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So, what's the economic view in Dublin?

By Brendan Keenan

Published 26/04/2016

Green shoots are at last appearing in the garden, after another cold spring caused by global warming. Pottering among the statistics shows sturdy plants in the economy as well, but worries about the climate.

Some of the economic shoots had been all but dormant. This is especially true of construction. As expected, Ulster Bank's survey of purchasing managers in the industry found that growth last month was not quite as stellar as February but the figure of 62.3 is still pretty bright, given that 50 represents a steady level of output.

Building activity has now increased in each of the past 31 months. The fastest growth last month was on commercial projects, followed by house building. Employment has risen every month since September 2013.

One has to keep reminding oneself of the difference between growth - which the survey measures - and actual output. That remains very low, especially in housing, but growth has a habit of feeding on itself and the rate of expansion could yet rise faster.

The difference between the two can be seen in recent figures for planning permissions. These too are rising rapidly - doubling in the last three months of 2015 as compared with the same period the previous year. But that still amounts to just 4,000 permissions for all kinds of dwellings, of which a quarter were for one-off houses.

The figure brought total permissions last year to 13,000, well below the natural demand, and not all may be built. Even so, there is the possibility that, by the time conventional solutions to the housing crisis are in a position to provide the houses, the industry will be delivering the necessary supply itself, but enormous economic and social damage will have been done in the meantime.

This is a storm which threatens to wreck the benign domestic economic climate. Unconventional - perhaps even slightly unconstitutional - measures will be needed to get anything done in the short term.

Belfast Telegraph

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