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Sunday 17 December 2017

School fire safety probe: Firm earned €40m from department and built modular houses for homeless Dublin families

  • Schools 'not built in line with regulations'
  • 22 modular homes built by firm for council
  • Bruton: 'None of the schools was dangerous or posed a risk'
  • Primary school built 2008 to be demolished
Fire safety audits at five schools found breaches
Fire safety audits at five schools found breaches

Katherine Donnelly and Paul Melia

The company at the centre of the schools fire safety probe has been paid more than €40m by the Department of Education since 2013 and also built 22 modular homes for homeless families.

The company is the owner of two non-compliant school buildings that it is leasing to the State.

It has also emerged that Co Tyrone-based Western Building Systems (WBS) has built 22 modular homes for Dublin City Council under a rapid build programme and is currently completing three schools projects in Dublin, Donegal and Galway.

Education Minister Richard Bruton is to seek legal advice after it emerged that four schools housing thousands of pupils, built by WBS in 2008, are subject to fire safety concerns.

Mr Bruton said while none of the schools was dangerous or posed a risk, they were not built in line with fire regulations and that he was “not satisfied” that remediation works ordered by his department had been completed by the firm.

All of the affected schools were built under a rapid delivery programme in 2008 by WBS, and were audited after breaches of fire safety rules were discovered and remedied at Rusk and Lusk Educate Together National School in 2014, which was also built by WBS. Fire safety inspections were carried out in January 2016, and reports finalised the following July. The Department of Education said the firm agreed to complete works in June last year, but that many remain incomplete.

Problems were identified in five schools: St Francis of Assisi Primary School and Belmayne Educate Together School, both in Belmayne, Co Dublin and which are owned by WBS and leased to the State; Mullingar Educate Together in Westmeath, Gaelscoil na gCloch Liath in Greystones, Co Wicklow, and a building at Powerstown Educate Together in Dublin, which has since been shut. The Department of Education plans to conduct audits of up to 30 more schools built by a range of developers to check for compliance with safety rules.

Department of Education records show that the firm was paid more than €40m since 2013 under the school building programme, and for renting property to the State. WBS said that all buildings met the relevant standards at the time they were handed over to the State, and that it could not be held responsible for works carried out by third parties in the meantime. It does not believe it is responsible “for issues that have presented themselves since the hand-overs”, but was working with the department to address concerns.

However, Mr Bruton said the works were being supervised by the department and local authority fire officers.

“My department will be taking legal advice in relation to queries we have had with these cases,” he said. “Our concern is for children’s safety.”

Meanwhile, a primary school built nine years ago is to be demolished because it is not fit for purpose. Rush and Lusk Educate Together National School is the sixth school where fire safety issues have been found.

A total of €900,000 was spent afterwards on structural issues and in terms of fire safety, the building is now completely safe. The only option now is to demolish and build a new school which will cost €5m-€7m.

Irish Independent

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