IRELAND - The Irish government has been in negotiations with pension funds and other institutional investors in an effort to secure capital for infrastructure projects in the country, its minister for public expenditure and reform has said.

Speaking in the Dáil, deputy Brendan Howlin also said government had met with the European Investment Bank (EIB) last week in an effort to benefit from proposals being drawn up on infrastructure funding.

The announcement comes not long after the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) called for the launch of a new investment vehicle to attract local pension fund investors to the market.

Howlin told the country's lower house: "There have been extensive discussions with a broad range of potential investors including Irish pension funds, international banks, investment and brokerage companies and representatives of private investment funds."

Speaking late last week, he added that his department was engaging with private sector investors to attract funding.

"Officials also have ongoing engagement with the European Investment Bank and will be meeting EIB officials this week to discuss how Ireland might benefit from proposals arising to help secure funding for infrastructure projects," he added.

The ICTU earlier this month called for the creation of a new fund to attract pension fund investment from schemes in Ireland in an effort to relaunch projects.

Transport projects Metro North and DART Underground, both in Dublin, have been postponed by government over the cost involved. 

ICTU officer Fergus Whelan said the creation of an investment vehicle with "appropriate risk-sharing" would allow some of the country's pension assets to be invested locally, adding that the funds currently stimulated economic and employment growth "everywhere but here".

He said the proposed vehicle could save projects "abandoned" by government.

"That special vehicle could be gradually expanded to cover many more hospitals, schools and other socially necessary infrastructure," he said.

"We need smart, innovative and creative strategies to get ourselves out of this crisis, and this proposal could help tap a major new source of funding to get people back to work and kick-start the recovery."

The ICTU's president Jack O'Connor had previously called for an alternative to the 0.6% annual pensions levy, with pension funds that invested 5% of scheme assets in Irish infrastructure projects exempt from the controversial tax.