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'Schools close to completion will be top priority': Bruton hopes retendering will have schools open in September

The Education Minister was answering questions about school building projects affected by the collapse of construction firms.

Image: Eamonn Farrell/RollingNews.ie

NEARLY A DOZEN schools across the country, which were due to be moving into new buildings in September, have been cast into doubt because of the collapse of the Sammon Contracting Group.

The company went into liquidation yesterday with more than 200 people set to lose their jobs. Sammon was severely affected by the crash of the UK contractor Carillion, which owed €8 million to the Kildare firm.

Speaking on Morning Ireland on RTÉ Radio 1 today Education Minister Richard Bruton said the state will support the people affected as best it can.

A total of 11 projects have been affected by the collapse. Six of the projects are public private partnerships (PPPs). In those instances the partner is the Dutch Infrastructure Fund (DIF) and its retendering process to finish the schools is at an advanced stage, however DIF controls who is appointed to complete the works.

The minister said the PPPs offer a level of protection for the public because the risk and responsibility lies with the partner and they are not paid until they deliver the finished building.

The remaining five projects are conventional contracts. Sammon only remains on one of jobs having been removed from the other four at an earlier stage. In each case the design team is putting together a schedule of works and the jobs will be retendered.

Some of the 11 schools are close to completion and Bruton said the retendering process aims to have them ready for when classes resume in September:

We have to wait and see exactly what happens but the retendering process being undertaken by DIF is designed to achieve that. They have to appoint a contractor and clearly the schools close to completion will be top priority.

‘Very serious implications’

In response to calls for the government to takeover the jobs that are near completion Bruton said that such a move would amount to breaking their contract and it would have “very serious implications” for the state, including the payment of a €100 million breakage charge.

What can sound very simple, ‘Let’s just get the handover done,’ would involve breaking of a contract with very serious implications for the entire six schools involved in the bundle.

Bruton also defended the department’s decision to award the school building jobs to Carillion saying that the UK firm had a good track record with PPPs and it appeared to be a safe choice.

What occurred at that stage, the evidence was strong that Carillion was robust but we now know different and I think the auditors are in the dock… Clearly the NDFA (National Development Finance Agency) will review their processes on the back of this experience.

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Ceimin Burke

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