Macron issues EU rallying call as Brexit talks rumble on

Business Week: Cairn Homes prepares to break ground at RTÉ while Intel’s €3.5bn construction plans meet local opposition

French president Emmanuel Macron issued an urgent appeal to EU citizens this week, arguing that Brexit "symbolises the crisis of Europe".

In a letter published in The Irish Times and newspapers in the other 27 European Union member states, Macron called on the people of Europe to mobilise for “the values of progress” and against “nationalists without solutions”.

They were lofty words and notions but back at the coalface there was little sign of any meetings of minds as UK negotiators went back and forth to Brussels in search of the elusive compromise that might pave the way for an orderly Brexit.

If MPs reject the Brexit deal on Tuesday, they will vote on Wednesday on whether they want to leave the EU without a deal and on Thursday on whether UK prime minister Theresa May should seek an extension to the article 50 negotiating period.


May once again insisted the EU must agree to changes she is seeking to the Northern Ireland backstop if her deal is to win a majority. But hopes of a breakthrough dimmed after the EU rejected UK attorney general Geoffrey Cox’s latest proposal as “insane”.

The Cox proposal provided for an arbitration panel that would decide if enough “good faith” was being shown in negotiating a new deal for post-Brexit trade to avert the need for customs checks on the Border.

Brexit was also cited as a key reason for a slowdown in advertising spend in the Republic

The EU and the UK would then have to go into a “mini-backstop”, which would include fewer checks than the ones envisaged in the withdrawal agreement. “Things are not looking good,” one diplomat said afterwards.

There were a number of parliamentary setbacks for May this week also. Her government was defeated in the House of Lords over an amendment that would oblige Britain to seek to remain in a customs union with the European Union after Brexit. That was after the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly passed identical motions calling on May’s government to rule out a no-deal Brexit and to seek an extension to the article 50 deadline.

Meanwhile, the consequences of the uncertainty continue to take their toll, as the latest SME Market Monitor indicated a broad range of negative trends including a sharp fall in consumer sentiment and a fall in retail sales for the third month running.

Brexit was also cited as a key reason for a slowdown in advertising spend in the Republic, while mergers and acquisitions activity involving Irish companies has declined sharply in recent months.

In better news, US investment magnate Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Insurance Group has been granted approval to set up a unit in Ireland to allow it to continue to service clients in Ireland and the European Economic Area (EEA) after Brexit.

Fresh industrial crisis looming

There were signs this week that a fresh industrial relations crisis may be brewing – this time in the construction sector.

The Construction Industry Federation rejected demands from its workers for a 12 per cent pay increase over three years, pointing to the dangers Brexit will pose for the sector, as well as the risk that pay rises would push up house prices.

Siptu organiser John Regan confirmed on Monday that the union's members are pursuing the increase as part of a process in establishing a new framework covering rates of pay, sick pay, and pensions across the sector.

Stephen Garvey, chief operating officer of Glenveagh Properties, said he did not believe the sector had the resources or the manpower to build much more than 20,000 housing units a year

Separately, a Government-appointed expert group warned about the impact of “excessive cost inflation” in the industry, which it described as a “key risk” for 2019.

The report, from the public-private Construction Sector Group, also warned of the upward march of labour costs, an impending tightening in the supply of new workers, and the “major constraint” threatened by a lack of productivity growth in the sector.

Meanwhile, the struggle for supply to keep up with demand continues, with a leading housebuilder this week claiming the private sector does not have the resources to build the 35,000 new housing units needed each year.

Stephen Garvey, chief operating officer of Glenveagh Properties, said he did not believe the sector had the resources or the manpower to build much more than 20,000 housing units a year.

Elsewhere, Cairn Homes hopes to begin construction within a year on the high-profile site it bought from State broadcaster RTÉ for €107 million, where it could build more than 500 apartments, according to chief executive Michael Stanley.

Further south in the capital, US private equity giant Lone Star emerged as the leading bidder for 73 acres of development land that investment firms Hines and King Street Capital are selling in Cherrywood that would be capable of accommodating 2,600 homes.

Intel runs into planning difficulty

Details emerged this week of what could turn into the latest instalment of the State’s planning battles between multinational investors and local objectors.

Kildare farmer Thomas Reid is seeking to prevent the development of a $4 billion (€3.53 billion) facility at Intel’s campus in Leixlip. The company said that should the project go ahead, it would employ 6,000 construction workers at its peak.

There was a raft of corporate news elsewhere too, as Voxpro, the fast-growing Irish business-process outsourcing company, said it would look to tap public markets in an initial public offering in the “not-too-distant future”.

In the gambling sector, Paddy Power Betfair said it could buy more businesses to add to last month's purchase of Georgian operator Adjarabet. The company also intends to ask shareholders to change its name to Flutter Entertainment plc at its agm in May. Elsewhere, global gambling group 888 is buying Irish-based Betbright, the online bookie backed by racehorse owner and former banker Rich Ricci in a deal worth £15 million (€17.5 million).

Finally, JP Morgan said growth in information technology jobs was behind an expected doubling of its Irish workforce in the coming years. It is expected to open new offices in next week in Dublin, where it currently employs about 530 people.