Construction is resuming on 35 social housing projects to ensure local authorities can deliver accommodation for people currently in emergency accommodation or at risk of homelessness during the current pandemic, the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government confirmed.
However, the Construction Industry Federation has warned members that if they do not comply rigorously with health and safety regulations, sites will be closed down again.
In a statement to RTÉ, the Department said local authorities had identified a number of social housing projects which were in some cases "substantially complete with minor snagging or other works to be completed".
It said the units in 35 schemes across 14 counties would provide valuable emergency solutions and critical accommodation for those needing to self-isolate or cocoon, and facilitate social distancing.
The Department, the Housing Agency and the Housing Delivery Coordination Office (HDCO) have established a process where the relevant local authority will apply through the HDCO for a designation that a specific project falls within the meaning of essential activity under the health regulations.
It states: "In applying for that designation the Local Authority confirms that the works are essential, the homes can be completed quickly and that they will assure themselves that all the necessary Covid-19 public health requirements can be met on-site."
A spokesperson for the Department said some of this work may have already resumed.
Meanwhile the Construction Industry Federation has warned members that if they breach health and safety regulation when the first building works resume, all sites may be shut down.
In a letter to relevant developers entitled "Recommencement of Social Housing Classified as Essential Projects", CIF Director Housing, Planning & Development Services James Benson highlights a new Standard Operating Procedure and a "Residential Sector Back to Work Implementation Framework around Covid-19 prevention measures on site, which can be accessed online.
The letter notes that the new processes involve "...radical changes to how work is carried out and how employees travel to work, work, and return home. As with most measures, personal responsibility is critical to successfully stopping the virus."
The letter then goes on to issue a stark warning: "However, as an employer, the equation is simple: if the SOP & BTWIF guidance is not followed by employees, they are at risk and our understanding is that construction sites will be shut down again."
The CIF letter notes that before the construction industry was shut down, "... images of crowded sites and employees in high viz not maintaining physical distancing, effectively made it impossible for the Government to keep sites open."
The letter confirms that the CIF, the Irish Home Builders Association and An Garda Síochána are still fielding regular calls from members of the public reporting companies at work, and advises members to "go above and beyond what's normal and do whatever it takes to ensure employees comply with the SOP and attached documents."
The letter then outlines a series of steps for construction firms to implement including familiarisation with the new SOP and Framework, carrying out a safety review, appointing a Covid-19 Compliance Officer, changing traditional work practices where necessary to ensure compliance.
Only workers who have successfully completed induction in the new procedures will be given digital cards.
Workers must travel to work individually "where possible", and employers must ensure workers do not congregate on the way to the site, onsite or leaving the site or take lunch in groups. .
They are also advised to consider branding vehicles and sites as "essential services", informing the local Gardai, and appointing a person to speak to the public if queries arise.
The CIF goes on to tell members: "Carrying out these measures whilst working will keep these sites open. It will also help make the case to Government, Health Authorities and other public sector clients to open other sites and the wider industry at a suitable time in the future. Failure to do so could see sites shut again for the duration of the pandemic, potentially months; a disastrous scenario for you, our sector, the industry and the wider economy."
The housing projects are in Carlow, Cork City, Cork County, Dublin City Council, Fingal, South Dublin County Council, Kildare, Kilkenny, Louth, Meath, Tipperary, Waterford, Westmeath and Wicklow.