HUNDREDS of families in Dublin 15 were shocked last week when two local schools were closed by the Department of Education following safety assessments.
Tyrrelstown ETNS and St Luke's National School were both shut down immediately as a precautionary measure after engineers appointed by the Department identified structural issues.
The safety assessments were organised as part of a series of investigations being carried out on 40 schools built within the past 10 years by Tyrone based Western Building Systems.
The list of local schools investigated includes Luttrellstown Community College, Scoil Choilm, Diswellstown and Broombridge ETNS.
The Department of Education appointed staff to liaise with affected schools regarding structural assessments that are planned to be carried out, preferably over the mid-term break.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister for Education Joe McHugh visited the two Dublin 15 schools that were closed last week.
“I know this is a very worrying time for parents and very unsettling for children, especially those with special needs,” the Taoiseach said after meeting with school staff.
“At the moment we don’t have all the answers. We need to use the next couple of days and the mid-term break to find out the answers and communicate them to parents and staff.”
Tyrrelstown ETNS principal Tim Stapleton posted a message for parents on the school’s website and Facebook page following the visit by the Taoiseach and minister.
“Following a brief observation of the external buildings the Taoiseach and Minister met with both principals and the manager of the Community Centre, among others, to discuss the impact the recent closure has had on the local community,” he wrote.
“Having raised a variety of concerns that directly impact the children, parents and community in general, we have received assurances and a commitment from the Taoiseach and the Department of Education in finding a suitable solution that would allow children to return to education as soon as reasonably possible.
“We have also been informed that the Department of Education are assessing a range of viable options for both schools and will inform of us of these in the coming days.
“We are committed to keeping our school community informed of any developments as they occur and will update you as soon as we have any tangible information from the Department of Education.”
The Department of Education met with representatives from Western Building Systems and said its overriding priority was the health and safely of the school pupils and staff.
“The assessments are proceeding over the weekend and mid-term break in order to minimise disruption to schools and ensure that they can be completed as quickly as possible,” a statement said.
“The Department’s interim accommodation team has been working intensively, in consultation with the school principals, to secure an interim accommodation solution for Tyrrelstown ETNS and St Luke’s National School.”
A spokesperson for Western Building Systems said the company was determined to work with the department to get to the bottom of the matter.
“In the case of the 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,” the company said.
“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.”
The company said it wrote to the Minister for Education seeking an urgent meeting as soon as it became aware of the issues and welcomed a meeting with representatives from his department.
“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,” its statement continued.
Meanwhile, local politicians were quick to demand answers as to why schools in their constituency had been closed.
“This will be a nightmare for parents of children in Tyrrelstown ETNS and St Luke’s National School getting to and from whatever alternative accommodation the Department of Education manages to find,” said Solidarity TD for Dublin West, Ruth Coppinger.
“I’ll be writing to the Minister for answers immediately.”
Labour’s TD for Dublin West Joan Burton called on Leo Varadkar to set up an action group to address the needs of students, parents, and teachers in Tyrrelstown.
“There was a palpable sense of shock and dismay from teachers and parents alike when I visited the campus,” she said.
"The closure notices are having a really shattering impact on the public and families.
"In addition to the loss of their children's school, some are also losing pre-school and after-school care for children.
“Many of the families are reliant on these as part of their childcare arrangements.
“The need for action for families is immediate and I hope my local constituency colleague, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, allows no substantial amount of time to lapse before this is dealt with.
"I also hope that employers locally would appreciate that this bolt from the blue will have a major impact on the childcare arrangements of most working parents with children in the school and that they will show their employees an appropriate level of understanding.”