The Government has launched a second investigation into serious fire safety concerns in Celtic Tiger-era schools amid growing fears that the scale of the crisis has been deliberately “suppressed”.
Education Minister Richard Bruton confirmed the move as he said his department is continuing to “consult with the Chief State Solicitor’s Office” over what, if any, legal action it may take against builders behind the sites.
In a statement to the Dáil’s education committee yesterday, Mr Bruton said all of the 37 schools built by Western Building Systems, based in Coalisland, Co Tyrone, since 2003 will be examined in the next six months.
The move is in addition to a separate sample audit of fire safety standards at 25 schools built by a number of companies during the boom.
This audit was launched after the department was last month forced to publish five 2016 audits into Western Building Systems-built schools found to have major fire safety concerns. These were instigated by an October 2015 Irish Examiner investigation into a linked school.
Mr Bruton said that while the extra investigations into schools in Cork, Meath, Dublin, Laois, and Wicklow have been launched, the department has no reason to believe students or staff are in any danger.
This comment was criticised by the committee, with members claiming the scale of the crisis has been “suppressed”.
“Why was the department, from October 2015 right up to now, guilt of suppressing this, of having it suppressed?” said Solidarity-People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett .
The view was supported by committee chair and Fianna Fáil TD Anne Rabbitte and the party’s education spokesman, Thomas Byrne, while Green Party TD Catherine Martin said the situation is “despicable”.
Mr Bruton said his department is in ongoing contact with the Chief State Solicitor’s Office to examine what, if any, legal action the State may take if mistakes are found.
He also said he has set up a new group within his department to oversee all audit findings, and that a “clerk of works” will be appointed to ensure transparency on future builds.
Asked if he will ban any firm behind schools considered a fire hazard, Mr Bruton said he cannot do so unless they breach EU tender laws.
A spokesman for Western Building Systems said it was confident all of the buildings conformed with the required standards and specifications relevant “at the time of handover”.
He also said the schools had been signed off by the department’s professional representatives.
“Western Building Systems Ltd has a distinguished record of delivering high-quality buildings for more than 35 years throughout the UK and Ireland. We take matters of health and safety very seriously indeed,” said the spokesman.
The Department of Education has now launched four separate investigations into fire safety concerns in Celtic Tiger era schools:
Excluding the six already examined Western Building Systems schools, the list relates to the following 31 schools:
- Griffeen Valley Educate Together, Dublin (built in 2003)
- Greystones Educate Together, Wicklow (2008)
- Macroom Boys Educate Together, Cork (2009)
- Ardgillan CC, Castleislands, Balbriggan, Dublin (2009)
- Athy Model School, Kildare (2011)
- Scoil Phadraig Naofa Phase II, Kildare (2011)
- Tyrrelstown Educate Together national school, Dublin (2011)
- St Paul's national school, Meath (2011)
- Lucan East Educate Together national school, Dublin (2011)
- Portarlington convent national school, Laois (2012)
- Mulhuddart national school, Dublin (2012)
- Gaelscoil Eiscir Riada, Lucan, Dublin (2012)
- Sc Chormaic CNS, Dublin (2012)
- Maryborough national school, Laois (2013)
- Gaelscoil Chloich na Coillte, Clonakility, Cork (2013)
- Gaelscoil Portlaoise, Laois (2013)
- Scoil Choilm, Porterstown, Dublin (2013)
- Carrigaline Educate Together national school, Cork (2013)
- Scoil Phadraig Naofa, Rochestown, Cork (2013)
- Portlaoise Educate Together, Laois (2013)
- Luttrelstown CC, Dublin (2013)
- Cara junior (special) school, Mayfield, Cork (2014)
- Gaelscoil Shliabh Rua, Stepaside, Dublin (2015)
- Scoil Chaitlin Maude, Dublin (2016)
- Gaelscoil Tulach na Og, Dunboyne, Meath (2016)
- Gaelscoil na Mi, Meath (2016)
- Ashbourne Educate Together national school, Meath (2016)
- Scoil Aoife, Dublin (2016)
- Lucan CNS, Dublin (2016)
- Broombridge Educate Together national school, Dublin (2016)
- De Lacy College, Meath (2016)
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