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Ireland of opportunity

Last week's announcement by the Irish Government that it plans to invest Ir£2.1bn (£1.6bn) in improving water and sewerage services over the next three years adds momentum to an already flourishing economy.

The combined population of the Republic and Northern Ireland increased from 4.3M in 1960 to an estimated 5.5M in 1999.

And according to a paper published earlier this year by the Irish Academy of Engineering, it is likely to rise to about 6M over the next 10 years.

The 'progressive planning ethic' of Irish governments over the past 40 years is now paying dividends, says Finbar Callanan, secretary of the Irish Academy of Engineering and former director general of the Institute of Engineers of Ireland. The technologically educated population, he says, has had a positive effect on attracting foreign industry to Ireland, and this in turn has fuelled economic growth.

'While many of our engineers had to move abroad in the 1980s, ' says Callanan, 'many have now come back, with the added benefit of international experience.'

Ireland's exceptional economic growth and its rapidly increasing population are placing considerable pressure on the physical infrastructure, particularly in the main urban centres.

Roads and motorways are going up all over the place, says Callanan, 'although the main emphasis is on environmental enhancement, particularly the protection of freshwater and estuaries'.

Ireland has had support from the EU for many years and while this certainly kick started development in the early stages, a considerable amount of work is now being funded internally, as this latest round of spending - to be funded by water charges from business, industry and farmers - testifies.

The investment package announced last week provides for the construction of 529 water and sewerage schemes, with projects earmarked for every Irish county. According to an article in the Irish Times, it will facilitate economic and social development as well as helping Ireland meet its obligations under the EU Municipal Waste Water Directive.

Ireland's minister for the environment Noel Dempsey says there will be significant scope for public private partnerships to accelerate the delivery of these projects, as well as for the involvement of civil engineering contractors from abroad, who 'preferably bring their workers with them'.

But despite a burgeoning influx of foreign workers and Irish returnees, the construction industry is still, in the words of one engineer, 'crying out for people'.

'We've got vacancies across the board, in heavy civils, marine work, road building and tunnelling and we're having to advertise for staff worldwide, ' says Linda O'Neill, human resources manager for Ascon, one of Ireland's largest civil engineering contractors and its building arm Rochon (both part of HBG).

Next month UK based recruitment consultant Beresford Blake Thomas opens an office in Dublin, in a bid to tap into the booming economy and provide a better service for companies based in the Republic.

'Clients in Ireland want people who will stay in Ireland, ' says associate director Edward Twait, 'and the ones most likely to do this are Irish workers returning from overseas, or Brits who have Irish family and understand the Irish way of life.'

English civil engineer Julia Willison moved to Dublin just over a year ago and is enjoying living and working in Ireland. A senior project engineer with Ove Arup & Partners, she acknowledges that the Irish capital is now as expensive as London, but likes the fact that 'the people are much friendlier and nicer to each other'.

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