TD says schools built on business model that resulted in Grenfell and Priory Hall

Paul Murphy tells Dáil that the 42 schools being inspected ‘seems to be the tip of the iceberg’

Scaffolding at Tyrrelstown Educate Together school in Dublin, a  school closed amid concerns over “significant structural issues”. Photograph: Cate McCurry/PA

Scaffolding at Tyrrelstown Educate Together school in Dublin, a school closed amid concerns over “significant structural issues”. Photograph: Cate McCurry/PA

 

The 42 schools currently being inspected over concerns that there may be structural issues with them “seems to be the tip of the iceberg”, Solidarity TD Paul Murphy has claimed in the Dáil.

He said these problems were a consequence “of the race to the bottom model in the construction industry, a model of putting profits before people’s lives, in this case the lives of children”.

“This is a model which resulted in London Grenfell and brought us Priory Hall, Longboat Quay and this crisis.”

During Leaders’ Questions in the Dáil he said that in 2009 the then minister for education boasted that a 30 per cent reduction in price had been achieved for the construction of schools. “It was achieved by awarding lowest-price contractors who were involved in cutting corners.”

Mr Murphy claimed Western Building Systems – the Tyrone company which built the schools now being inspected – “clearly epitomised what that model meant”, and said it had “45 staff yet it built 25 schools in the past 3½ years. It is part of a model of subcontracting and bogus self-employment.”

Tánaiste Simon Coveney said “we are talking about a different era of standards and inspection systems which have changed quite dramatically since 2014”.

Public buildings

He said that after the Grenfell fire in London last year which killed 72 people, Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy “undertook the inspection of public buildings to make sure that mistakes made in the UK were not made here”.

He said they were focused on “trying to ensure we can reassure staff and children that we will put contingency plans in place and prioritise their safety”.

There was a need for calm, he said, so that they could work with school boards, principals and parents to ensure that “if certain schools are going to be discommoded for a temporary period of time, that we do that in as efficient a way as possible that prioritises children and staff in terms of safety and education”.

The Tánaiste added: “There will be plenty of time after we do that for a political debate on what happened, how it happened, can we learn lessons and make changes to ensure it does not happen again.”

Western Building Systems has insisted that the Department of Education signed off on each project.