Ireland’s Micheál Martin says domestic market is “simply too small” for ambitious companies

Micheál Martin, Ireland’s enterprise and trade minister, has warned his country’s contractors that they must seek out international work if they want to continue to grow.

Speaking to Building, Martin said the Irish domestic market is “simply too small to allow companies of scale to emerge”. Irish contractors have increased turnover by as much as five times over the past decade, largely as a result of the £39bn 2000-06 National Development Plan. This has included road building and regeneration schemes.

But Martin said that economic growth is likely to level out in the coming years, meaning that firms with expansion plans should look abroad. He said: “Sustained growth will depend ultimately on construction companies’ success in increasing market share in world markets.”

Most Irish construction figures believe the UK will be the main target, but Martin added that the expansion of the European Union would offer “huge opportunities” to Irish companies.

Enterprise Ireland, the government’s international development agency, has started a campaign to get the 10 biggest Irish contractors by turnover to either start up or grow their existing operations in the UK. It wants them to have significant operations in this country within two to three years.

There are signs that Irish contractors are looking to the UK. SIAC, Ireland’s seventh biggest contractor, is looking to grow its UK operations 60% to nearly £50m within five years. In recent years, the Bristol and Somerset-based business has been stuck around the £30m turnover-a-year mark, but managing director Finn Lyden believes the time is right to grow by acquisition.

It is expected that many contractors will look to win work in Northern Ireland before hitting the mainland, so that their accounts departments can get used to working in sterling.