Architects have reacted angrily to Irish deputy prime minister Mary Coughlan’s claim that they are a sector that has yet to feel ‘the chill winds of economic reality’, and that they should be slashing fees to make the Republic more competitive.
Her comments, in an address to the McGill Summer School in her native Donegal, prompted a rare public rebuke for a government minister from the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland (RIAI). The institute’s director, John Graby, said the remarks showed ‘a worrying disconnect from reality’. He added: ‘As has been widely reported, 40 per cent of architects have been made redundant and the RIAI has a significant number of members on Jobseeker’s Allowance.
‘Many architects in employment have experienced pay cuts and three-day weeks. How chilly does it have to get to reach the minister’s attention?’
Coughlan, who is also the Irish Enterprise, Trade and Employment Minister, told her audience: ‘There are certain sectors where competition and the chill winds of economic reality have yet to reach. Certain professions (architects, accountants, lawyers and doctors, she later explained) have yet to play their part and have yet to tell us how they will reduce their fees.
‘In an Ireland where the majority have to make painful choices, there is no place for this level of economic conceit from any sector.’
Her remarks brought an avalanche of protest letters to the Irish national media. Finola Thompson, director of a 60-year-old family practice in Limerick, described the minister’s comments as ‘galling’, and went on to explain how staff at the practice had been cut from 29 to 12 in just a year and were working reduced hours to save jobs, while directors had taken a 25 per cent pay cut.
Meanwhile newly-qualified Isabel Cogan said she felt ‘extremely lucky’ to have a job when most young architects in Dublin ‘have been out of work for months and have no prospect of finding employment any time soon’. Sean Keyes of Murray O’Laoire Architects, said that, given the widespread redundancies and short-time working in the profession, the minister’s claim made no sense. ‘It’s just laughable,’ he said.