School inspection found 80% chance of wall falling out during storm winds
Minister says it is likely that more schools will be ordered to close over the coming days
Building materials outside Tyrrelstown Educate Together school which is closed due to a structural defect. Photograph: Colin Keegan
An inspection of a school in north Dublin found there was an 80 per cent chance of an external wall falling out on foot of structural damage caused by storm force winds.
Minister for Education Joe McHugh said the finding was an example of the kind of potential risks facing students and staff in schools, which are the subject of structurally safety checks.
Department of Education officials are currently checking the structural safety of 40 schools built over the past decade or more. All the schools were built by Northern Ireland-based Western Building Systems (WBS). Decisions on whether to close further schools will be based on the outcome of these safety checks.
There was relief on Wednesday evening when the structural inspection of Gaelscoil Teach Giúise in Firhouse, Dublin, which was built last year, did not reveal any significant issues. This may suggest that schools built in more recent years were of a higher standard.
Most concern will now focus on the 30 or so schools built during the department’s “rapid-build” programme between 2007 and 2013. Under the initiative some schools were built within just three months.
Three school buildings in Dublin built during this timeframe were ordered to shut this week on foot of structural concerns such as a lack of wall ties to secure outer and inner walls.
Mr McHugh has said it was likely that more schools would be ordered to close over the coming days. Department inspectors would conduct structural safety checks of 40 schools before the return of schools after the mid-term break.
Official acknowledge they face major challenges in sourcing alternative accommodation for any schools which may be ordered to close.
A search is currently under way to find temporary accommodation for some 1,200 students affected by the closure of two primary schools in Tyrrelstown, Dublin.
Mr McHugh, meanwhile, has defended his department’s decision to award tenders to WBS even after concerns were first raised over fire safety at its schools in 2015.
The company has received about €60 million in contracts since these issues arose.
Mr McHugh said a company which does not have a criminal conviction is entitled to tender. However, he said he would examine wider issues around tendering after the structural issues facing schools were resolved.
In a statement on Wednesday night, WBS insisted it has always built its buildings to the highest of standards, and was prepared to work with the department to resolve any outstanding issues.