ireland’s commissioner is generally agreed by the Cabinet and is treated in a manner akin to a diplomatic appointment. In some EU member states, the nomination of its commissioner depends on a parliamentary vote. To ratify a member state’s nominee for commissioner, European Parliament committees draw up evaluations of the candidate’s expertise and performance, which is sent to the Conference of Committee Chairs. The Conference of Committee Chairs sends the evaluation letters to the President of the Parliament, and it is to the Conference of Presidents to close the hearings.

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The full Commission, including the Commission President and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, then needs to be approved in a single vote of consent by Parliament. After the President and commissioners have been approved by Parliament, they are formally appointed by the European Council, acting by a qualified majority. European elections are to take place in early June 2024, and one of the first tasks of the new parliament will be to approve a new President of the European Commission, which is a role highly similar to that of a head of government like the Taoiseach or a prime minister. Member states nominate a candidate for the post, but in doing so, they must take account of the European election results, as the European Parliament needs to approve the new Commission President by a majority. Given current polling projections, it is sufficiently possible that there will be a disconnect between some member states’ government parties, and the MEPs those same states send to the European Parliament in June. One means of squaring this potential circle is provided for via reforms to the nomination process enacted in 2014 which stipulate that, in the event of a national government’s nominee for Commission President being unable to garner support, that European political parties can put forward a lead candidate for President of the European

Commission on behalf of the European Parliament. If this candidate can subsequently garner a majority of support from the Parliament, then they become the Commission President. This is not a conundrum which is likely to manifest in Ireland, with the electorate likely to send a number of MEPs to Brussels from government parties, albeit with a projected increase in Sinn Féin’s crop of MEPs In 2014, Fianna Fáil only elected one MEP, Brian Crowley (who later left the party). Micheál Martin TD has asserted that, in the aftermath of the upcoming European elections, that Commissioner Mairead McGuinness (Fine Gael’s nominee) will be replaced by a Fianna Fáil nominee, although McGuinness herself has not commented on the Tánaiste’s remarks. However, if the upcoming election produces a similar result to 2014 for Fianna Fáil, it is difficult to see how the Tánaiste would be able to stand over his assertion that Fianna Fáil will nominate the next commissioner. Furthermore, the new commissioner will be formally appointed in October after the European elections are held. A general election in Ireland is to follow shortly after this as the Dáil legally must be dissolved by February 2025 and if the general election leads to a new government, it will have the right to dismiss this prospective Fianna Fáil appointee and appoint its own commissioner.


conference report

Social Media Dublin 2024 Darragh Doyle, Dublin City Council Culture Company; Nick Mulligan, Channel 4; Lilith King Taylor, NHS England; Nicola Halloran, Teneo; Kate Cafferky, LADbible; and Sina Port, adidas United Voices.

Social Media Dublin 2024 took place on 16 January 2024 at Croke Park, Dublin. Over 350 delegates attended the conference to hear from an exciting range of expert social media practitioners from across different sectors. Keeping up to date with future social media trends and learnings was a key focus of the event, as well as showcasing successful social media campaigns in Ireland and beyond. Delegates heard from speakers, both visiting and local, from organisations including Teneo; Channel 4; LADbible; NHS England; UN Women; adidas United Voices; Galway City Council; and The Office of Public Works.

Speaker: Theresa Newman, Office of Public Works.

Sascha O’Toole, Andrew Millea and Gaynor Hickey, Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth.

Noemi Chimisso, Léargas; Ian Brunswick and Gerard O’Leary, Environmental Protection Agency.

Niamh Molloy and Shanna O’Leary from The Merrion Hotel.

Niamh MacAuley, Purple Dot Media; Anu Hautalampi, UN Women; Darragh Doyle, Dublin City Council Culture Company; Arlene Finn, Galway City Council; Donagh Humphreys, THINKHOUSE; and Louise Ryan, SEAI.

Graeme McQueen, daa responds to questions during the Q&A session.

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Oireachtas Service’s Rosemary Keogh:

Opportunity for innovation Having joined the Houses of the Oireachtas Service in August 2023, Rosemary Keogh, Head of the Corporate and Members’ Services Division is one of four assistant secretaries in the Houses of the Oireachtas Service. Reflecting on her appointment in August 2023, Keogh emphasises the “pride and commitment” that her colleagues within the Houses of the Oireachtas Service exhibit. “People are very proud to support the national parliament,” she says, adding: “It is a very welcoming environment and I think that was a really pleasant surprise for me coming in from outside the civil service. There is a lot going on. Not only within my own brief, but I suppose right across the entire organisation.” Having joined the Houses of the Oireachtas Service from the charity sector, Keogh suggests that the change in context has not been as dramatic as might be imagined. “There are a lot of parallels,” she observes, adding: “In my previous role, I spent eight years interacting with several civil and public service bodies. Fundamentally for me, the Service is very much a people centric organisation. We deliver a service for people by people and that aligns with my background and values.” 152

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Perspective Discussing the perspective she brings to the role as a former advocate for people with disabilities, she concedes that while there is a commitment to inclusivity within the Houses of the Oireachtas, including the Service and members, “some aspects of delivery may be a little bit more challenging”. “We are working out of a suite of listed buildings that were not designed with the future in mind in terms of accessibility. But if you look at the Oireachtas Work Learning (OWL) training programme – an applied learning, development, and socialisation programme for young people with intellectual disabilities – there is a real openness to innovation and inclusion here,” she says. “In the Houses of the Oireachtas Service’s service delivery remit, there is an opportunity to be an


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innovation leader within the civil service. We have recently received accreditation from AsIAm – Ireland’s Autism Charity – as an autism friendly workplace, one of the world’s first accredited autism-friendly parliaments and leading the way in promoting an autism-friendly approach to public buildings. “To see initiatives like this being implemented demonstrates the overall willingness of the Oireachtas to be a leader in the civil service in the area of equality, diversity and inclusion.”

Remit Multifaceted in remit, the role of Head of the Corporate and Members’ Services Division encompasses some of the non-procedural aspects of the Oireachtas. Keogh has responsibility for seven units covering:

“In the Houses of the Oireachtas Service’s service delivery remit, there is an opportunity to be an innovator within the civil service.” Rosemary Keogh, Assistant Secretary, Corporate and Members’ Services Division, Houses of the Oireachtas Service

1. Facilities and business continuity; 2. Sustainability and safety;

Task Force on Safe Participation in Political Life

3. The Superintendent’s Section;

In May 2023, the first informal meeting of members of the Task Force on Safe Participation in Political Life took place in Leinster House. Chaired by former Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan, the Taskforce has been set up in response to reports in the media and survey results that indicate there is a significant level of abuse, including online abuse, and harassment experienced by those who participate in political life.

4. Finance, Procurement, and Salaries; 5. HR Oireachtas Staff and Training; 6. HR Members’ Staff, Pensions, and Print Services; and 7. Members’ Services and Catering. “The Corporate and Members’ Services Division includes everything from HR and facilities to members’ services – administration of salaries and pensions, supporting new members, and anything they need in between – and the security brief via the Superintendents Section,” the Assistant Secretary explains.

Security The latter, she acknowledges, has received “significantly more attention in the last six months than anticipated”. “Everybody will be familiar with what happened the day the Dáil resumed after the summer recess in September 2023. There was a very hostile protest, which I think was a real gear shift for many people working here; there is a recognition that the nature of protests has changed. “One key objective is to ensure that the right of citizens to protest is respected – and that is something that is culturally ingrained – but at the same time, we have a responsibility to protect the organisation, the members of the Oireachtas, and the people who work here. Ensuring that balance is something that is really important as we move into the future.”

“The task force has undertaken an extensive workload over the last year, meeting with and receiving submissions from multiple stakeholders. Its work is almost finished, with a research survey sent to all members, and with a view to publishing a draft report by the end of Q1 2024.”

Election Another priority for Keogh’s division is preparation for the coming general election which must take place by March 2025. “We do not know when, but we know that at some point in the next 12 months, there will be a general election. That will bring a lot of changes,” the Assistant Secretary says, referencing both the shifting dynamic of the Oireachtas, and also the fact that there will be 14 additional TDs as per An Coimisiún Toghcháin’s recommendations in August 2023. The additional Dáil seats do not equate to a total of 14 more people, it is more like 50 or 60 when you include political staff. That is where one of the more significant challenges lie,” she observes. “There will be quite a few logistical challenges associated with this,” she comments, adding: “We have a specific footprint in terms of the size and the scale of the Houses of the Oireachtas campus and all members and their political staff must be housed within those environs. “Currently, we are contemplating how to best reconfigure the existing infrastructure, primarily to ensure that members have ease of access to the chambers. We must also consider the knock-on implications for people working within the Service. “Given the already spread-out footprint – which includes offices outside the main Leinster House campus – we must ensure that everyone still feels very much a part of the parliamentary community and continues to share a sense of pride in and commitment to the contribution they make in society.

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“Similarly, in the post-Covid blended working environment, we have a goal of ensuring that we preserve and further enhance the existing positive culture.”

streamline processes for new members, ensuring that they can get the information they need quickly and in an easily digestible format.

Digital Transformation

“From a digital perspective, this is about reviewing manual processes and determining whether there are opportunities to digitise them.”

Under the Houses of the Oireachtas Service Strategic Plan, there are five strategic goals and outcomes, the fourth of which is ‘A digitally transformed parliament’. This strategic goal includes: 1. continuing to advance cybersecurity capabilities; 2. progressing the implementation of the Digital Transformation Programme; 3. continuing to implement innovative solutions to modernise technical infrastructure in the context of a blended working model; and 4. providing effective and responsive technical supports to ensure resilience and continuity of service in digital systems. Commenting on this “very significant programme of digital transformation at the Houses of the Oireachtas”, Keogh indicates: “One thing our Election Planning Group is examining is how to

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Strategic cycle With the current Houses of the Oireachtas Service’s Strategic Plan coming to the end of its lifespan in 2024, the Management Board has already commenced working to develop the next stage of the strategic cycle. “Very much at the starting point, this will be driven by the Management Board, in consultation with the various stakeholder groups across the service. It will also consider government policy and other factors including digital transformation, societal change, and developments in the wider global political environment. “We aim to have that completed by Q4 2024, with the intention that it is signed off by the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission – the service’s governing body – and we have a new strategic plan in 2025,” Keogh concludes.

Profile Rosemary Keogh has more than 25 years’ experience in leadership roles across public, private, and charities sectors. Prior to taking up her current role with the Houses of the Oireachtas Service, she was CEO of the Irish Wheelchair Association and is currently one of 12 members of An Rialálaí Carthanas – the Charities Regulator. As a qualified accountant, before working in the charities sector, Keogh accumulated over 20 years of financial, governance, and risk management experience. Living by the sea, the north County Dublin native exercises regularly and – emphasising the value she places on her work-life balance – enjoys “getting out and walking in nature”, which she finds “restorative”. Interested in politics strictly as an observer, Keogh feels privileged to be working in the Houses of the Oireachtas and “seeing an election from the inside”. “I am one of these people who, when there is an election, is glued to the TV for the day, watching all the counts coming through,” she adds.


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Seanad: All graduates may soon be able to vote Plans are being developed which could pave the way for the extension of voting rights in elections to Seanad Éireann to all graduates. Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Darragh O’Brien TD presented his proposal to Cabinet in November 2023 in the aftermath of a case in the Supreme Court which found that Article 18.4.2 of the Constitution mandated the Oireachtas to enact legislation to include the electorates of all higher education institutions in the State.

of an upper chamber for the ‘intelligentsia’ with the necessary expertise to scrutinise legislation, the Seanad’s scope and remit has been changed fundamentally on two occasions both before and after the republicanisation of the State, in 1928 with a reduction in its accountability whilst enhancing its powers, and in 1937 with a significant curtailment its powers.

Currently, only graduates of Trinity College Dublin and the National University of Ireland are granted the right to vote in Seanad elections. These institutions each hold a two-seat constituency. The measures presented to the Cabinet propose the creation of a single unified ‘university graduate’ constituency which elects six senators, with all graduates eligible to vote.

In spite of its power to delay a bill by 90 days (a power it has only exercised twice in its history), the Seanad has receded into a reclusive ground – free from enhanced media scrutiny – for eccentric political figures such as Senator Rónán Mullen and the recently retired former senator David Norris.

The role of the Seanad has been a contentious one in contemporary political discourse, with the Enda Kenny-led Fine Gael-Labour coalition attempting to abolish the upper house in 2013, only to lose in a referendum. With the Free State Seanad having been based on the British House of Lords’ model

Another dubious feature of the Seanad is the provision for direct appointees by government parties, which are typically given to allies of party leadership who failed to get elected to the Dáil. Recent examples of this include Fianna Fáil Senator Lisa Chambers and former Fine Gael senator and deputy leader, James Reilly. Whilst Fine Gael, Labour, and Sinn Féin

supported the Seanad’s abolition in the 2013 referendum, the proposal was opposed by Fianna Fáil, which supported a campaign for reform. Additionally, many northerners supported its retention, pointing to appointments such as Seamus Mallon and Austin Currie in helping to integrate northerners into southern political life. The 2018 election of former Ulster Farmers’ Union president Ian Marshall additionally ensured that there was a northern unionist voice being heard in the Republic’s political system. Although the news of increased voting rights for graduates will be welcomed by upper house advocates, there is no escaping that Seanad Éireann has an increasingly ambiguous role in modern political life. It successfully scrutinises legislation, but with virtually no consequence should the Government wish to force said legislation through. The few checks and balances it does possess over the Dáil have, thus far, remained theoretical, and can be usurped by other institutions regardless.

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Richard Boyd Barrett TD: Aiming for a left government 2024 will be defined by elections, and as Ireland approaches a general election in the next 12 months, People Before Profit’s Richard Boyd Barrett TD tells Joshua Murray that the party is “not ruling out” a formal coalition with Sinn Féin in order to form “the first left government in the history of the State”. With four TDs in the current Dáil, People Before Profit may find itself in a position where it can partake in a left-wing coalition in the next Dáil. Boyd Barrett, who has been a Dún Laoghaire TD since 2011, says that what distinguishes People Before Profit from other left-wing parties is that it is “not interested in being in government for its own sake”. Instead, he says that “parliament can be used as a platform to build movements for change, but the main engines of change are the struggles of working people, or the trade union movement, and of social movements”. Nevertheless, in the party’s March 2023 publication, The case for a left government: Getting rid of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, the party has underscored its commitment to establishing a left-wing

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government via parliamentary process, with People Before Profit TDs committing to vote for Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald TD as Taoiseach in the next Dáil as long as Sinn Féin does not enter coalition with “either Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil”. Although Boyd Barrett has made this commitment, he is adamant that People Before Profit “would have certain red lines” in order to enter formal coalition with a party in the next election. He lists the creation of a state construction company, the establishment of an Irish national health service, and the implementation of boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) on the State of Israel as among these red lines.

Expanding the state ‘key’ on housing and climate Housing, having propelled left-wing parties to achieve a relatively unprecedented level of electoral success in 2020, continues to be the main challenge for the incumbent government. Boyd Barrett believes that People Before Profit has the best solutions for “radical transformation” of housing policy. On the Government’s Housing for All policy, he says: “The problem with Housing for All is that it is more than 50 per cent dependent on the private sector to deliver housing. Of course, there is always going to be some private sector in housing, but the idea that we are going to depend on it to deliver public and affordable housing is insane.”


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“Tenants should have long-term security in private rented accommodation if they pay the rent and have done nothing wrong.” Richard Boyd Barrett TD, People Before Profit With the ESRI having argued that there is a need for a revised target for construction, the left-wing TD argues for an increased role for the State in the acquisition of land.

energy resources is dependent on profitdriven developers who may decide that it is profitable or may decide that it is not profitable.”

“Speculation on land values has been a huge contributor to driving up the cost of housing, the cost of rents, and has fuelled land hoarding by private developers and speculators.” He cites Finland as an example of where this has been done, arguing that the Nordic country has “been one of the few countries in Europe which has made real progress on homelessness” because “the state decides who can build and who has to contribute to providing public and affordable housing”.

In tandem with this, Boyd Barrett argues, is the need to “remove the profit model” from public transport. “If you want to get people to into public transport, you cannot have a system where it is based on what is supposedly commercially viable or on whether private companies can make money,” the Dún Laoghaire TD says.

Other measures on housing which Boyd Barrett argues for include the introduction of “real rent controls which are linked to income”, rather than rent pressure zones which he asserts have “failed disastrously”. “Tenants should have long-term security in private rented accommodation if they pay the rent and have done nothing wrong,” he says. Boyd Barrett similarly believes that expansion of state control is the key to Ireland meeting its targets in the Climate Action Plan, of which he simultaneously describes the targets as “probably inadequate”. “The apparently noble aspirations of the Climate Action Plan are contradicted by the overreliance on private developers to deliver renewable energy.” The People Before Profit representative says that the planned expansion of offshore wind and green gases is “obviously the right thing to do”, but that the way it is being pursued by the Government is “hostage to fortune”, further arguing: “Our ability to develop renewable

“If you want to reduce emissions from transport, what you need is free and frequent public transport and we have to wake up to the reality that that means that it is going to have to be subsidised.”

Support for Palestine Boyd Barrett says that his interest in socialist politics – aside from a lifelong enthusiasm for punk music – was piqued by his experience working on an Israeli farm at the time of the First Palestinian Intifada in 1987. Saying that he “travelled to Israel and arrived back from Palestine,” support for Palestine is a principle which Boyd Barrett describes as “very close to my heart”, saying that he was “inspired by the spirit of peaceful resistance among young Palestinian people” at the time of the 1987 Intifada. At the time of print, at least 28,000 people, of which a majority are women and children, have been killed in Gaza from Israel’s latest bombardment and invasion of the Palestinian territory. Israel claims that its war is with Hamas following attacks on 7 October 2023. Speaking one day after his party’s publication of a pamphlet entitled From the

River to the Sea: The Struggle for Palestinian Liberation, Boyd Barrett is asked about People Before Profit’s support for the “dismantlement” of the Israeli state and its replacement with a “secular, democratic Palestine”, which rejects the two-state solution propagated by the Irish Government, the Palestinian Authority, and most of the international community. On his vision for what he describes as “unification of all the people in the region”, he analogises: “There are very few people in Irish politics that would openly call for a two-state solution in Ireland. We understand that partition that engenders sectarianism is a problem that needs to be overcome.” He adds: “We need to accept that it is a very legitimate debate to have as to whether a state which is based on the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians since its inception and an apartheid system which has persecuted Palestinian people… has a right to exist.” He clarifies that “it is important to counter the suggestion that somehow raising that suggestion is a statement of antisemitism”, arguing that “the opposite is the case”. “For thousands of years, Muslim people, Jewish people, Christian people, and people of other and no faith lived in peace and harmony and co-existed across the [Middle East], and that includes in Palestine,” he says. “The precondition for bringing peace to the region is to dismantle the apartheid regime.” On the role he wishes to see played by Ireland in this regard, Boyd Barrett reiterates his call for the Israeli Ambassador to be expelled from Ireland, arguing that “Israel has to be made to pay a price” for what he states is a “genocide being committed [by Israel] in Gaza”.

‘Neither Washington nor Moscow’ People Before Profit TDs faced criticism from government TDs after not applauding the contribution made to the Dáil by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in April 2022. Boyd Barrett rationalises this decision by asserting: “It is a mistake for

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(L-R) Richard Boyd Barrett TD, pictured with party colleagues Bríd Smith TD and Gerry Carroll MLA.

the Ukrainian people for their government to hitch their wagon to the United States and NATO, particularly now when you look at what the US and other NATO members are doing in terms of supporting [Benjamin] Netanyahu and Israel’s horrific persecution of the Palestinian people.” This critique of the government in Kyiv, however, does not translate into support for Russian president Vladimir Putin, whose actions in Ukraine the Dún Laoghaire TD describes as “disgraceful”. He adds that he would “like to see Putin overthrown by the Russian people”. Looking at his world view more broadly, Boyd Barrett, who is generally perceived as People Before Profit’s senior figure for foreign affairs, says that there is a “really scary prospect” of “increased militarism”, citing the NATO alliance, as well as the increased power of Russia and China as examples of this. “Our slogan has always been ‘neither Washington nor Moscow’, and in this age you could also add in Beijing,” he says. Boyd Barrett believes that the United States is an “empire in decline,” outlining the dichotomy of the choice facing the American electorate between Joe Biden (who he refers to as ‘genocide Joe’ over his support of the Israeli siege of Gaza) and Donald Trump, saying that “radical change is needed in the United States”. The solution to these global challenges, he believes, is “internationalism from below”. “We need an internationalist movement based on international solidarity and which is about using the resources currently being used for militarism and war to solve

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global challenges in housing, health, education, infrastructure, and tackling the climate crisis.”

A socialist Ireland and the left’s EU conundrum On how this concept of internationalism from below can be applied in Ireland, Boyd Barrett, when asked about his position on the European Union, says he is “not a big fan” of the EU, but that “it would not be particularly useful for us to campaign to exit the European Union”. Although his party campaigned in the North for the UK to leave the EU, Boyd Barrett reflects that Brexit “was not progressive” and “was based on very narrow nationalism and xenophobia”. His euroscepticism, however, is reflected in his views on austerity packages taken on by the Greek government in response to the EU debt crisis. “If they [Greece] had made the decision to leave on a left-wing basis, then it would be a different story,” he says. Invoking the prediction by James Connolly that the partition of Ireland would lead to a “carnival of reaction”, the socialist TD states that “partition has been a disaster” in Ireland, adding that there is a need for a “movement not just for, but of, a united Ireland”. “We have seen signs of that in things like the movement for women’s rights being fought on an all-Ireland basis, as well as a common fight for social and affordable housing north and south. “We want to challenge partition from below by building movements that unite working class people north and south,” he concludes.


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Limerick prepares for first ever mayoral election In a first in this State, the people of Limerick will vote for a directly elected mayor in June 2024, on the same date as the local and European elections. In 2019, referendums were held in Limerick, Waterford, and Cork over the prospect of these cities having directly elected mayors. Voters in Waterford and Cork rejected the proposal, while it was endorsed by the electorate of Limerick. Limerick has had over 600 mayors in its history, dating back as far as 1197, but the next mayor will be the first to be elected. In addition, the elected mayor will have powers never before conferred on their predecessors, including executive functions in strategic development, housing and building, roads, transport, and the environment. The mayor will have executive power in these functions over the area which comprises Limerick City and County Council. Results from the two Limerick constituencies (Limerick City and Limerick County) in the last general election suggest that the three major parties stand the best chance of emerging victorious, with the two constituencies currently represented by two

Fine Gael TDs, two Fianna Fáil TDs, one Sinn Féin TD, one Green Party TD, and one independent.

with all of the United States’ major cities, as well as most small towns, electing mayors with local executive powers.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar TD announced in June 2023 that his government intended to hold a referendum on the possibility of a directly elected mayor in Dublin concurrently with the local and European elections in 2024, but the Government has given no indication that this will take place.

In Britain, mayoralties have been consistently established since government reforms enacted under Tony Blair’s Labour government (which also saw the introduction of devolution in the North, Scotland, and Wales). However, the approval of these roles has been mixed, with support high in cities such as Manchester and Birmingham but having been abolished in towns and cities such as Hartlepool and Liverpool.

Varadkar announced this in the aftermath of a Citizens’ Assembly report recommending that a directly elected mayor of Dublin should be responsible for oversight of 15 policy areas including homelessness, housing, community healthcare, transport, the environment, and emergency services. The Citizens’ Assembly also recommends that the mayor have the power to raise revenues and to borrow, further suggesting that the mayor should have the power to introduce new regulations and to convene meetings with local and national agencies.

At the time of print, only one candidate has been announced for the upcoming election, Green Party TD Brian Leddin. Independent businessman Fionán Coughlan, who runs the Limerick Milk Market, had announced his candidacy in 2021, but dropped out on 8 February 2024. It is likely that Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, and Sinn Féin will also put forward candidates.

Locally elected mayors are a common feature of American and British democracy,

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Obituary: John Bruton 1947-2024 Tributes have been paid to John Bruton, who served as Taoiseach between 1994 and 1997, as the former Fine Gael leader has died at the age of 76 following a long illness. Born in May 1947 in Dunboyne, County Meath, Bruton was first elected to the Dáil in the 1969 general election, becoming, at the time, the fifth youngest TD to be elected to the Dáil at the age of 22. Bruton became Taoiseach in 1994, following the collapse of a coalition between Albert Reynolds’ Fianna Fáil and Dick Spring’s Labour Party. Able to form a majority government without the need for a new election, Bruton governed for the rest of that Dáil term with a ‘rainbow coalition’ of Fine Gael, the Labour Party, and Democratic Left. Although characterised as a social conservative when he entered office, Bruton’s years as Taoiseach ended up becoming some of the most consequential in the history of the State. The referendum on the legalisation of divorce successfully passed with Bruton’s support in 1995, marking an initial step in the liberalisation of the State and the decline of the influence of the Catholic Church in Irish society. Another change came in the kind of tradition Bruton hailed from politically. The son of a wealthy farming family in County Meath, Bruton became the first Taoiseach to remove

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a longstanding portrait of Pádraig Pearse from the Taoiseach’s office and replaced it with that of his political hero, John Redmond, the leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party who negotiated home rule with the British in the 1910s and led Irish nationalism into the First World War. Bruton’s unique politics were also reflected in that he hung a painting of former Fianna Fáil Taoiseach Seán Lemass in his office, signifying an opposition to the then-dominant dichotomy of Civil War politics. Disparagingly referred to as “John unionist” by his Fianna Fáil predecessor as Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, Bruton was painted by his political opponents as sympathetic to northern unionism and Britain. This is a reputation which was enhanced beyond his years as Taoiseach, with Bruton stating in 2014 that the Easter Rising had been a “mistake”, outlining his belief on an RTÉ debate that the arrival universal suffrage and decolonisation of the British Empire throughout the 20th century would have “inevitably” led to Irish independence. In spite of this perception and his principled opposition to all political violence, Bruton, when negotiating with then-British


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Prime Minister John Major on what would culminate in the Good Friday Agreement, strongly criticised the British Government’s then-refusal to negotiate with Sinn Féin. Bruton also negotiated the Anglo-Irish Framework with Major in 1995, although the outworking of this framework further played into the perception that he was sympathetic to northern unionists. He further established a “mutually untrustful” but working relationship with former Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams. However, relations between the pair broke down after the Provisional IRA ended a ceasefire in 1996. Going into the 1997 election, Bruton’s rainbow coalition was widely expected to win re-election. Although he led Fine Gael to a respectable 54 seats (an increase of nine seats compared to the 1992 election), his partners in the Labour Party lost nearly half of their TDs, which paved the way for Bertie Ahern’s decade in power. Bruton remained as Fine Gael leader until 2001 when, after serving as party leader for 11 years, his TDs voted ‘no confidence’ in his leadership, replacing the former Taoiseach with Michael Noonan. Noonan went on go lead Fine Gael to the second worst election result in the party’s history in the 2002 general election. After three years as a Fine Gael backbencher, Bruton, who was a passionate supporter of European integration, resigned from the Dáíl in November 2004 to become the European Union’s Ambassador to the United States. He held this role until retirement in October 2009. Upon retiring from politics and diplomacy, Bruton remained an active voice in Irish political debate, offering his perspectives on Irish history and how it should be remembered, and giving his support to retaining the Eighth Amendment in the 2018 referendum.

Credit: RTÉ

Bruton argued in 2014 on RTÉ Prime Time that the 1916 Easter Rising had been a “mistake” and that Ireland would have become independent due to British decolonisation in the 20th century.

‘A formidable servant’ National politicians have been united in paying tribute to Bruton with Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar TD offered heartfelt words, saying that Bruton was “one of the reasons I became involved in politics and joined Fine Gael”. “The whole Fine Gael family mourns his loss, and he will always be remembered for his service to our party and to the Irish state.” Tánaiste and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin TD said: “John Bruton was a committed politician full of ideas and energy who worked tirelessly for peace and reconciliation on the island of Ireland. His unwavering commitment and remarkable leadership has left an indelible mark on our nation’s history.” Opposition leader and Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald TD paid tribute to Bruton’s “many decades of service to the State and to his party”. Internationally, former British Prime Minister John Major added his tributes, describing Bruton as a “formidable servant of the Irish nation” and “a brave and talented Taoiseach who contributed mightily to the early days of the peace process”. Bruton passed away surrounded by his family on 6 February 2024, following a long illness at the age of 76. Following a state funeral, Bruton was buried in Rooske Cemetery in his hometown of Dunboyne. He is survived by his wife, his son, his three daughters, and his grandchildren, as well as his wider family circle. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

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Referenda to replace ‘outdated’ language scheduled After significant delays amid disputes over proposed wording of constitutional referenda, voters will go to the polls to decide whether to endorse two proposed amendments to Bunreacht na hÉireann. The re-wording of references to family and women in Bunreacht na hÉireann will be put to voters in the form of the proposed 39th and 40th amendments to the Constitution. The proposed 39th amendment would make the following change (in bold) to Article 41.1 of the Constitution: “The State recognises the family, whether founded on marriage or on other durable relationships, as the natural primary and fundamental unit group of society, and as a moral institution possessing inalienable and imprescriptible rights, antecedent, and superior to all positive law.” Currently, this section of Bunreacht na hÉireann reads: “The State pledges itself to guard with special care the institution of marriage, on which the family is founded, and to protect it against attack.”

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The 39th amendment would also replace the following text: “The State pledges itself to guard with special care the institution of marriage, on which the family is founded, and to protect it against attack.” This would be replaced with: “The State pledges itself to guard with special care the institution of marriage and to protect it against attack.” The proposed 40th amendment would remove the reference in the Constitution to a women’s life being “in the home”. Currently, Article 41.2 reads: “In particular, the State recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved. “The State shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home.” The new Article 42B proposes abolishing these sections and replacing them with the following wording: “The State recognises that the provision of care, by members of a family to one another by reason of the bonds that exist among them, gives to society a support without which the common good cannot be achieved, and shall strive to support such provision.”

Delays The referenda will take place concurrently on 8 March 2024, having originally been intended to be held in November 2023, but was delayed due to a difference in opinion as to the proposed wording. Minister for Finance Michael McGrath TD said at the time that a referendum would not be held until “settled wording” had been agreed between government parties. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar TD had announced his intention to hold a referendum amending articles 40 and 41, describing the nomenclature as “outdated”.

The measures have united support from the Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, and the Green Party, and have also been endorsed by opposition parties in the Labour Party, Social Democrats, and People Before Profit. Sinn Féin was scheduled to hold a meeting of its ard comhairle to decide its position on 3 February 2024. The party has not officially confirmed whether it will support the measure, but Eoin Ó Broin TD has stated that it will. The only Dáil party to oppose the measures is Aontú, although socially conservative civic groups such as the Irish Women’s Lobby and The Countess have announced their opposition.

Bunreacht na hÉireann The referenda are scheduled to be the first of this Government’s term, and the first since the referendum on the 38th Amendment in May 2019. The last time there was such a gap between referenda being held in the State was between 1987 and 1992, under the Fianna Fáilled administrations of Charlie Haughey and Albert Reynolds. The Government has further failed to confirm if a referendum on extending voting rights in presidential elections will be held before the end of its term, in spite of the proposal having been supported by all the major parties. However, after delays of over a decade, the Government has confirmed that there will be a further referendum held in June 2024 – likely coinciding with the European elections – on joining the European Patent Court, with the formal constitutional proposal an addition of a new subsection 11 in section 4 of Article 29, providing that the State “may ratify the Agreement on a Unified Patent Court signed at Brussels on February 19 2013”.

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Spring Legislative Programme Published by Government Chief Whip Hildegarde Naughton TD on 16 January 2024, the Government Legislative Programme for the 2024 spring session contains 46 bills for prioritisation by government ministers. The Legislative Programme contains the following: •

legislation for priority publication (24);

legislation for priority drafting autumn (22);

all other legislation (61); and

bills currently on the Dáil and Seanad Order Paper (28).

access to housing, stronger safer communities, and road safety, amongst many other bills.

Speaking upon publication of the programme, Minister Naughton said: “The Spring Legislation Programme marks out a roadmap for an incredibly busy Dáil term for ministers and departments with changes afoot to healthcare,

“Some key measures to ensure continued supply and access to housing will also be progressed. Notably, the Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill will provide for an exemption of Rent a Room income from the medical card assessment process. The Residential Tenancies (Right to Purchase) Bill will allow tenants in rental properties a first right of refusal to purchase a property when it is put forward for sale.”

Legislation for priority publication Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine Agriculture Appeals (Amendment) Bill

Heads of bill approved and general scheme published in January 2024.

Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth Child Care (Amendment) Bill

Pre-legislative scrutiny (PLS) completed in June 2023. Currently in Dáil Éireann second stage.

Department of Defence Defence (Amendment) Bill

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Heads approved in December 2023 and general scheme published in January 2024.


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Department of Education Supports for Survivors of Residential Institutional Abuse Bill

PLS complete, report published in December 2023.

Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment The Forty-first Amendment of the Constitution (Unified Patent Court) Bill

Passed Dáil Éireann first stage, 15 February 2024.

Microenterprise Loan Fund (Amendment) Bill

PLS completed in September 2023.

Department of Finance Future Ireland Fund and Infrastructure, Climate and Nature Fund Bill

PLS completed in December 2023.

Motor Insurance Insolvency Compensation Bill

Heads approved in November 2023.

Credit Review Service Bill

Heads approved in July 2021.

Department of Health Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill

Work ongoing.

Health (Amendment) No. 2 Bill

PLS completed in December 2022.

Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage Land Value Sharing Bill

PLS completed in July 2023, report published in September 2023.

Marine Protected Area Bill

PLS completed and report published in February 2023.

Residential Tenancies (Right to Purchase) Bill

PLS completed and report published in December 2023.

Department of Justice Coroners (Amendment) Bill

Bill has passed through Seanad Éireann and has completed Dáil Éireann fifth stage.

Defamation (Amendment) Bill

PLS completed and report published in September 2023.

Garda Síochána (Powers) Bill

PLS completed in June 2022 and report on general scheme published in May 2022. Drafting ongoing.

Intoxicating Liquor Bill

PLS completed in March 2023 and report published in May 2023.

Garda Síochána (Recording Devices) (Amendment) Bill

Heads approved in December 2023.

Department of Public Expenditure, NDP Delivery and Reform Civil Service Regulation and Public Service Management (Amendment) Bill

Work ongoing.

Department of Social Protection Automatic Enrolment Retirement Savings System Bill

PLS completed in June 2023 and report published in May 2023. Work ongoing.

Civil Registration (Electronic registration of births, marriages and deaths) Bill

PLS completed and report published in July 2023.

Department of Transport Road Traffic Bill

Currently before Dáil Éireann third stage.

Merchant Shipping (Investigation of Marine Accidents) Bill

PLS completed in April 2023 and report published in May 2023.

* correct as of 16 February 2024

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TRADE UNION DESK

What should be done about the pension age?

In response to the Report of the Commission on Pensions, the Government agreed to keep the pension age at 66, writes Laura Bambrick, spokeswoman on pensions at the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU). Raising the pension age to 67 and again to 68 in 2028 had become a key battleground during the 2020 general election and the most important deciding factor for voters, after health and housing. Support for the Siptu-led Stop67 campaign has not waned. Public opinion polls show two-thirds (66 per cent) of voters are in favour of keeping the pension age at 66. Support is strongest among 18- to 34-year-olds, suggesting that the intergenerational fairness argument to justify hiking the pension age does not have the support of almost seven-in-10 (69 per cent) of the intended beneficiaries. Unions have never denied the challenge Ireland’s ageing population presents for the future sustainability of the State pension and for younger generations if no action is taken now.

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However, the projected scale of this challenge has moderated significantly over successive actuarial reviews of the Social Insurance Fund, as noted by the Comptroller and Auditor General in its 2023 audit of the State’s accounts. Nonetheless, a yawning gap remains between anticipated pension expenditure and the Fund’s resources. Keeping the pension age at 66 will mean higher and new social insurance contributions and other pension policy reform.

Revenue raising But there is scope for revenue raising. The yield from employer social insurance contributions alone would need to almost double just to reach the EU average. Already a 0.7 per cent increase in employer, employee, and self-employed social insurance rates, to be gradually rolled out, has been flagged.

From October 2024, a worker on average earnings will pay 90 cent more a week in PRSI when the first of five yearly increases kicks in. The additional income raised (€240 a million a year) will grow the Social Insurance Fund surplus (€4.3 billion in 2024) to support the retention of the State pension age at 66 and fund a new pay-related contributory benefit for unemployed workers. Intergenerational solidarity and fairness must be a two-way street. At the moment, PRSI is not levied on any earned and unearned income of those aged 66 and over. This blanket exemption needs to go. Why should, for example, landlords stop paying PRSI on their rental income profits when they turn 66? However – and on this unions are clear – care must be taken when ending the PRSI exemption on over 66s to ensure that it does not unfairly impact certain


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Deferred pension option Age when you start to claim:

Weekly rate*:

66

€277.30

67

€290.30

68

€304.80

69

€320.30

70

€337.20

*The rates will be set in the Budget each year and based on actuarial factors, which will be reviewed every five years in line with the actuarial review of the Social Insurance Fund.

groups of pensioners, such as pre-1995 civil and public servants who have no entitlement to the State pension, or unduly weaken the incentivise to work or save for a secure retirement.

“Intergenerational solidarity and fairness must be a two-way street.” Laura Bambrick, spokeswoman on pensions, ICTU

Policy reform Landmark pension reform is already well advanced to move away from a one-size-fits-all pension age to a European-style flexible pension age to give workers more choice. From January 2024, when a worker reaches age 66, they can now choose to delay claiming their State pension up to age 70 in return for a higher weekly payment. This deferred pension option will also give people who are short the required number of social insurance contributions the choice to work longer to build up their PRSI record. Unions have long argued there is a sizeable and growing number of workers who are forced to retire earlier than they would wish because of the age of retirement in their employment contract, typically 65. Legislation ending forced retirement before the State pension age is due to go to Cabinet for approval soon. Meanwhile, early access to the State pension for workers with a long work history and social insurance record – having worked from a young age typically in physically demanding jobs – is under consideration. In Germany, for example, workers who have paid social insurance for at least 45 years can claim the State pension at 63, three years earlier than the pension age and with no deduction in the weekly payment. A flexible pension age to facilitate and reward longer working lives is a much fairer policy to pushing up the pension age for everyone.

Where next? Political realities mean that the pension age is far from a settled question. The most consistently popular party in the polls, Sinn Féin, says it should be cut from 66 to 65 – a pension age which only very few people qualified for before it was abolished in 2014. As such, another general election fought on the pension age may be just around the corner.

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Strategic opportunity for reform of public construction contracts We each procure goods and services every day, yet any mention of public procurement or construction contracts can send a chill through a room, writes Orla Hegarty, Assistant Professor and Course Director, Professional Diploma (Architecture), School of Architecture, Planning and Environmental Policy, UCD. Orla Hegarty

Construction is slow, expensive, and uncertain. Understandably, people are wary of a process that cannot be budgeted precisely. Uncertainty is risk, and all construction contracts have rules about changing conditions such as unexpected events, delays, changes, and inflation. Some risks are priced in at the start, others are only paid if they arise. One approach is to have bidders make educated guesses about the unknowns (and the un-knowable) and to fix their prices. The downside is that this comes at a premium. In 2019, when PwC reported on the escalation of costs in the National Children’s Hospital, it said that “the capital budget made no provision for the price premium that the public sector would need to pay the contractors to bear the risks transferred to them”. In Ireland, this is not unusual as since 2007, public procurement policy has favoured fixed price contracts that prioritise cost-certainty over achieving value for money. At that time, the then Minister for Finance said: “The contractor will be incentivised to control and manage specified risks.” He acknowledged that this would result in higher prices. The subsequent recession years exposed the drawbacks. Contractors in need of work did not price for risks, and contracts failed or had to be renegotiated midbuild. Even in favourable economic 168

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conditions, assumptions can often be wrong, meaning money paid for costs that never arise. Despite these downsides, the Land Development Agency too favours fixed price contracts with its CEO saying: “We look for fixed prices. There is a cost to that because it is on the contractor if something goes wrong. Essentially, it is their problem.”

during which time market prices had increased by 51 per cent. Delay costs money. This could have been avoided entirely with a regular building contract, for which the EU sets a minimum timescale of just 35 days, with an additional 14-day standstill before a contract is signed.

Currently, another public sector strategy is to side-step procurement rules by buying or leasing new-build properties. In this scenario, the buyer often has no control over design, specification, quality, and even speed of delivery.

Other outsourcing difficulties were highlighted after the 2018 collapse of Carillion – a large UK contractor – that halted the construction of five schools in Ireland, with one contractor losing €8 million. Poor financial and project management were out of reach.

While this may seem expedient, it means substantial amounts of public money are being spent without competition or transparency – both of which are essential to ensure an open market, fair pricing, and financial oversight.

When the company collapsed, it spread a contagion through the construction sector, that the Irish and UK governments had to resolve at considerable cost. All of the new schools had been bundled into one contract.

At EU level, this loophole has come under scrutiny and this will likely happen again. Additionally, this means purchase prices include high-cost private finance at a time when the housing budget is underspent. Finance costs could be avoided entirely with regular contracts and monthly stage payments.

Clearly there is a balance to be struck for administrative efficiency, but this practice is not recommended. It limits competition and excludes many SMEs.

Similarly, recent delays to the O’Devaney Gardens housing development were due to a requirement for the developer to provide finance. This project eventually went on site in December 2023, seven years after it was first tendered – and four years after the contract was awarded –

Housing projects can readily be designed as smaller phases and contracts to spread the risk, return more competitive prices, and give opportunities to new contractors to grow the sector. With so much public money being invested in housing, there is now a strategic opportunity for reform that speeds up delivery, drives efficiencies, and grows the construction sector through new opportunities.


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