Monday 16 September 2019

Contractor sued over 'structural' issues in schools after inspections

Department of Education brings case over alleged 'weaknesses'

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Stock image

Tim Healy

The Department of Education and Skills is suing a building contractor which built a number of schools at the centre of recent inspections and some closures over concerns about structural issues.

The department has brought proceedings against Tyrone-based Western Building Systems (WBS), which built 42 schools around the country in the past 14 years.

In recent months, alleged structural weaknesses were found in 23 schools, two of which were closed temporarily while precautionary works were carried out and a third was partly closed.

A number of the schools were identified as in need of work but they did not require closures.

Yesterday, the department applied to Mr Justice Robert Haughton to admit its proceedings against WBS to the fast-track Commercial Court list.

WBS did not oppose the application.

David McGrath SC, for the department, said dates in the new year for exchange of papers between the parties had been agreed.

A number of applications in relation to third parties may also be brought and Mr McGrath asked that they be put in for May 6 next.

Paul Gardiner SC, for WBS, said there was an arbitration clause in the contracts, although he did not think it was a matter that would go to arbitration.

Mr Justice Haughton said he had read the papers and he was satisfied it was an appropriate case to admit to the commercial list.

He made directions for exchange of papers based on an agreed schedule.

Last month, recently appointed Education Minister Joe McHugh told an Oireachtas committee his department would pursue every legal channel against WBS for the cost of the initial precautionary works as well as more long-term remediation work.

WBS has complained that schools were previously certified on completion as being free from defects by the department and were described 12 months ago by the then-education minister as being built to the highest standards.

Now they are deemed to require remedial works, said the company.

Such "a turnaround" was "troubling on a wider scale", the company said in a statement issued to the media last month.

Irish Independent

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