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Call to Make Retrofitting Works Essential in Ireland

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- Open Letter to Minister Eamon Ryan -

Call to Make Retrofitting Works Essential

March 24th, 2021
Minister Eamon Ryan,
Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications,
29-31 Adelaide Rd,
Saint Kevin's,
D02 X285

Dear Minister,

We are writing to you air our concerns and frustrations with the government’s leadership in handling the current Covid-19 restrictions - namely the effective closing of the Construction Industry in early January of this year with the exception of some “Essential Works” which does not include the Retrofit Sector.

This failure by government to deem Retrofitting Works as essential is a complete contradiction to the Dáil’s actions in 2019, to be only the second country in the world to declare a climate emergency.

Yesterday many of us in the industry watched on as the government published its Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2021 which was certainly a positive step by this country.

However, to quote your department’s own words “The Climate Bill makes the Government legally accountable for this target”, in turn we as an industry are holding you - the Minster for the Environment, Climate and Communications - accountable to protect this sector from imminent collapse by ensuring that Retrofit Works are deemed as Essential Works as part of your government’s review of the restrictions in the run up to the 4th of April next.

The grounds for calling on government to deem retrofitting works as essential works include:

Health Benefits Deem Retrofitting Essential

The health benefits of retrofitting homes have been proven to include improved self-reported health, fewer self-reported GP visits and fewer sick days from school or work (Chapman et al. 2009; Howden-Chapman et al. 2012; Ormandy and Ezratty 2012). We would argue that further delays to reopen this sector beyond April 4th will result in additional negative health affects to customers currently living in damp, cold homes where mould is likely to be existing, particularly in situations where the occupants suffer from any respiratory conditions.

Serious Financial Losses Experienced in this sector

It takes approximately 3 weeks to recommence retrofitting works fully due to the complexity of the work involved, high volumes of small projects that involve getting scaffolding erected, getting ESB/GNI Service alterations completed, getting materials delivered, etc. This meant that the majority of retrofit companies incurred significant losses in the month of December as a result of homeowners’ reluctance to start works in December over fears that they would be unfinished for Christmas. This has resulted in retrofit companies incurring higher losses as a result of this lockdown by comparison to other sectors in the construction industry, which only experienced a reduction in turnover in the month of December due to the reduced number of working days due to the seasonal holidays

Lack of Financial Resources within the industry

The retrofit industry is predominately made up of very small retrofit companies, sole traders and family businesses who simply do not have the financial resources to sustain further lockdown restrictions past the beginning of April. These companies have essentially been suffering losses since last December, a month before the rest of the construction sector faced shut down at the start of January.

Loss of Skilled Labour

To date, this sector has already lost a huge amount of their trades people to other sectors of the construction sector deemed essential over the past 3 months. While the industry has historically always struggled to compete for skilled resources due to competition from other sectors such as the new home sector.

This is in part due to the fact that other sectors, such as new home construction, can offer greater repetitive work, often with better onsite facilities given the duration of their projects. If the new home construction sector is allowed to open ahead of the retrofit sector, it will result in an exodus of skilled labour into the new home sector and other sectors of construction deemed essential.

The Sector is on a Knife Edge

The retrofit sector is simply on a knife edge. Companies are struggling to sustain weekly losses as a result of the shutdown and if the reopening of this sector is not included as part of the first stage, it will result in a loss of skilled labour from these companies and remove the only means these companies have of recovering from the financial losses as a result of this lockdown: the labour they need to complete the work to get restarted again

The Dáil supported your call to declare a Climate Emergency in 2019 and now the Dáil and this government must act to put genuine meaning behind this declaration by ensuring that Retrofitting Works (which may be limited to outdoor works) are allowed to recommence activity from April 4th next.

The reasons for supporting our call are simple:

  • This will protect the retrofit sector from almost certain imminent collapse.
  • This measure will not result in any net gain to activity or movement of people – because if this change is not included in next week’s review of the governments restrictions the skilled workers, who up to now have worked in the retrofit sector, will simply move to working in the other sectors of construction deemed essential, or simply continue to work in unregulated environments.
  • Skilled workers who move from the retrofit sector to other areas of construction deemed essential will likely not return and will result in a further lack of skilled resources needed to support this governments increased retrofitting commitments not only in this year, but for many years to come.
  • Retrofitting companies are made up of sole traders and small family businesses who operate in small pods of 2-3 people who work exclusively together on a full-time basis.
  • Retrofitting companies have implemented extensive Covid-19 Response Plans to ensure the safety of their staff, their customers and the public, which has proven effective by the low transmission rates in this sector to date.
  • Retrofitting works maybe limited to outdoor works, if needed, and advised by NPHET, as this would provide enough scope for companies to recommence works at reduced levels, which will be sufficient to stave off further losses.
  • This is an opportunity for government, and the Green Party in particular, to put real meaning behind your recently published Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2021 and to assure the industry that will be needed to deliver on the government’s Climate Action Plan 2030 is protected, now and into the future.

In summary, we are asking you to do nothing more than to show leadership on this matter, to insist that the work of the Retrofit Industry is deemed as Essential Works so that the industry can survive this crisis and deliver the hugely ambitious Climate Action retrofitting targets over the next 10 years.

We respect that NPHET’s role is to advise on public health, however it is the role of government and all elected officials also consider a wider range of considerations which also includes the economic impacts to small businesses, their staff, their families, and the customers they serve.

We are calling on you not to repeat the mistakes of the past when the sufficient consideration wasn’t given to the need for housing at the time of our last economic crisis of 2008.

I hope that you can share this with your colleagues in government and ensure this Retrofit Sector’s voice is heard and acted upon.

We thank you for your consideration and hope that it will lead to a positive outcome for the industry, our staff, our families, and the customers we serve.


Retrofit Industry Ireland

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