Dáil Éireann - Volume 687 - 08 July, 2009

Adjournment Debate. - Schools Building Projects.

  Deputy Michael D’Arcy: A number of months ago, the Department of Education and Science put the construction of several primary schools, two of which are in north County Wexford, out to tender. It has come to my attention that CLG, the successful company in the tendering process, subcontracted certain works to a company called OkoHaus Superstructures Limited, which has gone into receivership and a number of subcontractors within which remain unpaid. Some €14,000 is outstanding in respect of a crane hire company while the company that put the roofs on the two schools has not been paid. Approximately €200,000 is outstanding in respect of these and other companies, including scaffolders.

These are State contracts. It is not a civil matter between two people. The State asked people in the private sector to submit competitive tenders to ensure that the properties would be built. It has a responsibility to ensure that people who worked on the contract are paid. The information supplied to me via parliamentary questions and other sources is that the Department and CLG are washing their hands of the issue, claiming it to be a matter for OkoHaus Superstructures Limited.

No one in the State wants to take responsibility for anything. These schools have been built to educate children. It is a State contract and the State is obliged to ensure that those who are owed money are paid. They do not care whether they are paid by the State or CLG as long as they are paid for the work done. The Minister of State, Deputy Barry Andrews, probably has a script prepared and cannot be au fait with this matter, but any company that leaves people unpaid should not be considered for any other State contract until that issue is resolved.

  Deputy Barry Andrews: I am taking this Adjournment matter on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Batt O’Keeffe. I thank the Deputy for raising the matter, as it provides me with the opportunity to outline to the House the strategy for capital investment in education projects and also to outline the current position in respect of the two schools in Gorey in particular.

The allocation of funding for school buildings in 2009 is €614 million, representing a significant investment in the schools building and modernisation programme. This level of funding, at a time of great pressure on public finances, is a sign of the Government’s commitment to investing in school infrastructure and will permit the continuation of progress in the overall improvement of school accommodation. It is a significant level of capital investment that reflects the Government’s commitment to continue its programme of sustained investment in primary and post-primary schools.

[862] I wish to outline the position in respect of the two schools in Gorey to which Deputy D’Arcy referred. In time for a September 2008 opening, two eight-classroom schools for Gorey were provided as part of the Department’s rapid delivery programme for developing areas. This programme provided new schools in rapidly developing areas in a short timeframe. Where possible, as in the case of the two new schools in Gorey, the programme delivered permanent accommodation from the outset, avoiding the necessity for temporary prefabricated accommodation.

The construction of the buildings in question was procured by the Department under a design and build contract. Accordingly, the Department is not responsible for the recording or approving of subcontractors employed by the design and build consortium. As such, I am satisfied that no responsibility or power rests with the Department to intervene in or resolve contractual issues relating to those subcontractors. A school building project is a complex arrangement of contractual relationships between the client, the main contractor, specialist subcontractors, domestic subcontractors, suppliers of materials, suppliers of plant, etc.

11 o’clock

In general, all subcontractors employed on schools building projects are employed directly by the main contractor or indirectly by the main contractor through other subcontractors. It is a matter for all subcontractors to agree terms and conditions and a schedule of payments with the main contractor or the entity with which they are in contract. The Department has no direct contractual relationship with subcontractors engaged by the main contractor and holds no information relating to them. It is unreasonable to expect any company within the chain to be held to account for issues relating to one of the other companies for which it has no direct control.

I am satisfied the company employed by the Department as the main contractor for the schools to which the Deputy refers has acted appropriately and in accordance with its contract with the Department and is not in breach of any rules or regulations governing public procurement.

It should be noted that the vast majority of contracts for both major and minor schools capital projects are between individual school authorities and main contractors. These contracts are placed following a public tendering process operated by the school authorities in conjunction with their design team. Generally the Department is the contracting authority only in those cases where the property or site is in the ownership of the Minister for Education and Science. I thank the Deputy once again for raising this matter.

  The Dáil adjourned at 11.05 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 9 July 2009.