Army plan to engage northern builder provokes ire


PLANS BY the Department of Defence to go across the Border and sign up a Northern Ireland construction firm for a new €1.5 million building programme for the Army at Finner Camp, near Ballyshannon, have been criticised by politicians and business people in Co Donegal.

The Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association (Isme) has urged Minister for Defence Willie O’Dea to order a rethink.

Tenders from a number of contractors in counties Donegal and Sligo were rejected in favour of one from a construction company based in Omagh, Co Tyrone.

The department said no contract has yet been signed and it is not policy to comment on any agreement before it has been signed.

However, Ballyshannon mayor Eugene Dolan said: “It’s unbelievable. We’re in the deepest recession the Republic has ever known and a Government contract that would have given employment in one of the worst jobs black spots is going out of the State.

“You couldn’t make it up. What about all those pleadings from Ministers to the people to demonstrate their patriotism and shop locally instead of seeking bargains across the Border? You would think they might like to practise what they preach,” he said. “Does anybody think for one minute that if a construction job had to be done at an army barracks in the North it would go to a company south of the Border?”

It’s understood the northern company, McCanns of Omagh, submitted an estimate for the job at about €40,000 lower than any tenderer in the Republic.

The owner of one Donegal company said: “Whatever the State may have saved in going across the Border will have been lost through unemployment and other welfare payments to people who could have been taken off the dole queues in Ballyshannon and Bundoran if the contract was assigned locally.”

Isme chief executive Mark Fielding sent a letter to Mr O’Dea with copies to Taoiseach Brian Cowen, and Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Mary Coughlan who is TD for Donegal South West.

Mr Fielding wrote: “Notwithstanding EU law and protocols, I would request that every effort is made to include local firms in the construction work being proposed. As you will no doubt be aware, Donegal and the area of south Donegal, Sligo and Leitrim in particular has been suffering firm closures and job losses over the last few years. This is an opportunity to ‘shop local’ for the Government and do as you encourage us all to be patriotic in our spending.”

Most construction work at Finner since 1981 was carried out by local company, GKT. It was one of the companies whose estimate was rejected. Brendan Keown, a director of GKT, said he had no complaint about losing out on pricing grounds. But he questioned what wages will be paid to northern workers. He said companies in the Republic are bound by Construction Industry Federation rates of up to €21 an hour, while rates in the North are about £8.50 (€9.75) an hour.

He said: “The only way northern companies can tender below us is because of the lower wages in the industry that apply there. However, I would have thought that anybody contracting to work for the Irish Government would be expected to pay wages that apply in the Republic.”

Tenders were invited by the Department of Defence for new administration and armoury buildings made necessary by the transfer of 300 soldiers to Finner following the closure earlier this year of Army bases in Lifford and Letterkenny.

Defence Forces sources said the contract would have been awarded by senior Army personnel because the armoury would have had to be designed “in house”. The sources said that once a contract is above €150,000, anybody in the EU can tender for it.