The publication of school safety audits finding breaches of fire safety standards at five recently-built primary schools and the detail surrounding the issue raises a plethora of questions, writes Education Correspondent Emma O Kelly.

Chief among them; if inspectors found breaches in early 2016 that included some requiring "immediate, essential" action, why is it only now that work to address many of these breaches is being undertaken?

Twenty months have passed since inspectors carried out their detailed inspections in January of 2016.

Yet the Department of Education, in the case for instance of the two schools at Belmayne, states: "WBS have confirmed that they commenced work in the schools on Tuesday August 29th" and in the case of the Mullingar school that works in relation to fire-stopping are "to begin within the next fortnight".

This huge time gap is addressed in the statement issued by the department on Friday evening.

It states that the initial audits were carried out after problems were identified at the Educate Together school in Dublin's Rush/Lusk area.

Fire safety investigations on these five additional schools were carried out in January of 2016, and draft reports prepared in March of that year. The final reports were ready by July.

In June, the company that built these schools, Western Building Systems, agreed to carry out the required works.

In August, according to the department, WBS "advised that the priority works had been carried out".

These priority works were the breaches that fire safety inspectors had deemed as needing "immediate, essential" remediation.

The Department of Education states that in January of this year information received from its fire safety consultants "suggested" that reports provided by Western Building Systems on its remedial works did not address all the issues the fire safety reports had raised.

WBS was asked to provide further information.

According to the Department of Education, inspections carried out by its fire safety consultants at the schools in May of this year found that "very little upgrade works which were previously advised had actually been carried out", and that "where works were carried out they were not to a satisfactory standard, and there were issues identified ... which had not been addressed."

Most seriously, the department states that while it understood that WBS had in the summer of 2016 addressed the works highlighted as being the most urgent and important, it says "it became apparent following review that this was not in fact the case".

RTÉ News has asked Western Building Systems to specifically address these comments from the department.

The company has issued a general statement and has told RTÉ News that it will not be commenting further at this stage. 

In its statement it says: "We have been working closely with the Department and other relevant authorities to assist with maintenance and upgrade works stemming from issues that have come to light since the handovers - including those created as a result of the actions of third parties". 

The Department of Education says that WBS has confirmed to it that it began remedial work in the two Belmayne schools last Tuesday, 29 August.

At Mullingar, a sub-contractor is due to begin work within the next fortnight.

Work at Greystones will begin shortly after the Mullingar work commences and should be completed by the end of October.

The fifth school building that was audited, at Powerstown in Dublin, has since been replaced by another building.

The delay in addressing these breaches will undoubtedly add to the concern felt by the parents of children attending the schools in question.

Today the Department of Education has said "it is very important to note that this is not a finding that the buildings are dangerous, it is a finding that they do not comply with the detailed requirements of the Fire Safety Certificates".

WBS in its statement said "We believe the buildings mentioned in the reports met all relevant fire safety and building regulations at that time on the basis that all of the required building and fire certifications of compliance and completion were issued by the architect and by the client without any note of the defects included in the recently-published fire-safety reports".

Western Building Systems has built a significant number of schools in Ireland over the past decade or so.

In 2015, the last year for which comprehensive details are available, the Department of Education website lists the company as the builder of nine out of 70 major school-building projects ongoing or about to begin at that time.

Some of those schools have now been built.

The department says the company is currently constructing five schools.

However, it is important to note that these schools are not of the same design as the five schools that are the subject of these audits.

Those schools were built in and around 2008.

They were modular buildings, constructed as part of a 'rapid-build' programme under way at the time.