Owners of firm facing legal action over school buildings pay themselves €10m in two-year period

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Gordon Deegan

The owners of the family run building firm facing High Court action from the Department of Education over its school building programme have paid themselves £9m (€10m) in dividends in the past two years.

That is according to new accounts from the McCloskey-family owned Western Building Systems (WBS), which show the company's pre-tax profits increased by 4pc to £4.32m (€4.8m) in the 12 months to the end of April last.

The pre-tax profits of £4.32m at the Tyrone-based group follow pre-tax profits of £4.15m in the prior year. The business recorded the increase in pre-tax profits in spite of revenues decreasing by 8.5pc from £37.22m to £34m (€37.8m).

The owners awarded themselves a £3.08m dividend last year and this followed a dividend windfall payout of £5.9m the previous year.

In recent weeks, the firm has become ensnared in a public row with the Department of Education over aspects of its school building programme.

WBS has built 42 schools around the country in the last 14 years and the department is now suing the firm in the High Court.

In recent months, alleged structural weaknesses were found in 23 schools, two of which were closed temporarily while precautionary works were carried out.

WBS has complained that schools previously certified on completion as being free from defects by the department were described 12 months ago by the then-minister as being built to the highest standards. Now, they are deemed to require remedial works, it said.

Such "a turnaround" was "troubling on a wider scale", the company said in a statement in November.

A spokesman for WBS said yesterday it will fully contest the High Court proceedings.

"We have been informed of proceedings and are seeking specific details. The company has been requesting details of structural assessments since November last and has not been provided with any details," he said.

He added its core fundamental point on the dispute with the department "remains why schools, previously verified and approved by the department, were subsequently found by the department to have potential issues".

"The company has three schools currently in construction, two of these on behalf of the department. We have communicated to the department on a number of occasions seeking clarity on the verification process for these schools and continue to await a response," he said.

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