Tuesday 23 January 2018

Fire safety inspections to be held at 60 schools, says Bruton

Education Minister Richard Bruton. Photo: Tom Burke
Education Minister Richard Bruton. Photo: Tom Burke
Luke Byrne

Luke Byrne

A total of 60 schools will now undergo fresh fire safety audits in the wake of concerns identified in a number of schools.

It emerged last month that inspection reports from 2015 found fire safety concerns with five schools built by Western Building Systems (WBS).

Education Minister Richard Bruton told the Joint Committee on Education that a fire safety expert would now be appointed to undertake a complete audit of all 30 schools built by WBS since 2003.

He said a further 30 schools, built by different contractors, would also be audited.

The minister added that the taxpayer will foot the bill for remediation works carried out on schools built by WBS, where serious fire safety concerns were identified.

However, Mr Bruton confirmed the department was in contact with the chief State solicitor's office regarding the possibility of legal action.

It is understood the cost of the work could run into millions.

"We are undertaking that cost, rather than pursuing whatever obligation or hold we have over the contractor," Mr Bruton said.

At a meeting yesterday of the committee, the minister was grilled over attempts by the department to "cover up" the reports.

Asked why the schools had not been given access to the findings, despite repeated requests, Mr Bruton said it was a policy of the department not to publish the reports, but to follow a protocol. 

He said undertakings had been given that works were conducted by the contractors after the fire safety issues were identified, but this turned out not to be the case.

Fianna Fáil TD Thomas Byrne told the committee this beggared belief.

"What's going on is utterly shocking," he said.

"It has been hidden by the department as a matter of policy," he said.

"Is that not a disgraceful position for the department to hold?"

Educate Together has welcomed the announcement of further fire safety audits.

It said its schools in Tyrrelstown, Portlaoise, Lucan East, Carrigaline, Broombridge, Ashbourne and Griffeen Valley were among those covered by the audit.

It has been in contact with representatives from the schools in question and has been assured by the DES that the buildings are safe.

Irish Independent

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