More schools built by firm despite fire safety concerns

The company that built dozens of schools now under investigation due to fire safety concerns is currently building six more schools for the Department of Education and was given the contracts after the fears emerged, writes Fiachra Ó Cionnaith.

More schools built by firm despite fire safety concerns

The Irish Examiner has learned Western Building Systems is still receiving department work, despite the Government being in ongoing contact with the Chief State Solicitor’s Office over safety issues uncovered at other schools.

On Tuesday, Education Minister Richard Bruton confirmed that his department has launched a full review of all 37 schools built by the company since 2003.

The investigation was set up in addition to a sample audit of 25 schools built by a number of firms over the past 20 years.

It is due to begin in October and to be completed by Christmas.

This sample audit was in turn established in response to serious concerns over fire safety reports into five Western-built schools which were carried out in response to an October 2015 Irish Examiner investigation.

During a detailed meeting with the Dáil education committee on Tuesday, Mr Bruton said EU tendering rules mean it is difficult to prevent any firm from continuing to receive work from the State.

He said his department is in “ongoing” contact with the Chief State Solicitor’s Office over the issue and has created a new clerk of works role to oversee any future developments, but he made no mention of whether Western is continuing to build schools.

However, in a statement to the Irish Examiner, a department spokesperson confirmed that the Co Tyrone-based company is building six more schools for the State and received the contracts for the work after the fire safety issues were raised.

The schools are Firhouse Educate Together National School, Dublin; Gaelscoil na Giúise, Dublin; an extension to Galway Educate Together; Letterkenny Educate Together in Donegal; an extension to St Joseph’s in Gorey, Wexford; and Gaelscoil Mhic Aodha in Kildare.

The work began on December 22, 2016, for the two Dublin sites; December 16, 2016, for the Galway site; November 23, 2016, for the Donegal site; March 23, 2017, for the Wexford site; and March 29 on the Kildare site.

Mr Bruton stressed there is no indication that any of the schools pose a risk.

A Western Building Systems spokesperson said the firm “intends to complete the projects in line with the requirements of the contracts”, and the work “will be subject to the usual inspection” protocols.

This story originally appeared in the Irish Examiner.

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