Thousands of children are in danger of huge disruption to their education because of the school building scandal. About 40 schools are due to be inspected because of concerns about serious structural defects.
Defects have already been found in a number of schools built by Western Building Systems. This company won a large amount of contracts from the Department of Education and was responsible for building many schools.
It has been paid over €80 million by the Department of Education since 2013.
But as early as October 2015, reports emerged of structural defects at some of the schools.
Even before that date, there was evidence of some problems, because one of the WBS schools at Whitehall in Dublin has been left idle since 2008 after a building inspection. Department of Education officials refused to comment on why this was the case, citing legal reasons pertaining to an ongoing court case.
But even if there was some uncertainty about the Whitehall case, there were reasons to query the handing out of building contracts to WBS from 2015.
Yet since 2015, over €60 million was paid out by the Department of Education to WBS. The Minister responsible for most of that time was Richard Bruton.
His department deliberately suppressed information on what was happening and Bruton even went so far as to express confidence in WBS when he was asked.
As concerns about standards at the schools started to grow, principals began to ask for safety certificates. They were denied these requests on seven different occasions.
In September 2017, People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett, asked a series of question of Bruton. Here they are:
Can the Minister explain the extraordinary fact that Educate Together repeatedly asked the Department of Education and Skills to release details of the building inspection reports and the Department refused to do so? This looks like an active attempt to suppress the fire safety issues affecting these schools, which is to my mind extraordinary and unconscionable. Can the Minister explain his statement that none of these schools was dangerous or posed a risk? This is an extraordinary statement. I have read the reports, which state that there were multiple breaches of the requirement for 60-minute compartmentalisation. It is not that the school could burn down in 60 minutes; it could burn down in ten or 15 minutes because where there is supposed to be resistance between units of 60 minutes, there was not.
Here is Bruton’s reply:
It is true that although we are carrying out an audit of every building constructed by Western Building Systems, the Department is confident that they are being built to the highest standards
In other words, even before the audit work was completed, Bruton went out of his way to express confidence in WBS.
Finally Richard Boyd Barrett asked Bruton if WBS was eligible for wining future contracts from the Department of Education. Bruton told him that they were.
In recent weeks, Bruton was moved out of the Department of Education and replaced with another Fine Gael TD.
Varadkar must have known that a scandal was brewing and with his usual PR tricks moved Bruton under cover of a cabinet re-organisation.
The reality is that Bruton should be sacked immediately and a short sharp investigation launched in to why WBS got away with poor standards for so long.
Once again, Fine Gaels’ love affair with big business is costing the Irish people dearly.