One in five school building contracts go to Northern firms
THE Department of Education awarded almost one in five school building jobs to contractors from Northern Ireland in the last year and a half, the Irish Independent has learned.
The multi-million euro contracts that went North were mostly for building primary and secondary schools in Dublin and Leinster.
One Co Down-based firm, Glasgiven McAvoy, was paid €6.6m for work on two schools last year. The same company is also working on four schools this year, although the department would not release the value of these contracts, citing commercial sensitivities.
Under EU rules, tender contests are open to contractors from all member states, but the move has led to criticism from industry bosses. They say they are pricing cheaper than ever -- and point out that the money is going across the border at a time when the Government is encouraging people to spend their cash here.
Of 80 jobs from the start of 2010, a total of 15 went to northern companies, figures show.
A spokesperson for the department said there was an issue across the wider public sector of Irish builders tendering too low for jobs.
It is understood there were some problems in the past when government departments awarded contracts to builders who had tendered low prices, only for the firms not to have the capacity to complete the job.
Northern firm Western Building Systems from Co Tyrone has got work on six schools this year -- three new schools and three extensions in Dublin, Kildare and Meath. No prices were provided for the work.
Francis Haughey builders from Keady in Armagh were given a €1.1m contract last year to extend and refurbish Scoil Naomh Barra in Walkinstown, Co Dublin.
The McCann brothers firm, based in Omagh in Co Tyrone, were awarded a €1.1m contract for an extension and refurbishment in Bunbeg, Co Donegal. They are also working on a Loreto secondary school in Kilkenny this year.
While the Construction Industry Federation (CIF) said it welcomed an open market and said competition "contributes to progress and innovation", builders on the ground said they are in dire need of work.
Eamonn Ryan, director of Owenbee Services in Swords in north Dublin, said Irish firms were now tendering at cost price and could go no lower.
"The rules are the rules, everyone can tender. We can't stop them but it's a bit contradictory to talk about a jobs initiative when only last week we had to let five more lads go because we're not able to compete."