Sunday 20 January 2019

'We are in dire straits here' - Taoiseach urged to intervene after schools' building firm collapses

The new school development, Loreto Secondary School, Wexford. Picture: Patrick Browne
The new school development, Loreto Secondary School, Wexford. Picture: Patrick Browne
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The Taoiseach has been urged to intervene after a building firm went burst disrupting construction of six new schools.

Labour leader Brendan Howlin said the collapse of the UK firm, Carillion, disrupted teachers taking over some schools which were close to completion and ready to be occupied.

Mr Howlin said teachers were denied access at two schools while trying to bringing into new buildings. Teachers also had to get permission to retrieve equipment.

Read more: 'We are in dire straits here' - construction of six schools in doubt following Carillion collapse

The Taoiseach conceded that the collapse of the UK firm had affected six schools being built in Wicklow, Wexford, Laois and Carlow.

Mr Varadkar said the Education Department was working with Carillion’s Dutch partner and he was optimistic a remedy would emerge soon.

“It is going to take a couple of weeks to sort this out – and we will sort it out,” the Taoiseach said.

Mr Varadkar said the State was “in a strong position” in this matter as it owned the buildings involved and the overall exposure was not high.

The schools are being built under public private partnership (PPP) arrangements, and in the case of one, Loreto College, Wexford, the building was due to be occupied with in the next week or so.

However, the school has confirmed to RTÉ that its building's delivery has been postponed indefinitely.

Gearóid Ó Ciaráin, principal of Coláiste Ráithín in Bray, said he was due to receive the keys to the new building from Carillion on Monday and said he was alarmed to hear that building workers had left the site today.

"We are in dire straits here," he told RTÉ's Morning Ireland. "It seems outrageous that we can't move into it."

“We took on extra teachers for home economics and PE because we wanted to hit the new building running. Now the home economics teacher brings her own iron in from home in order to try and keep it going in an ordinary classroom, no cooking facilities at all, and she’s very worried that she cannot comply with the normal curriculum.”

He said that their new PE teacher has “no fields, no place in which to do PE”, there’s “no equipment whatsoever” for technology classes, and that pupils and their parents are getting “very fed up with this at this stage”.

Mr Ó Ciaráin said the school had been waiting since 1995 for the construction of a new building.

"It's such a pity that the building is now up and running and nothing can be done," he said.

In addition, it has been reported that in Carlow, where buildings to cater for 2,000 students are being built, workers have today been told to return home as the building site is being shut down.

Carillion is the lead consortium member in the PPP and a 50pc shareholder in InspiredSpaces, which is responsible for delivery of the schools.

PPP schools are built under licence through which the Department of Education pays an annual sum, known as a Unitary Charge payment, for 25 years to cover costs of construction and maintenance.

To date, the only payment made by the Department of Education to InspiredSpaces is €4m for off-site works, which have already been completed.

Education Minister Richard Bruton said last week that the projects were 90pc completed and the Department of Education was committed to full completion "in as timely a manner as possible."

Earlier, Mr Varadkar and Fianna Fáil leader, Micheál Martin, clashed over the lack of secondary teachers. Mr Martin said it was a “crisis” and the result of neglect in restoring equal pay and other issues.

The Taoiseach said there were 5,000 extra teachers in the system compared with two years ago. Mr Varadkar accepted there was a problem getting substitute teachers, in part because young teachers had permanent jobs, but retired teachers were now being deployed.

The schools that Carillon have been contracted to build are:

  • Tyndall College Campus (primary and post-primary school), Carlow
  • Eureka Secondary School, Meat
  • Loreto College, Wexford
  • Coláiste Ráithín, Wicklow
  • St Philomena's National School, Wicklow.

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