#Open journalism No news is bad news

Your contributions will help us continue to deliver the stories that are important to you

Support The Journal
Dublin: 11°C Sunday 19 September 2021
Advertisement

Mica scandal: Families to stage protest over 'farcical' State scheme to fix their crumbling homes

Homeowners say the scheme is not accessible to many families because of the additional costs involved.

FAMILIES AFFECTED BY the use of concrete blocks with mica in their Donegal homes have criticised the State scheme set up to help them, labelling it inadequate and costly.

The Defective Block Scheme launched in January 2020, but families have said it is lacking and have questioned why they were not granted the same treatment as families affected by pyrite in the east of the country. 

It emerged a number of years ago that the mineral muscovite mica was present in the concrete blocks used to build a large number of properties in Donegal. This substance impacts on the cohesion of the cement content in the block and therefore the durability of the walls.

The structural integrity of these properties can deteriorate very quickly and some were condemned, forcing the owners to move into rental accommodation while still paying off a mortgage on a house that is no longer safe to live in.

Patrick Diver from Carndonagh, Co Donegal, first discovered problems with his house three years ago. He told The Journal that he has been told that his family could live in the house for another two years, but after that it will need to be “tossed to the ground”. 

“I’ve worked all my life for this house, over and back to England away from my family for weeks and weeks at a time. When the house was finished I was as happy as  man could be,” he said. 

Now, Diver said there are “crazy cracks” in the house he worked so hard to build for his family. 

“You can put your hand through the wall from the outside. In two of the bottom rooms you just can’t heat them in the winter, they’re freezing,” he said. 

Cracked_house1

Diver described the government’s scheme as a “farce” and said the people of Donegal feel they are being treated as “second-class citizens”. 

“The test for pyrite for people in Leinster was €500 and the cost of the Mica test is over €5,000,” he said.

He said families who have to demolish and completely rebuild their homes have to go through a full planning process again, even if their plans are exactly the same as the original plans when the house was first built. 

“The cost of the full planning application [around €1,500] is not even in the scheme, you have to pay that out of your own pocket,” he said.

The scheme offers coverage by the State of €75,000 on an outer leaf  wall replacement and €275,000 on a full demolish and rebuild option.

Both of these options include VAT and a 10% contribution from each homeowner. Diver said this support is not sufficient for a total rebuild of a home and lenders will not give loans to families involved. 

“Every contractor you talk to says the grant won’t go anywhere near covering the costs,” he said. 

He said even the initial test, which is an upfront cost of €5,000 and is a requirement for a homeowner to be deemed eligible for the scheme, is too expensive for many families who are living in what he described as “crumbling” homes. 

“There are people out there who just don’t have the money for all of this, some people are buying caravans to live in now because they’ll have nowhere to go,” he said.

There’s an older woman I know who asked for emergency accommodation because she can’t sleep at night thinking the roof is going to come down on top of her.

He said homeowners in Donegal affected by the scandal feel that there is “nobody out there to help us”. 

“It’s totally and utterly horrendous,” he said. 

On Wednesday evening Sinn Féin TD Pádraig Mac Lochlainn told the Dáil that the people of Donegal “whose lives have been devastated” are asking for a fully funded, 100% redress scheme, like the one families in Dublin and north Leinster availed of. 

He appealed to the Taoiseach to listen to the “despair” of those homeowners. 

In response, Micheál Martin said that there are thousands of homes involved and the State has committed to around €1 billion in funding between now and 2030.

He said the average cost of remedial work in the east coast pyrite remedial scheme is less than €70,000 per home and this scheme is likely to be double that.

“You’re looking at a far more substantial allocation to each home in Donegal than you would have had in the pyrite situation, so they’re not comparable,” he said.

Another affected homeowner, Eileen Doherty, told The Journal that she did not appreciate the Taoiseach’s comments. 

#Open journalism No news is bad news Support The Journal

Your contributions will help us continue to deliver the stories that are important to you

Support us now

“He said this scheme will cost far more than the pyrite one, that’s unfortunately due to ineptitude and a lack of governance that is not the fault of homeowners.

We don’t want to cost taxpayers money, but let’s be clear here we are taxpayers too. It’s not fair to say they’re not comparable, the government should have thought about that before it presided over a system that allowed this to happen.

Doherty said that while pyrite mostly impacted on the foundations of a house, in Donegal “the structural integrity of the entire house” is affected. 

“The only way to be really sure it’ll be fixed is to demolish the house,” she said. 

Two protests will take place in Buncrana and Letterkenny this afternoon. There is also a separate protest by families impacted by the pyrite issue in Ballina, Co Mayo today as these homeowners now come under the same scheme. 

Eileen Doherty said she knows there are people who will criticise them for protesting during a pandemic, but they feel they have been left with “no choice”.

“Over the last 14 months we’ve been told to stay home and stay safe – the reality is we are not safe at home. Homes are literally falling down around people.”

The issue was also raised in the Dáil on Thursday by Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty, who said it was “absolutely heartbreaking” to see thousands of homeowners “watching their houses crumbling before their very eyes”. 

He said this was “a problem not of their own making” and it is clear now that the scheme introduced last year is “not fit for purpose” as the difference between the grant payable and the cost of works required is beyond the reach of many families. 

In some cases, he said, homeowners are faced with costs of up to €100,000. 

Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications Eamon Ryan said he joined Doherty in his concern for those households and acknowledged that the issues with these homes are more extensive, “with higher costs and much greater difficulties” that those in the east of the country that had pyrite. 

“I have heard from other Deputies about this problem and I commit to talking to the Minister to see about a review of the current scheme and if it is not working and not solving the problem for householders, to go back to see what sort of revision needs to be put in place to make sure it meets the needs of the householders involved,” he said.

“This has happened through no fault of their own and not through their actions in any way. We do have to address the problems.”

Our colleagues at Noteworthy want to examine how State contracts for major infrastructure projects are awarded, with a focus on companies who previously built or supplied materials that resulted in structural defects. See how you can support this project here

Read next:

COMMENTS (49)

This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
write a comment

    Leave a commentcancel