Only one out of 31 school fire investigations completed

Audits ordered after five schools were found to be non-compliant with fire safety standards

Richard Boyd-Barrett: ‘The length of time this is taking suggests that the Government is not serious at all about ensuring the safety of children going to these schools.’ Photograph: Cyril Byrne / THE IRISH TIMES

Richard Boyd-Barrett: ‘The length of time this is taking suggests that the Government is not serious at all about ensuring the safety of children going to these schools.’ Photograph: Cyril Byrne / THE IRISH TIMES

 

Thirty schools identified last year as needing fire safety investigations have yet to be told whether they are safe.

Minister for Education Richard Bruton ordered reviews last September into the safety of 29 primary schools and two post-primary schools built by Co Tyrone-based Western Building Systems.

The widespread audits followed confirmation that five “rapid-build” primary schools constructed by the company in 2008 were found to be non-compliant with fire safety standards.

Mr Bruton had said investigations into 31 other schools built by the same firm – in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Meath, Kildare and Laois – were to be completed by March this year.

However, the Department of Education and Skills has confirmed that just one has been completed.

It declined to reveal the outcome of the one completed audit, and signalled the other 30 may not be finished before the end of the school year.

“The department is in receipt of a completed fire safety assessment report in respect of one school,” a spokesman said. “The school authority/ patron body and fire officer have been provided with a copy of this report.

“Given that the department’s engagement with the school authority is ongoing at present and given that the school authority will be engaging with the local school community, it would be premature at this point to put the details of the school in the public domain.”

Surveys were “under way or being completed in respect of most” of the other schools, the spokesman said. “It is envisaged that this process will be substantially completed by June,” he added.

Fire safety review

Meanwhile, the department has confirmed a separate fire safety review of a representative sample of 25 schools built State-wide over the past two decades has yet to be completed.

Mr Bruton ordered these reviews last September and said they would be finished by January this year.

A spokesman said the audits had begun in all of the 25 schools and the department’s engagement with them was “ongoing at present”. It declined to identify them.

The Department of Education was aware of concerns as early as 2014 about schools built by Western Building Systems, after an audit identified fire safety concerns at Rush/Lusk Educate Together primary school in north county Dublin.

This led to assessments being ordered into five other schools, all built in 2008, and subsequently a complete audit of all schools constructed in the State by the firm.

Since 2015, Western Building Systems has been awarded contracts to build a Gaelscoil in Firhouse, south Dublin, 22 rapid-build modular homes in Poppintree, Ballymun, and was approved for another modular housing contract last February.

‘Beggars belief’

People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd-Barrett, who has raised a number of questions in the Dáil about schools constructed by Western Building Systems, said it “beggars belief” that only one audit had been completed over the past eight months.

“It is really shocking that commitments to ensure that children in these schools are safe from potential fire hazards have not been fulfilled,” he said.

“It is really disgraceful and it is not credible that, if the Minister has only completed the audit of one out of 31 schools where there could potentially be a fire hazard, he is now claiming all the rest will be done by June.

“The length of time this is taking suggests that the Government is not serious at all about ensuring the safety of children going to these schools,” said Mr Boyd-Barrett.

“I would be deeply worried if I had kids in one of those schools. It should have been a matter of absolute priority for the Minister to ensure that school children are safe in the school environment from any fire hazard.”

The 31 schools identified as needing fire safety audits

Dublin: Lucan CNS; Luttrellstown CC; Gaelscoil Eiscir Riada; Mulhuddart National School renamed St Luke’s NS; Lucan East ETNS; Tyrrelstown ETNS; Griffeen Valley ETNS; Broombridge ETNS; Scoil Aoife; Scoil Chaitlín Maude; Gaelscoil Shliabh Rua; Scoil Choilm Porterstown.

Cork: Cara Jnr (Special) School, Mayfield; Scoil Phadraig Naofa, Rochestown; Carrigaline ETNS; Gaelscoil Chloich na Coillte renamed Gaelscoil Mhichíl Uí Choileáin; Macroom Boys NS.

Kildare: Scoil Phádraig Naofa (Campus Phase II); Gael Scoil Atha Í; Athy Model School; Scoil Chormaic CNS.

Meath: De Lacy College; Ashbourne ETNS; GS na Mí; GS Tulach na nÓg; St Paul’s NS.

Laois: Portlaoise Educate Together; Gaelscoil Portlaoise; Maryborough National School; Portarlington Convent National School.

Limerick: Red Hill School.