Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has conceded it will take “a couple of weeks” to resolve the fallout from the collapse of the Carillion construction company, and is causing a knock-on impact on six schools in Ireland.
The schools in Carlow, Meath, Wexford, and Wicklow were due to receive new buildings developed under a public private partnership (PPP) deal between the State, Carillion, and the Dutch Infrastructure Fund.
Carillion was due to undertake the maintenance of the schools. The company’s collapse has cast doubt as to when the schools can move into their new premises — despite some being ready for occupation.
Mr Varadkar, speaking in the Dáil yesterday, said the issue was “a matter of enormous concern to the six schools affected” and emphasised that the Government wants staff and pupils to be able to move into the new schools as soon as possible.
“It will take a couple of weeks to sort this out,” Mr Varadkar said during Leaders’ Questions.
“We will sort it out. We are in a strong position. The schools are 90% complete. The State owns the buildings and the payments made so far by the State to the PPP contractor are in the order of between €4m and €5m.
“It costs much more than that to build one school, let alone six, so we are in a strong position to have this sorted out, but because of the collapse of one of the partners, it will take a few weeks to conclude matters.”
Labour leader Brendan Howlin said he had visited Loreto College in Wexford Town, one of the completed schools that lie vacant due to the uncertainty caused by Carillion’s collapse.
“Last week, I was assured by the National Development Finance Agency, NDFA, that the PPP contract was so robust that there would be no interruption in the scheduled opening of these schools. Yesterday, all changed,” said Mr Howlin.
“Teachers who were physically bringing in teaching equipment to the buildings were denied access.
“In Wexford, the 700 pupils and their teachers, special needs assistants, and other support staff were given firm assurances by the Department of Education and Skills and the NDFA that they could move into the school yesterday.
“Instead, the site was shut down. The school had to seek permission to retrieve teaching equipment that had been moved on site so that it could continue to operate in the old school building,” said Mr Howlin.
Mr Varadkar said the Dutch Infrastructure Fund, the other partners in the PPP agreement, has offered assurances that it will resolve the issue as soon as possible.
“We have a statement from the Dutch Infrastructure Fund explaining that the collapse of its partner happened more quickly than it had expected, that it came as a surprise to it but says its top priority is to resolve this complex situation as quickly as possible,” said Mr Varadkar.
“There will be a delay while it deals with the sub-contractors and other stakeholders in the project.
“Meanwhile, it is offering assurance to people in all of those areas that where schools are being built, it will work as hard as it can to find a solution.”
Meanwhile, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions’ construction industry committee has advised all workers affected by Carillion’s collapse “to make immediate contact with their trade union”.
“Construction workers cannot be allowed to bear the brunt of the Carillion collapse and the huge flaws in policy making that have brought us to this impasse,” said Billy Wall, of the OPATSI union.
School in limbo amid firm’s demise
The principal of one of the schools affected by the Carillion collapse said parents and pupils are “fed up” with the ongoing delays in moving into their new building — which was first approved 23 years ago.
Gearóid Ó Ciaráin, principal of Coláiste Ráithín in Bray, Co Wicklow, said their new building is ready to move into, but the construction company’s demise has left them in limbo.
The school has already hired new staff in anticipation of their move, but now don’t know when they will have the adequate room and resources to meet their requirements.
“Our school is complete at this stage, all the final fixings have been done and it’s ready to move into so we’re somewhat alarmed this morning to hear the possibility of workers moving off the site,” Mr Ó Ciaráin told RTÉ Radio 1’s Morning Ireland.
“We are very much afraid that this will lead to a longer, more protracted period whereby there is a school, which is ready, sitting there and we are in dire straits here. It seems outrageous that we can’t move into it.”
“We were promised the keys last November, it went to December, it then went to last Monday, and now we don’t know when. The NDFA [National Development Finance Agency] are in charge of delivering the project, so they are our go-between between us and the developers.
“We anticipated we would be in sometime last November and we took on extra teachers for PE, home economics, and technology in anticipation that we would be in quite early and we wanted to hit the new building running, and to have all systems up and going.
“Now we have a home economics teacher who unfortunately has to bring her own iron in from home in order to try and keep it going in an ordinary classroom, no cooking facilities at all, so she’s very worried that she cannot comply with the normal curriculum for home economics.”
“Similarly for PE, we have a PE teacher employed but we have no fields, no place in which to do PE, that will be OK for a little while, but it’s the same for technology, there’s no equipment whatsoever so pupils and their parents are getting very fed up with it at this stage and it seems we’ve wasted a whole year,” he said.
Mr Ó Ciaráin said the school was approved by the education minister of the time back in the mid-90s.
“Mary O’Rourke gave us the go-ahead in 1995 and the money to purchase the site was forwarded to the VEC at that stage, but it has kept going ever since. It seems such a pity that the building is now up and we’re running into this unfortunate situation,” he said.
Billy O’Shea, principal of Loreto College in Wexford, told RTÉ’s News at One that his school was ready to move into a new building yesterday after “fighting 19 years for a new school” due to the inadequate facilities at their existing premises.
“Our understanding is that the company that was obliged to provide the facilities management service, ie maintaining the buildings the grounds, the caretaking, security, cleaning, all of that was to have been Carillion,” he said.
“Our understanding is that with Carillion now off the pitch a replacement has to be found.
“Our dreams have been realised, we have a brand new building for 900 students, every facility that you would want and are presently in buildings that date back, in parts, to 1792 and the mid-1800s.
“We’re thrilled with the new school, it’s ready to move into, we just desperately want the powers that be to come together to make it happen,” he said.
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