McDonald: Education Minister must 'come clean' over scale of school safety crisis

McDonald: Education Minister must 'come clean' over scale of school safety crisis

Education Minister Joe McHugh has been urged to "come clean" over the scale of the Celtic Tiger schools safety crisis after it was confirmed that more than a dozen facilities still need more fire protection and structural repairs.

Sinn Féin leader, Mary Lou McDonald, demanded that the exact details of what is happening at each affected school are made public, saying there is "growing unease about the safety of some schools" being used by children.

In response to an Irish Examiner investigation last year, the Department of Education confirmed last autumn that 42 schools built during the Celtic Tiger era by Western Building Systems faced potential fire and structural safety concerns.

After an urgent examination of the facilities which was launched after Dublin fire brigade warnings that one school could have been engulfed in flames within an hour during a fire, a handful of the schools were temporarily shut.

In addition, 22 of the schools were also scheduled for repairs works over the past 12 months, 14 of which have been completed.

Although concerns over a number of others were initially downplayed, Mr McHugh confirmed on Wednesday that 17 of these extra facilities are also undergoing additional work on fire protection measures, internal girders and fire breaks on internal walls.

In a statement today just hours after Western claimed it is being made a "scapegoat" over the situation, Ms McDonald said further information is needed on what is happening.

Noting the "growing unease" among parents about the issue, she said the Minister for Education needs to "come clean" on the scale of the problems: "The situation is now intolerable. There’s growing concern from parents about the safety of the school buildings which require further works.

"There is also doubt that some school buildings may not be in a position to fully re-open for the new school term in September.

"Since June, parents have been drip-fed limited information by the Minister and his Department.

It is now time that the Minister came clean about the nature of the works, why they’re being carried out, and whether or not he can guarantee the safety for pupils and staff as we progress into the new term in September.

Ms McDonald's comments came hours after Western Building Systems claimed it has been made a "scapegoat" and has sent the Department a number of questions it wants officials to answer.

Western, which the State is currently taking legal action against and will be brought before the commercial court in early October, said in a statement on Friday it believes it met building standards in place at the time the schools were constructed.

It said it is in favour of an independent review into what happened, but claimed it is currently being used by the Government to delay clarity on the issue and "hide behind the cloak of potential legal prejudice".

"As previously stated, Western is committed to working with the department to resolve the issues on all schools identified," the construction firm's statement said.

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