The construction company that built dozens of schools which are being examined over concerns for structural safety has said the Department of Education signed off on the projects.
42 schools built by Tyrone-based construction firm Western Building Systems in the last decade are to undergo risk assessments over structural concerns.
Map by Marita Moloney
Three schools, which were built under the “rapid-build” programme, have been forced to temporarily close due to safety concerns.
In a statement today, Western Building Systems said that in the case of the three closed schools, "the Department of Education and Skills’ contracts for these projects stipulated that they be completed within a timeframe of 20-26 weeks".
"We met these timelines as per our contractual obligations. The Department itself deemed each project to be fully compliant, issuing the supporting certificates of completion."
The firm said that it had written to the Minister for Education Joe McHugh yesterday morning seeking "an urgent meeting", which is due to be held today.
"We welcome this development as it allows for a better understanding of why these three schools, previously deemed compliant by the Department, have now been closed," a spokesperson said.
Earlier today, the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that the Government is “working night and day” to establish the extent of structural risks in school buildings but that all the facts were still not known.
During a visit to Tyrrelstown Educate Together School in Dublin, which along with nearby St Luke’s National School has been forced to temporarily close, Mr Varadkar said solutions would be implemented once the scale of the problem is identified.
“This is a big problem, we don’t necessarily know the scale of it yet, but we do know that we will fix it, we are going to make sure that everything is put right,” he said.
The issue has arisen ahead of the mid-term break, with officials hopeful of having a clearer picture of the situation before pupils return to classrooms after Halloween.
Mr Varadkar said interim solutions being considered included the installation of temporary classrooms and the use of alternative nearby facilities.
“Every solution is going to be different in each locality,” he added, while Education Minister Joe McHugh, who joined the Taoiseach during the site visit, said the Government was going to work "really, really hard to find an interim solution".
Western Building Systems also built a number of hospital units, including a laboratory and Irish Blood Transfusion Service blood bank at St Finbarr's Hospital in Cork; an acute psychiatric inpatient unit and a medical admissions unit at Beaumont Hospital; oncology and haematology facilities at Our Lady's Children's Hospital in Dublin; and a day-surgery unit in Kilkenny.
Mr Varadkar said initial assessments had indicated there were no concerns about state hospital and healthcare facilities built by the company.
This was reiterated by the Tanaiste Simon Coveney during Leaders’ Questions in the Dail this afternoon.
“In relation to healthcare facilities, there is no reason to believe hospitals are affected but the HSE are determining what projects have been completed by Western Building Systems,” he said.
Mr Coveney was shouted at and heckled when he said price was not the sole determining factor in contracting the company.
He was accused of being disingenuous by Solidarity TD Paul Murphy who asked why the issues, which he says were known to the department before, were kept secret.
Mr Coveney said he was less interested in a “slanging match” and more in fixing the problem.
PA & Digital Desk