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'Talk is cheap': Irish-Americans confront Taoiseach in New York on mica scandal

Micheál Martin sat down with two Irish-Americans who confronted him on the mica issue.

Image: Shutterstock/Lukassek

THE IRISH-AMERICAN COMMUNITY are behind the homeowners in Donegal and around the country who are affected by the mica scandal.

That is the message of two protesters who confronted the Taoiseach at his New York hotel today.

Affected homeowners in Ireland have demanded that a government scheme, which was launched just last year after years of campaigning, particularly by communities in Donegal, be changed to cover 100% of the costs associated with fixing their homes.

Their houses were built with defective building blocks containing muscovite mica, a mineral that absorbs moisture, reducing the strength of the foundations their homes stand on and the walls holding up their roofs.

The worst-hit counties are Donegal and Mayo but the Department of Housing has also received requests from local authorities in Sligo, Clare, Limerick and Tipperary to engage in the Defective Concrete Blocks Grant Scheme.

The cost of the redress scheme has previously been estimated at €1.5 billion but Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien has said that the final bill could be significantly higher

PHOTO-2021-09-22-12-40-36 Taoiseach sits down with Mica protesters Jarlath Doherty and Caroline Doherty in New York.

Caroline Doherty from Inch Island, Donegal, who has been living in New York for 21 years, said the Irish-American campaign is ramping up, with many wanting to support their loved ones back home in Ireland. 

“We came out today to show the Taoiseach that this is important and to keep it in his sights,” she said.

She said a committee of Irish-Americans living in New York is soon to be set up to campaign on the Mica issue.

Irishman Jarlath Doherty, who also lives in New York, and who also sat down with the Taoiseach at Fitzpatrick’s Hotel in Manhattan, told The Journal that they weren’t expecting the Taoiseach to stop and speak with them.

“But he sat down and had a chat,” he said. Micheál Martin listened to their concerns, they said, adding that they told him that this was now an Irish-American issue of concern.

“I said talk is cheap. He can tell us whatever he wants to tell us, but what are they going to do about it?” asked Caroline Doherty.

“Children in Donegal want a home they can put a Christmas tree up in this year,” she said, stating that dealing with the issues is a matter of urgency at this stage.

The campaign is “not stopping in New York”, she said. “Boston has also lit the candle as well,” she said.

The Irish community in Boston has launched a fundraising and awareness campaign to support victims of the Mica housing scandal.

Martin McKinney, who emigrated to Boston from Donegal in the late 2000s, told IrishCentral this month that more than $10,000 had been raised in just under a week.

“Every city in this country are behind the people in Donegal, and not just in Donegal, all the families affected,” said Caroline Doherty today.

The lack of action on the issue by the government is “embarrassing” she said. “The homes look like they belong in a war zone,” she added. 

“There is going to be a shake up in this government” if a 100% redress is not delivered, they both said.

“No one is going to vote for Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil if they don’t deal with it,” she added.

The Taoiseach said today that 100% redress for homeowners affected by Mica remains on the table.

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Speaking in New York, the Taoiseach backed Public Expenditure Minister Michael McGrath’s statement that full redress for those affected by the defective building blocks remains possible.

“There is ongoing discussion and the representative body for the owners will be meeting with the Department officials again tomorrow, they’re due to meet Darragh O’Brien after that.

“The target is that we will bring these talks to a close by the end of the month and a proposal to the Cabinet in early October.

“It’s complex because you’ve a whole range of issues, but the whole purpose of the talks is to get to a position where we can get houses repaired or rebuilt, have a system to do it properly in a much faster timeline than envisaged in a way that does not impose undue hardship or impositions on people.”

The Taoiseach said the prospect of an affected home collapsing is a danger.

“There was a number of issues when I met homeowners in the summer. Firstly, the administration of the scheme to speed up the timeline. Because of the numbers involved and, yes, the dangers involved. That’s why we want to get these talks concluded.”

In a bid to allay the fears of thousands families whose homes are crumbling, McGrath said today in the Dáil that a “very significant enhancement and improvement” of the existing mica scheme will be agreed soon.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar also spoke about the Mica issue at tonight’s Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting. He said an enhanced scheme is needed to help those who have to contend with Mica in their homes.

He said this was being worked on by the Housing Department and funding would need to be secured from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform before it goes to Cabinet.

He said work was continuing on this and all were very much aware of what those affected are having to contend with.

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