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Under-fire building firm to face further scrutiny after safety concerns at Northern Ireland schools

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Education bodies in Northern Ireland are drawing up a list of buildings where work was carried out by a Co Tyrone construction company facing major scrutiny after safety concerns forced the closure of two schools in the Republic (stock photo)

Education bodies in Northern Ireland are drawing up a list of buildings where work was carried out by a Co Tyrone construction company facing major scrutiny after safety concerns forced the closure of two schools in the Republic (stock photo)

Education bodies in Northern Ireland are drawing up a list of buildings where work was carried out by a Co Tyrone construction company facing major scrutiny after safety concerns forced the closure of two schools in the Republic (stock photo)

Education bodies in Northern Ireland are drawing up a list of buildings where work was carried out by a Co Tyrone construction company facing major scrutiny after safety concerns forced the closure of two schools in the Republic.

Work by Coalisland firm Western Building Systems (WBS) is being reviewed in around 40 schools over the border dating back to 2008. It followed the discovery of structural problems in the fabric of some of the school buildings.

The Irish Government has already said it will take legal action against the building firm.

In Northern Ireland, the Department of Education and the Education Authority have said they are actively reviewing buildings supplied by the construction firm.

Recent projects include a £1.6m two-storey extension to the Loreto Grammar School in Omagh, new labs for St Louis Grammar School in Kilkeel, a new unit at Phoenix Integrated Nursery in Cookstown as well as a series of projects for the Irish medium sector.

But a spokeswoman for the Department of Education yesterday downplayed the likelihood that flaws could be detected in the Northern Ireland projects.

"The vast majority of buildings supplied by Western in NI schools are single-storey, modular classrooms rather than the larger, multi-storey wings supplied via the so-called 'rapid build' construction system used in the Republic.

"All NI schools are constructed to NI Building Regulation standards and are signed off by council building control teams."

Speaking in the Dail this week, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar confirmed that legal action would be taken against WBS.

"We will pursue the builder in the courts. In fact, that is already under way in respect of some of the fire safety issues.

"It certainly appears that corners were cut back in the Celtic Tiger period when it came to the building of some of these schools. That is truly disgraceful. We are in a very different position now."

Initially set up by Martin McCloskey as a roofing firm in 1982, WBS has grown into a major modular building construction firm, operating from a purpose-built factory near Coalisland.

The company has also carried out projects for health trusts, including a renal unit at Altnagelvin Area Hospital in Londonderry and a modular building for the Lagan Valley Hospital.

A spokesman for the South Eastern Trust confirmed that the modular building, which had been used for administration, is earmarked for demolition as part of the site works for the building of the new Lisburn Primary Care Centre. WBS has also carried out a series of works in recent years at Harland at Wolff in Belfast.

In a statement reacting to developments over the border, the company said: "We fully recognise that this is a very important matter, not least for the pupils, parents and teachers of the schools involved. Until now, our integrity has never been questioned."

WBS said every school project in the Republic had been subjected to inspections during construction: "Every time, each was certified as meeting compliance standards.

"We are interested in getting to the bottom of this and that starts with establishing the facts."

The company said it would "intensify" its engagements with authorities in the Republic in a bid to resolve the issues.

"We have received some, rather than all, of the individual school fire audit reports. Of those we have received, we have responded with two exceptions which have only recently been issued to us. We are writing to the Minister for Education and Skills on the matter and remain available to meet with him and his officials."


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