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'Get out now. It's not safe': Family of five forced to abandon home a week before Christmas

The Crumlishs are one of thousands of homeowners affected by defective blocks in Co Donegal.

Photo_2017-12-19_06-08-00_PM Cracks in the Crumlish family home in Donegal. Source: HD McKay Consulting Engineers

TINA AND HARRY Crumlish first started to notice a serious problem with their home after the bad winter of 2010.

The couple – who live with their three children (aged 17, 11 and 10) in Culdaff on the Inishowen peninsula in Donegal – had built their home early in the 2000s.

Around 2006 they started to notice lines in the wall of their bedroom upstairs, but the pair thought they were just “settling cracks”.

“We filled them in to the best of our ability but they kept reappearing and they were getting deeper. So much so that there was big lumps of plaster falling off our walls,” Tina told TheJournal.ie.

“Then after 2010 everything just escalated rapidly.”

After the winter of that year, the cracks had become a lot worse, and in the years that followed the state of the walls declined.

“It deteriorated fairly rapidly this past year and come summertime we had grave concerns,” said Tina.

Recently, the family appealed for help from their local TD and councillor, and were advised to have the home assessed by a structural engineer.

“The engineer came out last Tuesday, the 12 December,” said Tina.

“On inspection of the house, he just said: ‘Listen, get out. Get your family out.’

He said don’t stay in it for Christmas – it’s structurally not safe.

“The roof is actually bellowing and the outer wall is rotating and coming away from the rest of the house.

And he said that will go, and when it goes it will take down our wall with it.

Tina and her family did not qualify for social housing support as both she and her husband are in employment. They had to stay in the house a further six days while they found another place to live by themselves.

IMG_2068 Cracks up the wall of the family home. Source: HD McKay Consulting Engineers

“We didn’t meet the criteria for emergency housing because we both work. Both myself and my husband work,” she said.

The reason we work is to pay a mortgage. We’re paying a mortgage on a house that is deemed unfit. We can’t live in it.

They only have a month in this new house, before they will have to find somewhere else again to live.

IMG_2101 Tina and Harry Crumlish. Source: Tina Crumlish

Defective blocks 

The issue affecting the Crumlish’s home is defective concrete blocks. An estimated maximum of 4,800 homes in Donegal are affected by the same problem.

In 2013, widespread structural issues started to be reported by media and local representatives in areas of Donegal and Mayo.

The presence of the mineral muscovite mica in the concrete blocks being used in the homes was given as the primary reason for this.

IMG_2071 Cracks near the roof of the home.

Structural engineer Damien McKay of HD McKay Consulting Engineers inspected a large number of houses with similar issues.

He is the one who assessed the Crumlish home last week.

“The cracking is what we would classify as major structural cracking – I was able to get my hand through the cracks and the cavity walls,” he said. “I was concerned from a health and safety point of view”.

In 2013, McKay spoke on Highland Radio about the widespread problems. After this, more and more people came forward reporting similar problems in their homes.

“There was basically a durability issue with the blocks. They were breaking down and crumbling because of freeze thaw action and constant weathering by the wind,” McKay told TheJournal.ie.

“This muscovite mica is the predominant cause.

“It’s a very fine dust component and that’s affecting the cohesion of the cement content in the block.

“Basically, it forms layers, water gets into those layers then it freezes and thaws and breaks down the block.

This happens in cycles and it continues to break down and then basically just crumbles the block

McKay said that it was after the harsh winter of 2010 that people first started to report widespread issues in their homes.

IMG_2066 A car key fitting through the cracks in the Crumlish family home.

On the back of all the people coming forward, the Mica Action Group (MAG) was set up in 2014 in Donegal to advocate of behalf of affected homeowners. The group is seeking redress for people whose homes have been affected by the defective blocks.

In November 2015, after a lot of media coverage and agitation from concerned groups,  the Department of Environment (now Department of Housing) established an expert panel to investigate the issues around concrete block in certain homes on Counties Mayo and Donegal.

That panel released its final report in June of this year. The report found that the presence of mica was likely the cause for the structural issues in homes in Donegal (the mineral pyrite was the likely cause in Mayo).

“It is clear to the Panel that the affected homeowners, through no fault of their own, are in a difficult position with very few, if any, realistic options available in order to obtain redress,” the report authors conclude.

On the back of their investigation, the panel made a number of recommendations.

Recommendations 

Minister of State Damien English met with the Mica Action Group and over 400 people in Carndonagh in Donegal on Monday.

Pic_2 People waiting to meet Damien English on Monday. Source: Mica Action Group

There, he promised that the first two recommendations of the expert group report should be implemented by May of next year.

Recommendation one involves setting up a standardised procedure under which the scale and extent of the issue can be established and the damage categorised.

This procedure will also help to set up an appropriate remedial solution.

The second recommendation involves the homeowners seeking the advice of a competent professional where health and safety risks arise.

Commenting on the meeting with English, Ann Owens of MAG said that the group was frustrated with the pace of progress for addressing the issues of homeowners.

“We are all frustrated at the pace of progress as, as each week passes our homes are getting worse,” she said.

Tonight we felt a real sense of commitment from the minister and are heartened to hopefully see the end in sight.

Pic_7 Minister English with members of MAG on Monday. Source: Mica Action Group

Christmas

Tina and Harry Crumlish and their family hope a redress will come where they can be compensated for the issues with their home, but they believe that day is a long way off.

“If everything goes to plan it will be at least May – that’s another five months – before anything is put in action. But that’s no good to us, we have a month to find a long-term home,” she said.

We can’t come back. When we leave this house we’re closing the door to our past.

For now, Tina said all she wants to do is make sure her children have a good Christmas and then find somewhere for the family to live in the new year.

“For us now. Our own personal circumstance is, we’re homeless. That’s it,” she said.

We have a month in this house. We’re very lucky to have it for Christmas, but again it’s hanging over our heads that this is just a month and after this we have nowhere to go.

Tina said she and her husband had worked hard all their lives.

“We both work, we’d probably be better off not working in these circumstances,” she said.

“But we have to work. We have a home. We’ve worked all our lives to build our house, get it to the way we want it… Gardens, we had playhouses, everything.

“It was a beautiful home but it’s no longer a home. It’s a house and it’s a house that’s crumbling, that’s unsafe and there’s just no way we can stay in it.

We can’t justify keeping our children in a house that’s not safe.

For more information or if you are affected by the issue visit micaactiongroup.com

Read: ‘Our home is crumbling into the ground’: Family in Mayo forced to abandon house

Read: Houses are crumbling in Donegal and we should soon know why

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About the author:

Cormac Fitzgerald

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