File photo of worker at Western Building Systems’ site; former Minister for Education Richard Bruton at an Oireachtas committee meeting in September 2017
RTÉ’s Education Correspondent Emma O’Kelly is reporting that the HSE awarded a €14million contract to Tyrone-based Western Building Systems to build a new 60-bed ward at University Hospital Limerick – with the contract signed in May.
It follows Ms O’Kelly reporting last week that engineers had found structural flaws in 17 schools buildings – despite initial assessments carried out last October finding that there were no safety concerns.
These schools were in addition to 22 other schools that were found to have defects last year, while all of the schools affected were built by Western Building Systems.
The Department of Education is suing the company.
On September 26, 2017…
At a meeting of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education and Skills, the then Minister for Education Richard Bruton answered questions put to him by members of the committee about Western Building Systems.
At the time, Mr Bruton announced that 31 schools across Ireland were to be audited for fire safety standards after five then recently built schools were found to be in breach of regulations.
Mr Bruton told the committee:
“We are now doing a full audit of all of the WBS [Western Building Systems] schools. It is important for me to say this is not based on a concern that we have. We believe that the premises have been to the highest standards but we just want to make doubly sure.”
During the meeting, People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett told the minister: “It [Western Building Systems] should never get a public contract again.”
Mr Boyd Barrett added:
“Can the Minister tell us how many schools this company is currently building? How many other schools has it built? We also know that it is involved in the Poppintree project for rapid-build. Are these units being audited for fire safety?
“It built the extension to Beaumont Hospital. Has that been fire-safety audited? I believe it did work in Temple Street hospital. Has that been fire-safety audited?
“Can the Minister tell us today that if Western Building Systems was guilty of multiple breaches of basic fire safety regulations? Will it be banned forever and a day from ever getting a public contract? It absolutely should be.
“Can the Minister also confirm whether the Whitehall College of Further Education was also built by Western Building Systems in 2008?
“It has been sitting empty to this day because issues were also identified there, initially by the National Standards Authority and because a case subsequently taken by the Office of Public Works over breaches of regulations and building controls. That building is sitting there empty.”
Mr Bruton responded that yes, Western Building Systems could tender for other projects.
“Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked whether Western Building Systems was eligible to apply for further contracts. It can.
“The rules under which tendering occurs are very strict as to when an individual or a contractor can be disallowed from participating in the process.
“They include where someone has committed offences or undertaken activities involving misrepresentation, undue influence on procurement procedures, grave professional misconduct or agreements to distort competition or demonstrated significant or persistent deficiencies in the performance of a public contract which led to its early termination.
“The situations in which one can or cannot exclude a builder from a particular application process are very clear.
“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.
“All of the new protections which have been in place since 2014 in terms of certification are in place in respect of those buildings.
“We want to make sure there is no question of anything which is not up to the highest standards being missed.
“That is why we are undertaking a 100% audit of the schools built by Western Building Systems since 2003.”
Committee transcript via Kildarestreet.com
Watch the committee meeting back here
HSE awards €14m contract to building firm which Education Dept is suing (Emma O’Kelly, RTE)