ARCHITECTS ROLLING UP THEIR SLEEVES - The Central Statistics Office and FÁS estimate that overall employment in the construction sector has halved since peak employment during the boom. In niche areas of the sector the crash has been much harder and it is thought that more than half of all architects are out of work. But according to the new boss at the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland, architects have their own answer to the jobs crisis.

The new president of the Royal Institute of Architects in Ireland, Paul Keogh, says that the construction sector is pretty tough at the moment - not just for architects, but for engineers and surveyors. He says that about 50% are unemployed while a lot more are under-employed. He says the real issue is that there is no investment going into the infrastructure and the environment. He says that building programmes are falling behind in such areas as the country's health authorities, schools, public buildings and fire stations.

Mr Keogh says the RIAI's real concern is that if the Government does nothing about this lack of spending, it will place the country at a huge competitive disadvantage in the years ahead. He says proposals which the Government could look at is the re-investment of about €70 billion currently invested in foreign equities being brought back to Ireland to be used to invest in the country's infrastructure.

He also says that architects are very pro-active and says he launched an action plan last night at his inauguration. The institute has launched a competition for a women's refuge in Coolock, Dublin and the Simon Community are holding an open door event next week, where 100 architects will give their services free to the public in return for a donation to the charity. He says architects feel that while there is not a lot of work out there at the moment, the profession should still be producing ideas and still producing constructive proposals as to how the country can get itself out of 'this mess'.


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MORNING BRIEFS - It Is likely the European Commission will approve NAMA in the next few weeks. The decision on the €54 billion scheme rests with Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia. He is assessing whether the plan complies with rules on the treatment of impaired assets in asset-relief schemes.

*** Figures from ratings agency Moody's show that the number of mortgage holders in default is levelling off. Its figures on mortgage-backed bonds show that the number of loans where interest has not been paid for more than 90 days fell slightly between November and December to 3.24%. The proportion of the loans in actual default also fell.

*** US and European competition regulators approved an internet search alliance between Microsoft and Yahoo in a decision that backed the view of many big advertisers that the combination would give kingpin Google more competition. The companies said they would begin integrating the relevant operations in the coming days.

Microsoft would assume responsibility by the end of 2010 for the computer-generated search results and advertising links on Yahoo's pages.

*** Dell has reported a 6% fall in quarterly earnings, as low profit margins offset an increase in sales. The world's third-largest computer-maker made a net profit of $334m in the three months to the end of January, down from $351m a year ago. Dell saw sales of its personal computers rise 29% during the quarter, but more consumers were choosing to buy its less profitable, cheapest models. Despite the profit fall, the US group's results still beat market expectations. Its revenues for the quarter rose 11% to $14.9 billion. Dell's figures come a day after rival Hewlett-Packard reported that its net profit for the same key Christmas-period quarter soared 25% after strong sales.

*** Tokyo's Nikkei index is down by 2% this morning and the Hang Seng is 2.5% lower after the US Federal Reserve made its first interest rate move since December 2008. It raised an emergency lending rate it charges banks.

*** On the currency markets, the euro is trading at $1.3469 cents and 87.45 pence sterling.