John O’Shaughnessy, Managing Director, Clancy Construction

Robbie Cousins speaks with John O’Shaughnessy, Managing Director, Clancy Construction,  about how the contractor has adapted to meet the Covid-19 challenge, and why he believes the sector will come out stronger at the other side of the pandemic.

Like every other construction leader, at the start of 2020, John O’Shaughnessy had a very different vision for how the year would pan out. Having expanded the Clancy Construction leadership team during 2019 to bring the company into new markets, and securing several prestigious contracts, 2020 was setting out to be another good year for the Tipperary-headquartered contractor.

As chairman of the CIF Manpower, Education and Training sub-Committee, he was looking forward to the launch of the CIF ‘Careers in Construction’ campaign, a schools-focused initiative to address skills shortages in the industry that has the broad support of Government.

As chairman of the CIF South East Branch, he had just welcomed the opening of the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Bridge in Wexford, and the submission of a planning application for the North Quays development in Waterford City, both of which are set to play a significant role in revitalising the south-east of the country.

A pivotal move

Then Covid-19 struck and all plans for the year changed. Now, six months into the new norm, Clancy has not only helped pilot and refine the CIF’s C19 Pandemic Standard Operating Procedure (SOP), it negotiated and delivered two of the quickest fast-track construction projects ever to be completed in Ireland for HSE Estates.

To employ a much-overused word, in March, John O’Shaughnessy and his leadership team ‘pivoted’ their operations. As a result, Clancy became one of the lead contractors to bring the sector into the new Covid-19 working norm. At the same time, it established a strong foothold in the market for fast-track offsite construction programmes.

When the industry shutdown was imposed in March, Clancy won a tender to build two essential medical facilities – one at University Hospital Limerick (UHL), the other at Croom Hospital, Co Limerick – using a fast-track offsite construction process. The company also implemented and helped refine new Covid-19 measures as the buildings went up.


Virtual environment

Speaking in August, with the UHL facility already in use and the Croom facility nearing completion, John O’Shaughnessy explains that the successful delivery of the two facilities could not have been achieved without the commitment given by every stakeholder to the project. Also, in the weeks leading up to the projects, Clancy had switched its project management teams over to the virtual environment, another measure that was essential to facilitate the work.

“We had already invested in the necessary technology to integrate Building Information Modelling (BIM) into our operations and enable our teams to work remotely in the past few years. We have been using Microsoft Teams as standard for two years. All of our management teams use iPads for checking work. Our head office and Dublin office were set up to enable people to dial in remotely and minimise the need for travel. So, when coronavirus hit, it was a straightforward transition to switch to virtual meetings and monitor projects remotely.”

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New University Hospital Limerick facility.

UHL and Croom Hospitals

In early February, following the Covid-19 lockdown of Wuhan, China, the world saw Chinese contractors use fast-track construction to deliver a coronavirus hospital. Prefabricated materials enabled safe, fast construction and installation. The site was open 24 hours a day, with workers completing 12-hour shifts.

One month later, when coronavirus arrived on Irish shores, with sites identified, HSE Estates put projects out to tender, and Clancy responded to the call to deliver extra capacity.

Clancy won a tender for two fast-track facilities, delivering a single-story, 24-bed single block unit at UHL, and a three-storey unit in Croom, which comprises a 24-bed ward on the ground floor, grey-box on the first floor and a plant room on the top floor.

The UHL unit had an on-site programme of just 14 weeks, while the Croom unit, had a 17-week on-site programme.

John O’Shaughnessy explains that the project programmes were agreed simultaneously in March.

“The building programme for the two facilities was preceded by a two-week pre-design programme. Once we got on site, we ran two-shift, 16-hour days, sometimes extending to three shifts in 24-hours, seven days a week. The successful delivery of the programme required complete collaboration at every level of the project team. Everybody played a part and took great pride in what they were doing.

“We believe it is the first project of that size and type to be delivered in such a short space of time and to such a high-quality finish in this country.”

He continues. “It was a fantastic project for Clancy. We set a target, agreed this with the HSE, and delivered. It was a huge learning experience for all of us, and Clancy now has many opportunities coming off the back of it.”


CIF Pandemic SOP

The project was on site as the CIF’s Covid-19 Working Group, set up by the CIF Safety, Health and Welfare sub-Committee (HWsC), was developing the SOP. Clancy was able to pilot the measures being introduced.

“The CIF was a huge assistance to us. The SOP is exceptional. As it was being developed, we were testing it on our sites and reporting back. It was a huge ask of the HWsC to develop it in such a short period. But, they did, and full credit must go to them, particularly the leadership shown by Dermot Carey [Director, Safety & Training, CIF] and Frank Kelly [Chairman, HWsC, and Senior Vice President, CIF].”

He continues, “In implementing the measures, we proved you could get work done and keep sites open. While there have since been Covid-19 cases on a number of construction sites, there are protocols in place to deal with them. These keep other workers safe and provide the necessary support and care for workers who contracted the virus.

“It should be noted that the SOP became the document that the Government used as the basis to reopen other sectors of the economy.”

Future plans

Speaking about what is next for Clancy, John O’Shaughnessy says he is very optimistic about the next 18 months, but cautious about how Covid will affect the business.

“Covid-19 remains a major threat to the sector. Clancy is in a strong position. Our order book is more than full for this year, and it is threequarters full for next year.”

Current and upcoming projects include healthcare facilities, student accommodation, residential, office and conservation projects.

“UHL and Croom have placed us well for tendering for HSE work and other public and private sector work. Offsite is going to become more commonplace. It will play a big part in our operations in the coming 18 months.

“But 2022 is another story. We need to consider as an industry where things might be at that point. Covid-19 has changed everything, but it has brought opportunities. We must make the most by adapting and being ready for the opportunities that arise.”


Industry measures

Outside of his work with Clancy, John O’Shaughnessy is excited about how the now planned virtual CIF Careers in Construction campaign will run.

“It is an honour and great experience to serve as Chairperson of the CIF Manpower, Education and Training sub-Committee. The committee comprises very talented and experienced individuals from across the sector, and the support we receive from the CIF executive is exceptional.

“We had the Careers in Construction programme ready to roll when Covid-19 took priority. We are now planning to roll it out virtually when schools get back up and running. I am very excited about this initiative and delighted with the broad support we received from the Government.”


Challenges ahead

In closing, John O’Shaughnessy wants to acknowledge the exceptional work done by the Government in their handling of the pandemic and putting stimulus packages in place.

“The Government has done a fantastic job of controlling the virus so far. We must remain mindful as individuals of our responsibilities to stop the virus spreading by following proper hygiene rules.

“We don’t know how this will play out. The industry has shown exceptional resilience so far. The Government has made the right decisions in bringing in stimulus packages. We had austerity in 2008, and this did not work. Having the stimulus upfront is the only way to go.

“We also have a lot of other challenges ahead, not to mention Brexit. We need to continue re-evaluating our strategies and adapting to meet emerging challenges. If we do this, we should emerge stronger on the other side of this pandemic.”

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