The Loreto will not open until we get paid, say angry sub-contractors
'There'll be no schools opened until we get paid,' declared Larry Power of Wexford company Sky High Scaffolding as a picket was placed on the new Loreto School in Killeens on Monday morning by sub-contractors who have not been paid for work carried out on the building.
The protest poses a new threat to the opening of the almost-completed secondary school on which work stopped in January following the collapse of Carrillion Construction Ltd and the subsequent examinership and liquidation of the main sub-contractor Sammon.
A fortnight ago, following a lengthy period of uncertainty, a new contractor, Woodvale Construction of Omagh, County Tyrone. was appointed by Dutch Infrastructure Fund and the Project Lenders following a re-tendering process, and they began working on the completion of the Loreto project straight away, prompting principal Billy O'Shea to state that it was the 'most positive' news to date.
Now, the planned opening of the new school is under threat again as angry sub-contractors who are creditors of Sammon Ltd vow to continue picketing the Loreto and five other schools involved in the PPP Bundle 5 Project, until they get paid, preventing the finished schools from opening in September if necessary.
'We are here until we get paid. We will prevent the opening of the schools if necessary,' said Larry Power who is owed €45,000 by Sammon Construction for scaffolding services provided.
A simultaneous picket was placed on a secondary school and primary school in Bray on Monday morning and the picketers said the protest will be rolled out at the other schools involved in PPP Bundle 5 as soon as Woodvale begins work on them.
'I would prefer that the schools would be opening and children getting educated. My own daughter is a teacher,' said Larry.
'We are getting massive support. The principal Billy O'Shea was here this morning and he understands our situation.'
Approximately 400 sub-contractors around the country are owed up to an estimated €14 million by Sammon Construction for work carried out on the school projects, including the Loreto, with about 30 County Wexford sub-contractors involved.
According to Larry, the Wexford contractors are owed varying amounts from about €20,000 to €70,000 and include painters and decorators, carpenters, cleaners, fabricators, scaffolders and landscapers.
'The date set for the hand-over of the Loreto is August 27 but if we don't get paid, there will be no such thing,' said Larry, pointing out that many small firms have suffered hardship as a result of not being paid by Sammon.
'I had to let off staff because of this. A painter who is owed €70,000 had to let 10 staff go,' said Larry.
'There have been job losses because of this', said Enda Whelan of Whelan Cleaning Systems which is owed €30,000 for a cleaning contract on the Loreto, adding that approximately 40 of the nationwide creditors have gone bust over the past four months in a knock-on effect from the Carillion collapse.
'All we're trying to do is get paid money due to us for work done. It's as simple as that,' he said, adding that the sub-contractors' protest is gathering momentum.
'The last thing we want to be doing is picketing at the school but it's the only way we can highlight our situation. We are hoping that it will be resolved,' he said.
'It was decided that progress was slow and the only way of bringing pressure to bear was to picket the schools, starting with Wexford and Bray.'
Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin has arranged a meeting on Tuesday, July 24 between the protesting sub-contractors and the National Development Finance Agency and the Office of Public Procurement at the latter's offices in Dublin next Tuesday. This follows a meeting last week with the Public Finance Committee of the Oireachtas at which sub-contractors were given an opportunity to outline their individual cases and to raise questions which are expected to be addressed next week.
Woodvale Construction is currently completing the three of the most advanced schools including Loreto Wexford which are due to be ready by the end of August with the other three schools involved in the Public Private Partnership project affected by Carillion's collapse, expected to be finished by the end of next December.
Principal Billy O'Shea said the school is largely completed apart from the laying of a GAA pitch and a few finishing touches inside.
Loreto principal sympathetic but says school is 'innocent bystander'
Loreto principal Billy O'Shea visited the protesting sub-contractors on the picket line on Monday morning to express sympathy with them on behalf of the board of management of the school. 'The school unfortunately is the innocent by-stander in all of this. We have no financial commitments to anyone,' said Mr. O'Shea.
'Our Board of Management has looked at it and we are very sympathetic towards the unpaid contractors but the main sub-contractor, the Sammon Group were fully paid up to December 31 and what appears to be the case is that they haven't passed the payments on to the sub-contractors. That is the real difficulty. The Board of Management has great sympathy for the sub-contractors but the real hard questions should be asked of Sammon,' he said.
'I was happy to meet with the people on the picket line. I called around to speak to them. It is a big issue for them. I wanted to let them know that the Board of Management of the Loreto understands their situation and sympathises with them,' said Mr. O' Shea.
'But at the same time, it's more complex in that payments have been paid but have not been passed on,' he said.
The Department of Education said that while the situation faced by sub contractors is regerettable, it had to emphasise that it is not and was not party to a contract with them.
In a statement, the Department pointed out that the sub contractors' contractual relationship was with Sammon.
The Department of Education reiterated that Carrillion had confirmed to the state's National Development Finance Agency that it has paid Sammon in full up to last December, about a month before Carrillion's collapse and the Department said that while the situation faced by the sub contractors was very difficult it would be regrettable if there were further delays to the opening of the schools.