UK firms seek assurances about the Dublin government’s £14bn six-year road and rail infrastructure project.

UK contractors have reacted coolly to the Irish government’s attempts to lure them across the Irish Sea to work on its £14bn National Development Plan.

Contractors attending a conference on the six-year infrastructure plan last week were quick to see the potential downsides of involvement.Among their worries were the slow speed at which the Dublin government was working, the legal framework and the fact that they had enough work to be getting on with at home.

Balfour Beatty Capital Projects operations director Stephen Tarr said: “We question whether the Irish government is giving itself enough time. We are now convinced that the opportunities are real but it’s not going to be a gravy train.”

Tarr’s fears were echoed by other contractors at the conference. One said: “Some government departments seem a bit sleepy. I fear they will get caught on the hop. The whole scheme needs more resource and more drive.” Tarr also said there was a considerable amount of risk involved in taking plant and labour to a foreign country, and wanted clarity on the legal framework his company would be operating in. He said: “What happens if you take labour over and another UK firm doesn’t? How will that play in adjudication?”

The timing of the plan was questioned by some firms. They felt that they did not need to work abroad at the moment because workload was good at home. Costain managing estimator Dave Tingay said: “It’s a pity that it’s happening at the same time that UK civil engineering is booming.”

Specialists were more upbeat about the Irish opportunities. One predicted that problems of finding labour would be overcome by bringing workers in from the Indian subcontinent. Engineers also reacted more positively to the plan, pointing to the high ambitions behind the spend. Mott MacDonald International managing director Doug Twigg praised the plan for being full of detail and specifics. He said: “It’s very ambitious. A lot of people may feel the plans will be hard to achieve but even if they achieve a good proportion, it will be a success. There are a lot of opportunities for consultants, designers and contractors.”

Responding to the worries about the legal problems of taking staff to Ireland, Drake & Scull commercial director Mike Salmon said: “Of course there’s a risk associated with taking plant and labour. You’ve got to house employees and ensure they settle in. But we’ve done this for years in our Middle East markets.”

Salmon added that the plan could reverse the centuries-old trend of labour moving from Ireland to the USA. He said: “We would source engineering expertise from the USA.”