University Hospital Limerick has said a new 60-bed ward building being constructed by Western Building Systems will be fully compliant with building regulations.

The hospital earlier confirmed that the company, which built more than 40 schools where serious structural defects have been uncovered, was awarded a contract worth €14m for the project.

The defects were discovered at an initial 23 schools last October following the earlier discovery of fire safety breaches. The contract for the new hospital unit was awarded in May.

Since then, structural defects have been discovered at an additional 17 schools. Remediation work at the schools is expected to run to millions of euro.

The Department of Education is also pursuing 15 separate legal cases against the company.

In a statement this evening, University Hospital Limerick said that the HSE had followed strict EU public procurement guidelines in the process of awarding the hospital contract. 

It said that Western Building Systems was entitled to bid for the contract and met all the contract criteria. 

It said the detailed criteria set out that the project would be a rapid build and, as such, specialist work of this nature would have precluded some contractors from bidding.

This evening, Western Building Systems said that it continues to be awarded and deliver important public and private contracts in Ireland and the UK. 

In a statement, it said that the Limerick hospital was one of a range of projects awarded to it in 2018 and 2019 following public and private tendering processes.

They include a social housing project, a nursing home project, and an apartment project. The company said it looked forward to "completing each to similar and proven satisfaction". 

It said it had also recently completed or was currently working on other projects, including a Department of Education project at a Dublin higher education college that is due to be completed this month, as well as projects at two Dublin schools that are due to be handed over later this year.

The company said it "welcomed engagement and cooperation with public contracting partners in respect of all such projects, not least to ensure we avoid a situation whereby projects which are deemed to have met contractual requirements and certified as such by Government Departments and agencies are subsequently not deemed to be".

According to building expert, Orla Hegarty of UCD, the criteria for a project such as this would be drawn up by the body putting out the tender.

The tender documents state that the awarding criterion is "the most economically advantageous tender meeting the specified minimum criteria". 

The criteria listed include the provision of details of projects "similar in nature and complexity" built over the past seven years, along with Certificates of Satisfactory Execution. Western Building Systems has built a number of other hospital buildings, where no defects have been found.

The hospital says that the evaluation criteria for the tender required that the design-and-build contractor, their nominated design team and subcontractors met specifically selected stringent criteria for qualifications and experience; turnover and performance bond requirements; programme and resources and project quality execution plans.

It says the HSE has appointed a technical adviser team to supervise the contractor's design and construction works and to ensure compliance with contract requirements. It says that in addition, local HSE Estates staff, including engineers and clerk of works, will oversee and monitor the construction project. 

The tender for the 60-bed ward building at University Hospital Limerick was published on the Official Journal of the European Union and E-tenders procurement platforms in July of last year. The deadline for receipt of tenders was last September. 

The contract was formally awarded to Western Building Systems in May, and the contract commenced on 15 May.  

The hospital says the three storey building is "an interim measure to help add much needed bed capacity in the short-term".

Ardgillan College remains closed

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The Minister for Health has said he has no role in the awarding of individual contracts by the HSE.

Simon Harris said it would be inappropriate for him to comment on the decision to give the contract to Western Building Systems.

Mr Harris said that while he cannot comment on any particular case, the HSE can make arrangements for onsite supervision for any contract.

The Department of Education is pursuing legal action against Western Building Systems for the cost of both the temporary and long-term remediation of the defects discovered at the schools the company built. 

The full cost of repairs to the 42 schools is not yet known, but it is likely to run to millions of euro.

Court documents have revealed that the department has estimated the cost of repairs at one school Ardgillan Community College, where it is believed the gravest defects were discovered, is likely to exceed €3 million. 

The building at Ardgillan Community College was closed down last October and remains closed.

Ms Hegarty, who is Assistant Professor at UCD's School of Architecture, has criticised the system of enforcement of building regulations here.

She said that because breaches are usually dealt with locally by negotiation there is no public record.

"When it comes to a different Government Department looking for previous issues", she says, "maybe where there were warnings or problems on site, there isn't a public record that can be relied on to record this".