Schools closed over fire safety and structural concerns to reopen in August

Education Minister Joe McHugh has insisted all schools caught up in year-long fire safety and structural concerns will re-open this August - despite admitting work is still taking place on more than a dozen facilities.

Schools closed over fire safety and structural concerns to reopen in August

Education Minister Joe McHugh has insisted all schools caught up in year-long fire safety and structural concerns will re-open this August - despite admitting work is still taking place on more than a dozen facilities.

Mr McHugh made the promise after it emerged 17 schools which had initially been allowed to remain open last year underwent further repair work in recent weeks due to concerns over their safety.

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 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 repair 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.

However, speaking on RTE Radio's News at One programme, the Education Minister insisted that despite the concerns all schools will start the new school year as planned later this month.

He said he understood the frustration of all those affected by the situation, and that his ultimate goal is to ensure that all of the schools are fixed and that "we fix them properly".

"In relation to the new 17 schools that have shown the need for precautionary work to be done prior to the schools opening, I can assure the schools and the parents that those schools will open.

The need for work will be less obtrusive because the work that is needed is not as negative as the work that was required initially in the first 22 schools

It is understood all schools will be given the option to re-open as planned later this month, even if some scaffolding is still apparent on the sites at a small number of the facilities.

At this point, school management will be given the option to either re-open as normal and remove the scaffolding over a number of weekends in September, or to re-open one or two days later than planned.

All of the schools which have been examined and are now in the process of repair work were built by Western Building Systems, from Coalisland in Co Tyrone, which is currently facing a State-demanded commercial court case in early October over what happened.

Sinn Féin's education spokesperson Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire said the school building safety issue "appears to be an escalating problem" and is "a cause of huge concern" to parents.

"It is quite extraordinary that some of these schools were completed as recently as 2016 and 2017 and even last year. There are huge questions to answer as to how there are such apparent defects in schools which have only just had the ribbon cut.

"The Department and Western Building Solutions need to tell us if they feel there is any possibility that any further defects will be found in recently built schools," Mr Ó Laoghaire said.

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