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The Irish construction economy is showing signs of cooling but civil engineering continues to grow.

'While we expect weak performance from the private sector, the silver lining is civil engineering, ' said DKM economic consultant Annette Hughes, who produces the Irish government's annual review of the construction industry.

Fears about the US economy hit Ireland hard because of high US investment. Expansion plans by large multi-nationals such as Intel were dropped, and along with them a number of major construction projects.

The foot and mouth crisis also damaged the economy and delayed work on a number of road schemes across the country.

A report by the Irish Construction Industry Federation said that civil engineering 'looks to be the only sector which can make a positive contribution to the volume of construction activity in 2002'. It estimates the volume of civils work to rise by around 12% this year, a figure generally backed by others.

'While construction volumes will increase by around 11%, or by 17% in cash terms, some of this will be soaked up in projects which have been let already. But there's still a lot of work to go, in roads, sewerage and water, ' says president of the European Committee for Construction Economics Michael Webb.

Hughes said government spending remained high, boosting civils and infrastructure work. 'The government has allocated an additional Euro550M, meaning a total allocation of E9.1bn (£5.5bn) for the public capital programme, a 20% increase on the 2000 figure, ' she said.

Any spare capacity in the industry should be used to accelerate the implementation of the government's £14bn National Development Plan, aimed at upgrading the country's infrastructure.

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