Boris Johnson fails to channel his inner Obama

Business Week: also in the news were major capital infrastructure, housing and jobs

British  foreign secretary Boris Johnson delivering his much anticipated Brexit speech at the Policy Exchange think tank in London on Wednesday

British foreign secretary Boris Johnson delivering his much anticipated Brexit speech at the Policy Exchange think tank in London on Wednesday

 

UK foreign secretary Boris Johnson tried to channel his inner Barack Obama this week when he talked of “reaching out” to disillusioned Remain voters in a much anticipated Brexit speech, but, alas, it was more “yes, we must” than “yes we can”.

Johnson, whose speech at the Policy Exchange think tank in London was billed as his vision for a “liberal Brexit”, said he had detected “a feeling of grief and alienation” in some quarters.

Brexit was not “some great V-sign from the cliffs of Dover,” he insisted.“If we are to carry this project through to national success – which we must – then we must also reach out to those who still have anxieties.”

There was some disquiet in Dublin as Johnson made no mention of Northern Ireland or the Border issue, but did find time to reassure UK citizens they would still have the freedom to retire to Spain, work abroad, and take “cheapo flights to stag dos”.

Meanwhile, on this side of the Irish Sea a new report on the economic impact of Brexit is sure to have made for uneasy reading in Government circles. The study, carried out by economic consultants Copenhagen Economics, concluded that in a worst case scenario the State could lose up to 7 per cent of GDP – about €18 billion in cash terms – by 2030.

Typically, it is the lower paid who will suffer the most. The report said wages would plummet 8.7 per cent lower for unskilled workers in the event of the UK crashing out of the bloc without a deal. The effect for high-skilled workers would be 6.5 per cent.

In the worst case scenario where World Trade Organisation rules apply after Brexit, the report said economic growth out to 2030 could average 1.7 per cent, compared to 2.2 per cent if there was no Brexit.

Dublin Port is planning for just such a scenario, and said it would apply for planning permission to construct the necessary infrastructure that would be required to deal with additional customs checks from March next year when the UK takes its leave.

The Republic’s food industry is uniquely exposed to the threats of Brexit, and the Ibec group Food Drink Ireland warned this week of significant trading disruptions if the December deal between the EU and the UK is not implemented.

*****

The Government unveiled its €116 billion 10-year capital development plan on Friday, which included a revised Metro North scheme that, it is hoped, will unlock swathes of Dublin for new developments to ease the housing crisis.

The project will be extended beyond the north side, stretching deep into the southern suburbs, linking with Dart and Luas lines. One of the main goals is to drive growth in urban centres around the State to deal with population growth. Almost half of all houses must be constructed in cities, towns and villages under the plan.

For now, though, matters don’t seem to be improving much. A development of eight residential properties proposed by Victoria Homes for Foxrock, Co Dublin, has been refused planning permission on the basis that it would be “visually obtrusive”.

An Bord Pleanála refused permission for eight, three-storey semi-detached properties, all with five bedrooms, off Golf Lane. The 0.37 hectare site is located near Torquay Road, one of the suburb’s prime roads.

Elsewhere, there were strident objections to Cairn Homes’ proposed nine-storey development for up to 600 students in Stillorgan. It attracted more than 50 submissions, and was called a “monstrosity” as objectors pointed to height, parking and traffic issues.

There was also activity in Kiltiernan, south Dublin, as receivers Declan Taite and Anne O’Dwyer sought permission to build more than 140 dwellings on a site once linked to developer brothers Michael and Martin Doran of Ellen Construction.

All the while rents are continuing to rise. Daft.ie’s rental report for the fourth quarter of 2017 said average rents in Dublin are likely to hit about €2,500 a month before the market starts to taper.

Asking prices for rented properties rose 2.4 per cent to an average nationwide rent of €1,227. This translates into a 10.4 per cent rise on an annual basis.

*****

It was a bumper week for jobs as plans for 600 new posts were announced, but the news was not so good for staff at semi-State company Bord na Móna, where dozens are to be laid off.

Pharma group MSD announced plans for a new biotech facility in Swords, Co Dublin, in a move that is expected to create 350 jobs. MSD expects the new facility to be operational in 2021, and fully certified by 2022.

Another firm opening a new Dublin facility is Autodesk, which helps engineers, architects and others with design software. It will hire 200 people this year across a number of roles, including finance, operations, localisation and sales operations.

Some 28 jobs are coming at the newly formed Irish aircraft refurbishment specialist STS UJet following the merger of UJet and US company STS Component Solutions. Finally, Toyota is to create 25 jobs in its new finance arm.

Over at Bord na Móna, though, about 85 workers at its factory face compulsory redundancy in what is the first such agreement between unions and a State company for more than 30 years.

Workers in the Littleton peat briquette plant in Co Tipperary have voted overwhelmingly for a redundancy deal negotiated by three unions ahead of the factory’s closure this year.

The agreement provides for compulsory redundancies, allowing Bord na Móna to let workers go on March 28th if they cannot be kept on or redeployed. The company is keeping on roughly 40 of the 127 staff to wind down the Littleton facility.

*****

All these jobs announcements are all very fine, but citizens all over the State are still dealing with legacy issues from the financial crash.

Overseas private-equity and hedge funds are currently circling as much as €11 billion of Irish loans – mainly mortgages – that have been put in the market by three of the most active lenders during the property bubble.

Permanent TSB has put as much as €4 billion of non-performing mortgages up for sale under its so-called Project Glas portfolio, triple the amount previously envisaged by management at one time, it has emerged.

Elsewhere, Lloyds Banking Group has begun the process of selling its remaining €5 billion Irish mortgage book, while AIB drew initial bids of up to €2 billion late last month for €3.75 billion par-value loans.

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