Leo Varadkar in court threat to Northern Ireland building firm after schools closed

The headquarters of Western Building Systems in Coalisland
The headquarters of Western Building Systems in Coalisland

A Co Tyrone building company has defended its reputation after “significant structural issues” led to the closure of two schools in the Republic of Ireland.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar described the situation as ”truly disgraceful” and vowed to “pursue the builder in the courts” following confirmation that up to 40 schools could need work to ensure they meet the required standard.

Coalisland-based Western Building Systems (WBS) is also involved in constructing schools in Northern Ireland and the Department of Education has said it is “currently reviewing buildings” supplied by WBS.

However, a spokeswoman for the department said the relevant regulations north of the border meant that all such construction projects must be given final approval by council-appointed experts.

WBS said it was co-operating fully with the Republic’s education department to start “establishing the facts”.

A spokesman for WBS 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.”

Some of the concerns relate to fire safety issues.

WBS added: “We place considerable emphasis on delivering high-quality work on each of our projects, always ensuring compliance with regulatory requirements. These include projects which have met the (ROI) Department of Education and Skills (DES) compliance standards.

“Each of our DES projects, both before and since the amendments to building regulations in 2014, were 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. We are moving to intensify our engagement with the department and other relevant bodies to better understand the issues which have now arisen and to work to resolve them.”

A spokeswoman for the NI education department said: “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 ROI. All NI schools are constructed to NI building regulation standards and are signed off by council building control teams.”

In the Dail on Tuesday, Mr Varadkar said: “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.

“It certainly appears that prior to 2014 or 2015, and particularly during the Celtic tiger period, schools were built without proper oversight. We now have to go back, make sure they are safe, fix them, and pursue the people responsible.”

Engineers carrying out work at one of the schools affected – Ardgillan Community College in Co Dublin – discovered that ties fixing interior walls to exterior walls were inadequate, the BBC has reported.

More than 1,200 pupils were displaced by the closure of schools yesterday.