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"One woman was told her house was not safe to live in - but she has nowhere else to go"

People living in Donegal have noticed cracks in their homes – and they’re getting progressively worse.

Photos of cracks outside a building in Carndonagh
Photos of cracks outside a building in Carndonagh

FOR AN UNKNOWN number of people living in Donegal, it has become a slow nightmare.

Across the county, cracks have begun appearing in homes, apparently as the result of sub-standard building materials.  Some of the cracks are small, some are large. They are slow moving, but are getting progressively worse.

“There’s one woman in the area and her curtain rails have fallen down because of it. Nothing will stay in the walls. There are gaps between the roof outside and the walls because the cracks are giving way,” explains Eileen Doherty, who is one of the people affected.

People first began noticing the cracks over the last number of years, Doherty explains.

“A lot of people thought they were settlement cracks, which is pretty standard in new homes, but the cracking has gotten worse.”

Some of the homeowners paid for structural engineers to investigate, and it was then that the scale of the problem emerged: homes, particularly in the north of the county, had been built with concrete blocks which were not fit for purpose.

Some of them contained mica muscovite, a mineral which significantly weakens concrete. Others had a lack of water or a lack of cement.

This was bad news for the people who owned the homes.

unnamed (2) Source: Cracks outside a building in Carndonagh, Donegal

“What it means is that the houses are already unstable, and becoming increasingly unstable,” explains Doherty. Some of the houses have been condemned as a result.

Aside from the instability of living in a home with cracks, there are other problems: Insurance companies don’t want to know, for example. And then there are the dangers:

“Two years ago, the woman who can’t even put up curtain rails was told that the house was unsafe to live in – but they’ve nowhere else to go,” says Doherty.

A group of homeowners got together earlier in the year and set up a group called the Mica Action Group (“The name is a bit misleading because we thought that mica was the main issue but there are other factors too,” explains Doherty).

The group set up an online survey and used word-of-mouth and social media to get people to fill it in online so they could gather the facts.

“We don’t expect that we can quantify the whole scale of the thing, but at least we can get an idea,” she says.

So far, 113 homeowners have registered and the group will hold a meeting in Donegal tonight, along with TDs for the area and the county manager, to discuss the results.

The actual number of people affected could be much higher, though. Some people have not yet accepted that they have it, or are worried that by publicly acknowledging it, it will make their homes worthless, says Doherty.

The group has written to Environment Minister Alan Kelly – and Phil Hogan before him – to highlight the problem but he has “basically washed his hands of it,” says Doherty.

She is clear about what’s needed. The group want independent experts to access the homes, similar to the recent pyrite scheme, and determine the full extent of the problem with a view to offering a redress scheme.

“Every case is different but there’s no easy fix. We just want to see this resolved but we’re in this for the long haul.”

Explainer: The scheme that will fix pyrite victim’s crumbling homes > 

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