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Ministers ‘working night and day’ on school structure risk

Leo Varadkar said all the facts were still not known as he toured Tyrrelstown Educate Together School in Dublin.

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Leo Varadkar said all the facts were still not known (Cate McCurry/PA)

Leo Varadkar said all the facts were still not known (Cate McCurry/PA)

Leo Varadkar said all the facts were still not known (Cate McCurry/PA)

The Government is “working night and day” to establish the extent of structural risks in school buildings, the Taoiseach pledged as he visited one of the impacted sites.

Leo Varadkar said all the facts were still not known as he toured Tyrrelstown Educate Together School in Dublin.

Tyrrelstown and nearby St Luke’s National School have been forced to temporarily close due to safety concerns.

The Department of Education has ordered risk assessments at more than 40 schools across the country amid structural fears.

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Barriers at Tyrrelstown Educate Together School (Cate McCurry/PA)

Barriers at Tyrrelstown Educate Together School (Cate McCurry/PA)

PA Wire/PA Images

Barriers at Tyrrelstown Educate Together School (Cate McCurry/PA)

The review was prompted amid concerns for the integrity of facilities built by Tyrone-based construction firm Western Building Systems between 2009 and 2013.

“This is a big problem, we don’t necessarily know the scale of it yet, but we do know that we will fix it, we are going to make sure that everything is put right,” said Mr Varadkar

The Taoiseach said initial assessments had indicated there were no concerns about state hospital and healthcare facilities built by the company.

Mr Varadkar, who met the principals of Tyrrelstown and St Luke’s during Thursday morning’s visit, acknowledged the issue with school buildings had created concern among parents.

We are working night and day now to make sure we find out the scale of the problem and put in place solutions Leo Varadkar

“We don’t have all the answers yet but what we are going to do over the next couple of days is find out what the scale of the problem is, put in place interim solutions that hopefully will allow the schools to continue to operate, and then carry out whatever repairs that need to be carried out and get things back to normal as soon as we can,” he said.

“I know this is a time of enormous concern and worry for parents and I know this is really discommoding and really disruptive for children, particular for those with special needs and other needs, but we are working night and day now to make sure we find out the scale of the problem and put in place solutions that will ideally allow the schools to continue on campus and then carry out any permanent works that are needed to put things right and get things back to normal.”

The issue has arisen ahead of the mid-term break, with officials hopeful of having a clearer picture of the situation before pupils return to classrooms after Halloween.

Mr Varadkar said interim solutions being considered included the installation of temporary classrooms and the use of alternative nearby facilities.

“Every solution is going to be different in each locality,” he added.

As he toured the site with Education Minister Joe McHugh, the Taoiseach said all resources of the Department of Education’s buildings section were being deployed on the issue.

Mr McHugh said the safety of pupils and staff was the Government’s “foremost concern”.

“We are going to work really, really hard to find an interim solution,” he added.

More than 1,200 students attend Tyrrelstown and St Luke’s.

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Tyrrelstown Educate Together School has been closed temporarily (Cate McCurry/PA)

Tyrrelstown Educate Together School has been closed temporarily (Cate McCurry/PA)

PA Wire/PA Images

Tyrrelstown Educate Together School has been closed temporarily (Cate McCurry/PA)

Last week, a building at Ardgillan Community College in Balbriggan was closed amid safety concerns, forcing the college to ask transition year students to stay at home.

Western Building Systems insisted the Department of Education had declared each of the closed schools to be “fully compliant” after construction was completed.

The company said it has sought an urgent meeting with Mr McHugh.

“In the case of the three schools currently closed, the Department of Education and Skills’ contracts for these projects stipulated that they be completed within a timeframe of 20-26 weeks,” said a company statement.

“We met these timelines as per our contractual obligations. The department itself deemed each project to be fully compliant, issuing the supporting certificates of completion.

“We wrote to the Minister for Education and Skills yesterday morning seeking an urgent meeting. We were subsequently contacted to meet with department representatives today.

“We welcome this development as it allows for a better understanding of why these three schools, previously deemed compliant by the department, have now been closed.

“Mindful of pupils, parents and teachers, we are determined to work with the department to get to the bottom of this matter.”

PA