Readers like you keep news free for everyone.

More than 5,000 readers have already pitched in to keep free access to The Journal.

For the price of one cup of coffee each week you can help keep paywalls away.

Support us today
Not now
Tuesday 28 March 2023 Dublin: 14°C
Sasko Lazarov/
# mica
Mica: How a campaign started around a Donegal kitchen table captured the nation's attention
For some it has been a ten year battle for help with their crumbling homes.

FOLLOWING A TEN year campaign for State assistance with their crumbling houses, Mica-affected homeowners are still battling for a redress scheme that will make repairs genuinely affordable.

An initial scheme launched just ahead of the pandemic was quickly deemed inaccessible due to costs to homeowners amounting to tens of thousands of euro and a so-called enhanced scheme in November this year has been widely rejected for similar reasons.

As they head into another year in their damaged homes, campaigners are reflecting on what they have achieved over the last decade and preparing for battle again in 2022.

The Journal spoke to Ann Owens, Eileen Doherty and Paddy Diver about their lengthy campaign and how they managed to intensify it during a global pandemic.

The early days

For Ann Owens, the journey began in 2011 when she first noticed cracks appearing in the external walls of her Donegal home. What she did not know at that time was that the concrete bricks used to construct her home contained muscovite mica.

This mineral has the ability to absorb and store water and in high quantities results in a disproportionate amount of water in the blocks, reducing their strength.

Owens’ brother works in construction and mentioned he heard a man talking about similar cracking in his home. 

“He said I should try to contact the person and I did and he came here to the kitchen table and we sat and he told me about someone else who had it and they told me about someone else and so on.” she told The Journal.

“Within six months you couldn’t get into my kitchen for all the people in it. There were so many that we had people calling in to ask if someone had died and was there a wake. I always say we took the campaign from my kitchen table to the Cabinet table.”

The group began contacting local councillors, but their cause received little attention. 

“We had so much to learn at that stage, it really took the ten years to bring all of the pieces of the puzzle together. No one knew what Mica was then.”

In 2013, the Mica Action Group was formed and Eileen Doherty became involved, taking on the role of Public Relations Officer (PRO).

“There was a core group of about ten of us that were active, writing letters, writing press releases, speaking to the media and dealing with families – we set up a phone line, an email and a Facebook page. We did all of this as volunteers, we all work fulltime,” she said.


“In the early days we were trying to raise awareness at local authority level which was what we were told we had to do post-Pyrite (in Leinster). There had been a number of recommendations from that and one stated that if it happened again the first port of call should be to contact the local authority.”

She said the group presented concerns to Donegal County Council in April, then waited “months and months while nothing happened”.

They also wrote to the Department of Housing, but were told that their issue was with their builders and suppliers and that they needed further evidence and qualitative data to support their claim that a significant number of homes were impacted and that the damage was severe.

“We realised that until we got the data, we would only be able to talk about it anecdotally,” she said.

In the summer of 2014 we did an online survey and we leaflet-dropped areas we thought were showing signs of defective blocks. In November there was a public meeting and we presented the findings of the survey – it found that 97 or 98% of families coming forward had the same supplier.

In December that year the group presented the survey findings and other data they had showing the geographical spread, how long it had taken to manifest, the types of cracking.

“I think people misunderstand this, we exhausted all avenues. We looked at home insurance, banks, Homebond, indemnity insurance for architects and the only intervention left was government intervention.”

In 2016 the government decided to undertake an independent investigation into the issue, conducted by an expert panel. That report was published in 2017 and was a huge milestone in the campaign.

The expert panel found significant percentages of mica were found in homes in Donegal and Mayo. The presence of this mineral has caused large cracks and fissures to open up in impacted properties.

The report also expressed concern about regulatory and market surveillance issues and stated that hoemeowners “through no fault of their own” were in a difficult position with few, if any, realistic options available in order to obtain redress. 

“Even at that stage the government hadn’t agreed they would do anything, they had just agreed to an assessment of the situation and this was after years of fighting for them to get involved,” Doherty said. 

“It was only really in 2018 or 2019 that they conceded they would come up with a scheme and that was published in January 2020.

“As a lobby group we fed the government as much information as we could but they didn’t collaborate with us on it, when we got the published document it was just what they gave us rather than what was needed.”

The pandemic

Doherty said the group stepped back from campaigning after the scheme was announced as they wanted to give it time to see how it worked in practice. Then the pandemic hit.

“It became apparent the scheme was not fit for purpose,” she said.

“Primarily it was impossible to even get into the scheme because you needed between €5,000 and €7,000 to get the tests you needed for the first stage. For the Pyrite scheme it was €550.

Many families couldn’t even apply. And it also became apparent that the 10% contribution required from families was actually more likely to be 40-50%, which is huge, so there were a number of hidden costs and it was only when we tried it out that people realised it was not up to scratch.

She said frustration at the downfalls of the scheme after so many years of calling for action came at a time when the entire country was being told to “stay safe” at home due to the coronavirus.

“The reality is our homes are not safe and I think that messaging during Covid almost reinforced the dangers we were all living in.

“Also you have to remember that going back to 2014 when we were lobbying, people may have had minor cracks appearing but by 2020 those people were very aware they had a serious issue. So if you combine all of those issues it was just an explosion of frustration in 2020.”

One of the standout points for Doherty in this new phase in the campaign, she said, was when Paddy Diver blocked a lorry that was transporting cement blocks to a local authority site near his Mica-impacted home. 

For Diver, this day in February 2021 marked an intensification of his own activism. 

“I couldn’t understand that nobody seemed to know about this,” he told The Journal.

“I was in Dublin for work sometimes and I realised nobody knew what Mica was and our homes were crumbling down, people’s lives were on the verge… I felt like we had to let the people of Ireland know that it was happening in other counties and it could happen in any county.”

WhatsApp Image 2021-12-20 at 3.59.21 PM Paddy Diver Paddy Diver outside his Mica-impcated home in Donegal. Paddy Diver

He and his family launched a social media drive pushing out their message on Facebook and Twitter. They also started sending stickers and leaflets to anyone, either in Ireland or abroad, who wanted to help raise awareness of the issue.

And they set about contacting every local radio station in the country.

“I asked my sister Louise to phone them and try to get me on, she did the groundwork, but all my family was involved, even my nieces and nephews,” he said. “We started an ‘Ireland radio’ Whatsapp group.”

It was during this time that the ’100% Redress, No Less’ campaign was born, co-founded by Diver. 

The Dublin protests

After a large local protest in 2021, he said his son commented that it had gone well and asked: “Is that it now?”

I said ‘Look at the crowds there, look at the number of people affected, the government in Dublin thinks we’ll march around here in circles in Donegal – we’ll have to take this to the Cabinet’. We had no other choice, we needed this to hit the national news.

Around 55 coaches travelled from Donegal to Dublin on 15 June 2021 and they were joined in the capital by impacted homeowners from Mayo. 

Donegal Mica Protest 009 Sasko Lazarov Crowds outside the Convention Centre, where the Dáil was sitting, on 15 June 2021. Sasko Lazarov

“We thought we had achieved something,” Diver said. “We were promised that day there would be immediate changes to the scheme, that people would get emergency accommodation sorted, we were promised a working group would be set up and that they more or less knew the scheme wasn’t working and they’d try to amend it.

“Jesus, it all sounded great, we left Dublin with big smiles on our faces. We thought the government was listening and that they would help us with the scheme – that turned out not to be the case.”

Donegal Mica Protest 040 Sasko Lazarov / Ann Owens, Paddy Diver and Eileen Doherty at Leinster House on their way to meet Minister Darragh O'Brien on 15 June. Sasko Lazarov / /

Eileen Doherty has a similar recollection of that day:

“Families by this stage had just decided enough was enough,” she said. “People like Paddy were so relentless on social media saying ‘you must come and support us’. If I think back to 2014, we might have had 10 people active and now we have 100 people actively campaigning every day no problem.

That day was phenomenal to be honest, to go and meet the Minister and get to talk to him, to hear about the working group. You do recognise the accomplishment of it, there are so many things we’ve achieved when you look back at something that was started in someone’s kitchen.

Although the group had been given assurances, they were no longer willing to wait months for changes to the scheme. Frustrations with the way the working group was operating also began to emerge.

Diver decided to leave the group as he did not feel that the homeowners views were being listened to. At one point all of the Mayo homeowners on the group also left. 

“I stuck it out for four weeks because I wanted to believe it was happening, but one day in the middle of a meeting I just said it was a national disgrace and if they weren’t going to listen to me there, then maybe they’d listen to me on the streets,” Diver said.

mica 995 Sam Boal Paddy Diver in September this year when he brought several Mica-affected blocks to Leinster House in a van. Sam Boal

After the expected announcement for revised details of the scheme was delayed a number of times, Diver said they decided the government needed another push – it was time to head back to the capital. 

“I just thought it was a joke, we were not going to listen to this anymore. We weren’t going to wait until November to protest because it would have been cold and raining and we needed the protest to be big to make a difference, so we set it for 8 October.  

“We also knew that if we let this go on until November they might kick the can past Christmas and there are people who are scared their houses will fall down over Christmas.”

So on 8 October the homeowners took over the streets of Dublin again, this time showing up in even greater numbers.

“That time took my breath away,” Diver said. “I went onto the stage just to tell people to move over to the left and I looked down and couldn’t believe how far back people were.

I was scared out of my wits that if people didn’t turn up the government would know we didn’t have the support, so we were worried about the numbers right up until that morning.

2352 Mica Leah Farrell / Paddy Diver with his daughter Savannah at the 8 December protest. Leah Farrell / /

Changes to the scheme

Following the protest, campaigners were closely watching government messaging about the Mica issue, noting that some commentary made reference to the huge cost of this scheme for the taxpayer.

“We’re taxpayers too,” Eileen Doherty said. “We all work and we did nothing wrong here.”

Paddy Diver also noted that in the weeks leading up to the announcement there were indications from some in government that homeowners would get the 100% redress scheme they had been asking for.

“There are still people who think we got 100% because they were doing that and people are wondering why we’re still not happy,” he said.

A new package announced at the end of November capped the grant amount at €420,000.

However it also includes a sliding scale method that will be applied to each property.

Under the revised scheme, homeowners will be able to receive €145 for the first 1,000sq ft of a property.

It will reduce to €110 for the second 1,000sq ft, and the remainder will be set at a rate of €100 per square foot.

Campaigners have said an average homeowner will still have to find up to €65,000 to make up the shortfalls in this version of the scheme.

Ann Owens said she and a number of other homeowners were in Dublin Airport on their way to Brussels to tell members of the European parliament about their experience when the details of the enhanced scheme dropped.

“I was absolutely in floods of emotions at the airport, as we studied it we could see it was a bit better but there were still things that were lacking that are absolutely essential – they are not small things, they are huge things,” she said.

It was hugely serendipitous that we were on our way to Brussels to complain about how our government was dealing with this. It meant that I had to tweak my talk and presentation to say ‘by the way, we still haven’t got the scheme we want’.

Campaigners  are calling for the sliding scale to be removed and have said the government’s pricing per square metre does not reflect the real cost of the works required. 

All three who spoke to The Journal said the State “almost got it right” with this scheme.

“There are a huge number of bonuses and benefits to the scheme that we’d welcome,” Eileen Doherty said.

“The sliding scale and some other issues have meant lots of the good work achieved has been overshadowed and that’s disappointing.”

Work with the Department of Housing is ongoing, she said, and she is still hopeful that a satisfactory resolution can be reached early in 2022. 

Ann Owens is also remaining optimistic. 

“I do believe we’ll get there,” she said. “The government and ourselves and caught in an embrace now, we’re not giving up.

I’ve been involved for ten years and by fuck if they think anyone who gives ten years of their life and headspace is giving up now they’re wrong. There are people for whom this campaign has become an obsession.

The group will also continue in the new year to campaign for an inquiry into the scandal. They can not understand why the government has not already launched one to investigate how these types of failings occurred on such a large scale, leading to massive costs for the State. 

‘Our last Christmas in this house’

For now, they are taking a much-needed break over the festive period to spend time with their families. 

The years of campaigning – and in particular the level of activity over the last two years – have taken a toll on them.

“My son at one stage just had enough of it, I mean I’m just getting no time with my children,” Diver said. “This year’s gone, I’ve done nothing but this morning, noon and night, on Saturdays and Sundays, on the phone all the time.

“People like Michael Doherty [the current PRO of the Mica Action Group] have given up seven years for this, or more. My hat goes off to him and the others because it can be soul-destroying.

I never could have done this without the support of my wife. She’s just been unbelievable, letting me do things that are outside of the box, I’m on the phone constantly, I really couldn’t have done it without her behind me.

Ann Owens said she had been on anti-anxiety medication for the last eight years.

“It has definitely affected my emotional health,” she said.

“You see, ten years ago when this all started I didn’t have anyone to help me or support me, I didn’t have that knowledge base or a scheme or a support group or any of the things that people have now when they discover they have Mica in their house. We didn’t even know what Mica was.”

Owens decided four years ago that she would fund the work to replace her outer walls herself.

“I spent €20,000 on it. I reared two children on my own and I took €20,000 out of my pension pot – that’s a lot of money when there’s just one earner in the house,” she said.

In recent months she has noticed cracks appearing in the walls inside her house, which also contain Mica. Now she is concerned that she will not be covered by the scheme if she needs further work on her house. 

I don’t know where I fit into it now. You think at the time that you’re doing such a wonderful thing for yourself fixing your own house. I don’t want anything from anyone, I am a viciously independent person, but to look at the house now and see the inside starting to fail, now I am wondering did I make the greatest mistake doing the work.

Eileen Doherty said her children “know nothing but me campaigning for Mica”.

“In 2014 they were six and eight and I was travelling around to events trying to raise awareness, I was leafleting, I couldn’t go for a coffee without someone asking me for information,” she said.

“Now they’re teenagers, and I shouldn’t have had to give up so much time away from them. It has been exhausting.”

Her home was due to be demolished in January, but this may now be delayed as the government looks at the details of the scheme once again.

“This is our last Christmas in the house and I’m really emotional about it, I am trying not to think about it,” she said.

I found putting up the tree really emotional. I think people underestimate that side of it, this is the home where our children were brought up, the home we brought them home to from the hospital.

“There are so many signs of things our family has done over the years. And now it is to be obliterated, razed to the ground. This is not just bricks and mortar to us. I would do anything not to have to go through this process.”

Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment

    Leave a commentcancel