Thousands of parents affected by the deepening schools safety scandal could sue the State for “considerable damages” as a direct result of the decade-long failure to uncover the potentially life-threatening crisis.
A leading solicitor issued the warning as it emerged the company at the centre of the scandal is still building schools for the State and as opposition parties labelled the crisis Ireland’s equivalent of the Grenfell Tower in London.
More than 40 schools are set to undergo safety checks between today and Tuesday. Education Minister Joe McHugh admitted it is “guesstimate territory” how many will close.
Cantillon Solicitors, which specialises in social, health, and educational rights cases, said the State must brace itself for a flurry of parental legal cases.
Joey Cantillon said it is inevitable the State will face legal claims for “considerable damages” from families caught up in the scandal.
“The State is now talking of suing the builders,” he said. “It is all good and fine that the State is pursuing the builders for its losses, but what about the children and the parents? They also have the right to sue for their loss and damage.
“Children, under the Constitution, have a right to education. As a result of these school closures, the children’s right to education is being disrupted. This is most unfair on Junior and Leaving Certificate students.
The State needs to take immediate steps to ameliorate the plight of these children and their parents to limit any compensation which may be accumulating.
The warning came after this week’s shock decision to close three schools in Dublin, built by Western Building Systems, due to fire and construction audit safety fears.
While all of Western’s 42 school builds are now being examined due to similar concerns, it has emerged that the company is still building schools for the State.
Speaking to reporters after visiting two affected schools in his constituency, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said Western is building schools in Sandymount, Dublin, and in Greystones, Co Wicklow.
Stressing that he and his officials are “working night and day to find out the scale of the problem”, Mr Varadkar admitted there are no clear alternative sites should thousands of children be without a school to go to after the Halloween break.
In an interview on RTÉ radio’s Drivetime show after his own officials met with Western, Mr McHugh said the number of schools affected is in “guesstimate territory”.
Principals will be told today when their schools will be the subject of physical on-site inspections between now and Tuesday.
The inspections involve opening the walls of the schools, among other matters, and have already led to three school closures this week, all of which involve three-storey buildings built between 2008 and 2014.
TDs lashed out at the Government’s failure to uncover the crisis until now, despite Department of Education officials being warned by Educate Together and Dublin Fire Brigade of serious fire safety issues at the Rush and Lusk Educate Together school in 2014 which took almost €1m to fix. This was reported in a 2015 Irish Examiner exposé.
Likening the schools situation in Ireland to what happened to Grenfell Tower in London, Solidarity-People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy said, under Dáil privilege: “This is a consequence of the race-to-the-bottom model in the construction industry, a model of putting profits before people’s lives, in this case the lives of children.
“This is a model which brought London Grenfell and brought us Priory Hall, Longboat Quay, and this crisis. It is a model in which the Government and the State have been active participants. It is a model that has to end.”