A construction company, Western Building Systems, that built 42 schools with structural defects for the state has been given a contract by the HSE worth €14m to build an extension to University Hospital Limerick.

Western Building Systems is being pursued in fifteen separate legal actions by the Department of Education, after structural defects were discovered in 40 of the 43 schools it had worked on. The repair cost for these defects is set to run to millions of Euro.

Western Building Systems is owned by brothers, Martin and Declan McCloskey from Coalisland in Country Tyrone. Since 2015, the company has been awarded contracts to build a Gaelscoil in Firhouse, 22 modular homes in Poppintree, Ballymun, and was approved for another modular housing contract in February of 2017.

According to the Irish Times, in 2017, the company’s deficiencies were found to be pretty serious:

Last week the department published audits that found some materials used in the construction of five rapid-build schools would not achieve sufficient fire resistance to provide the required 60 minutes for a full evacuation.

So, to recap – 43 schools with structural defects, and at least five schools that actually were not safe for the children in them.

Mind you, none of these issues appear to have damaged its business, the majority of which appears to come from contracts from the Irish and UK Governments:

Earlier this year, Western Building Systems was among just five Northern Ireland companies named in Investec’s Mid-Market 100, a list of the fastest growing private mid-market companies in the UK.

Among reject projects for the firm was an €18m (£15.2m) education campus in Ashbourne, Co Meath, and the construction of schools throughout Dublin valued at more than €15m (£12.7m).

It has also recently worked on a facility at St James’ Hospital in Dublin, as well as a projects at the University of Essex and the University of Leeds.

Turnover at Western Building Systems in 2016 was £39.9million, so the contract for University Hospital Limerick represents a massive deal for the company – this isn’t small potatoes stuff, it’s a huge contract for that firm, and it comes despite significant questions about its performance and safety record.

Commenting on the news, Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín TD told Gript:

“The inability of the government to get the blindingly obvious stuff right is breath-taking. If a painter or a builder did a subpar job for any family or business in the country that family or business would simply not reemploy that builder again. Yet the government while in the midst of serious crisis in the department of education with 42 defective schools proceed to reemploy the same company in the Department of Health to build and extension to a hospital.

Its mind boggling. Either the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing or there is something more else is happening here. A procurement officer in a private business would be gone if they made such a simple error yet the Minister for Health is immune from responsibility, kept in place by a Fianna Fáil in fear of an election.

The government has form on this. When it comes to large infrastructural projects Fine Gael are a walking disaster. We need to ensure a filter in the state procurement process that only allows firms with a successful proven track record. Otherwise the citizen will have to foot the bill again and again.”

Hard to disagree with him now, in all fairness.