Thursday 15 November 2018

Independent review due into build programme at centre of school safety controversy

Building control regulations, workmanship, oversight and procurement will be included in review. Photo: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin.
Building control regulations, workmanship, oversight and procurement will be included in review. Photo: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin.
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

An independent review will be carried out into the controversial Design and Build programme at the centre of school safety controversy.

The review, into issues such as building control regulations, workmanship, oversight and procurement, will be conducted by an external expert, but the full details are still being finalised.

Education Minister Joe McHugh referred to the review at a meeting of the Oireachtas Education Committee, but he triggered confusion when he mentioned that there would be both an independent inquiry and a review of the building programme.

Western Building Systems (WBS) the Co-Tyrone based contractor at the centre of the controversy, welcomed the commitment from the minister “to an inquiry into the construction of schools and a wider review of the schools building programme.”

However, a Department of Education spokesperson later clarified there would be a single, independent review, conducted by an external person. The results of the more detailed structural assessments at WBS-constructed schools will inform the review.

The minister was answering questions from TDs and senators about the unfolding saga over structural safety at a number of schools built by WBS over the past decade.

More than half of 42 schools built by WBS have been confirmed as needing remediation work or, at least, precautionary protective measures, pending further investigations.

Committee members quizzed Mr McHugh over two hours about a range of matters, including who was responsible for certifying the buildings and who would pay the cost of remediation and other necessary works.

The minister said he would be pursing “every possible channel” to ensure that whatever costs arise around remediation and disruption to schools would be recouped.

He said the issue of self-certification was “the space we need to bring the conversation into now.”

On the question of the appointment of clerks of works to major school building projects since 2017, Mr McHugh said their role was to ensure that work continued "and a good clerk of works could be taking photographs” but they didn’t have responsibility for certification.

In its statement, WBS said: “as is the case elsewhere, it is time to move fully to a truly independent certifier with no departmental or contractor involvement.”

Mr McHugh said that parents of pupils in two schools in Tyrrelstown, West Dublin, which are still closed, will be given the opportunity to visit them to satisfy themselves that they are safe for pupils to return.

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