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Western Building Systems calls for 'independent expert answers' into schools structural issues

Education Minister Joe McHugh gave an update on the remediation programme on the schools built by the firm.

The issue of structural issues at some schools was first highlighted last autumn.
The issue of structural issues at some schools was first highlighted last autumn.
Image: Eamonn Farrell

WESTERN BUILDING SYSTEMS has said it will continue to engage with the Department of Education over structural issues identified at a number of schools it built.

In a statement this afternoon, the firm said it has “serious concerns” over how long it has taken for an independent review into the defects issues, calling for “independent, expert answers”. 

Yesterday, Education Minister Joe McHugh gave an update on the remediation programme for 40 schools constructed by Western Building Systems. 

Controversy arose last October over the school buildings, when concerns were raised over potential structural defects at Ardgillan Community College in Balbriggan.

Safety concerns were also raised at Tyrrelstown Educate Together National School, St Luke’s National School and Gaelscoil Eiscir Riada in Lucan, which all closed for a period in October into November.

total of 42 schools built by Western Building Systems were inspected over concerns about potential structural problems. 

Most of the schools received the green light to reopen in full after the mid-term break last year.

Temporary works 

Yesterday, the minister said structural flaws in a further 17 school buildings have been identified, and will require temporary works to be carried out in coming weeks. 

The 17 school buildings are in addition to 22 others where defects discovered last year. Over the course of the school summer holidays, the 22 schools mentioned had permanent engineering solutions designed for each school.

This structural remediation work has been carried out in 14 of these 22 schools over the last six to seven weeks. Structural remediation work in the remaining 8 of these 22 schools is due to commence later this year.

Reacting to yesterday’s update, Western Building Systems said the Department of Education and Skills promised an independent review of the schools building programme. 

Ten months later, we have little further understanding nor have had input into this review process – no terms of reference, no independent chair or investigators, nor any international best practice guidance.
We continue to engage with the Department to better understand the nature and severity of the issues at these school, however we have serious concerns now over how long such an independent review will take.

The statement goes on to ask why the 42 schools identified were previously certified by department assessors, and questioned the role of the department’s oversight in school building construction. 

Procurement and oversight 

It went on ask if the school buildings is fit for purpose given that €8.4 billion has been earmarked for investment in school buildings over the next decade, questioning if the  department is still satisfied with its procurement process and oversight.

“Until we get independent, expert answers to these and other questions, the damage done to the schools building programme throughout this process may be irrevocable,” said the company. 

In relation to the independent review, a department spokesperson said the minister has commissioned an independent review “of current use and practices in the Design and Build Procurement/Construction Model for the delivery of school buildings (or other similar public buildings) internationally”.

The statement added:

The procurement process for the organisation to carry out this work is at an advanced stage. The minister will announce the outcome of that process when completed. The intention is that the organisation’s report will be published in Quarter 4 this year.

Speaking about the works carried out on the schools over the last few months, McHugh said:

Safety has always been at the heart of our response to the structural deficiencies that were identified in these schools. It will continue to be.


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