TRADESMEN and sub-contractors who had been working on the Loreto Secondary School building site say there have already been a number of local job losses since work was halted there a fortnight ago.
Around 160 people were working on the site before Northern contractor McCann Bros Ltd withdrew its machinery and absconded, having ceased trading. The stranded workers are now feeling the pinch, with many local companies left out of pocket.
“There have been several layoffs already,” said Brian Forde, speaking on behalf of the sub-contractors.
“We are only small sub-contractors, so of course there have been direct job losses from this. The sub-contractors based in Kilkenny are owed just short of €600,000.”
Those who had been working on the site have this week maintained a demonstration at the school gates. Today (Wednesday) is the sixteenth day of the saga.
A group of around 20 men have been standing at the gates of the school in the mornings to publicise their plight and demand that the Government take action to let them get back to work. Workers say that the money is still there to continue and complete the project, but that the Department of Education is dragging its heels in terms of seeking a solution.
Ned Costigan, a bricklayer and union activist, had worked on the site for four months before work there ceased. What he wants now is for communication to take place between the parties.
“Our aim is to get the department to sit down with us and work out a plan to finish this,” he said.
“We want to go in and finish it – it is 80% completed. It could be done by the end of January.
The site remains littered with the abandoned hallmarks of industry – tools, mixers, spotlamps, cement. On one section of the half-renovated building, there remains over 300 square metres of roofing yet to go on.
The new building already has some occupants during the school day. The girls are using five of the classrooms, which have no heating and have not yet all of their furnishings.
“We are not here to put children in a cold classroom, but what can we do?” asks Mr Costigan.
“They are in there now in an unfinished building, no heating, no insurance. I don’t know what the fire alarm situation is. There are probably health and safety issues here.”
The project, which includes a restoration of an existing building, as well as an extension, originally had an estimated completion cost of €5.9 million.
“The thing is – the money is there to finish the job,” says sub-contractor Brian Forde.
“There’s over €2 million left, and it wouldn’t take much more than one. There is no extra cost attached. If all the money was gone from the pot, then fair enough, we would probably have to walk away.
“Now we just want to get in and complete it. But if this goes down the route that the Government [seem] to want it to, it will be two and a half years before the job is finished.”
Mr Costigan says that the department has shown it is in no rush to sort out the problem. He says the situation has come about as a consequence of the department’s decision to give the contract to an out-of-state, low-tender company – with no impact on bond collection in the event of the contractor going under.
“This lowest-tender, sub-prime contract policy is not right,” he said.
“We didn’t choose the contractor, the government did. So they can’t just walk away from this – particularly given it is an out-of-state contractor. We did not create this problem, but we are all stakeholders in it now.”
The abandoned building site has now become Kilkenny’s latest symptom of a national sickness, threatening to be the next disaster story from the country’s already beleaguered construction sector.
“This is happening on building sites all over Ireland,” says Mr Costigan.
“It can’t continue like this. There are people here today who cannot afford to heat their own homes because they are out of pocket. But this is the Loreto Fightback.
“Others are welcome to come and support us. We are going to stay here as long as we can. We need some sort of process, some level of communication and negotiation from the department.”