Firefighters have called for an urgent review of all public and residential buildings built over the past decade in direct response to serious fire safety fears in Celtic Tiger-era schools,
Siptu demanded the wide-scale review to prevent a Grenfell Tower-style tragedy here as Education Minister Richard Bruton said the Government is taking legal advice over revelations some schools could burn down within an hour.
On Friday, the department confirmed it was instigating an immediate sample review of 25 schools nationwide built under the controversial 2008 rapid build programme and will release its findings by December.
The decision was taken after the department was forced to publish five audits concluded last year into schools found to have serious fire safety concerns, launched after an October 2015 Irish Examiner investigation into a linked school.
The six schools were built by Western Building Systems, which built 20 other schools across the country during the same period, and has subsequently been involved in the cystic fibrosis unit at Beaumont Hospital and state housing in Poppintree, Dublin.
The Coalisland, Co Tyrone-based company — which continues to bid successfully for Government tenders — said at the weekend it complied with all fire safety rules in place at the time and noted a sub-contractor conducted a significant amount of the work.
Siptu’s public administration and community division organiser, John King, said the school fire safety revelations raised serious concerns over the standard of building work over the past decade.
Hitting out at Government inaction on the issue, he said a full review of all public and residential buildings built during the boom and bust must be undertaken to prevent an Irish Grenfell Tower tragedy.
“The problem of possible serious deficiencies in fire safety standards in recently built public and residential buildings has been one which has greatly concerned our members for some time,” said Mr King.
“These cases further highlight the urgent requirement for a thorough, comprehensive and wide-ranging fire risk audit to be conducted across a whole range of public and residential buildings built within the last 10 years.
“In July, the need for such an audit was forcibly made by our firefighter representatives in a meeting with Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy, which was held in the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy in London.
“We have also sought from Dublin City Council and several other local authorities a list of all of the buildings over which there is a concern about deficiencies relating to building regulations and fire standards. We are still awaiting these lists.”
The comment came as Mr Bruton confirmed that the Government is taking legal advice over the school fire safety controversy.
“The company has responsibilities and it is our job that it lives up to its responsibilities, and the department is taking that action and it will of course take legal advice in respect of the experience that has occurred here,” said Mr Bruton, a position later repeated by his spokesperson.
Meanwhile, Mr Bruton has also confirmed October 2015 Irish Examiner reports that Western is still receiving government contracts, saying strict EU rules set “very high” standards for barring a firm from tendering for work.
To date, the fire safety repair work at three of the six schools examined which are owned by the State and have not been replaced has cost the taxpayer at least €1.3m.
Educate Together, which is based in a number of schools now under examination, criticised the department last night for failing to release last year’s fire safety audits until the intervention of the Information Commissioner on a freedom of information request by the Dublin Inquirer newspaper in recent days.
This story first appeared in the Irish Examiner.