Thousands of homeowners from counties Donegal, Mayo, Sligo and Clare whose homes have been badly damaged by building blocks containing destructive levels of the mineral mica will be highlighting their campaign for 100 per cent redress from the Government at a series of protests planned this autumn and will form a block at the Housing Alliance national housing protest in Dublin on 15 September.
Excessive amounts of mica have been detected in the concrete blocks of more than 7,000 homes in Counties Donegal and Mayo alone, causing the blocks to crumble and putting the structures at risk of collapse and demolition. Mica is also found in blocks of social housing , community centres and creches. Homes in Clare, Sligo and Limerick are also damaged by mica and there are Mica and Pyrite action groups formed who also want access to the scheme.
The government scheme set up in January 2020 to deal with the crumbling homes at present offers only 90 percent compensation. The application process opened on June 29th 2020. As well as a long list of conditions to qualify for the scheme , homeowners impacted by mica must first pay costs of 5000 euro to have the blocks of their home tested, before receiving certification to allow them to qualify for the redress scheme which is non refundable .
The Mica protest on June 15th 2021 was one of the largest public demonstrations to take place on the streets of the capital during the Covid-19 pandemic. Since then, several regional protests have taken place throughout the Northwest with more expected . Over 10,000 people gathered on Buncrana’s shore front to demonstrate that they would not be forgotten and a further 1,500 protested in Letterkenny and Buncrana in May 2021.
Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien met a delegation after the protest and announced the establishment of a working group . The group would have three representatives each from Donegal and Mayo (and a substitute member from each county) along with departmental and other officials. The group was given a six-week deadline to report by the end of July.
Fast forward to August 2021 and five of the eight original homeowner representatives from Mayo and Donegal have now resigned from the pyrite/mica working group.
“We have not made this decision lightly,”
“The one-sided dogmatic approach by the department and their failure to engage in a genuine manner to address the issues that urgently need to be dealt with leaves us with no choice but to step away.”Dorothy Keane and Josephine Murphy.
Mental health issues are now reaching a crisis point for those living in crumbling homes for over a decade and which are now falling apart with many needing to be completley demolished. The impact of the crisis is severely affecting every generation of the communities affected .
The cost of building a new home has risen since the scheme was announced and families will still have to pay any outstanding mortgage on homes that will be demolished. Senior citizens are facing added barriers of being turned down for mortgages which they would need to fix their homes.
As summer in Ireland comes to an end Paddy Diver from the Mica Action Group (MAG), posted a ‘Mica message’ on the gates of Leinster House on 9th August 2021 telling the Government they would be back in force in September.
“They [Government] are afraid that if they give the 100% they are going to have to do it again. They know there are more counties coming, Tipperary, Sligo and Clare. The bottom line is, we in rural parts of the country cannot let them discriminate against us. They gave Dublin 100% for the pyrite scheme. They have to do the same for us. Dublin put up a big fight for it. We are going to do the same. We are in the biggest fight of our lives,”Paddy Diver
Mica Action Group
In 2010 homeowners who noticed signs of MICA structural decay occurring and worsening in their houses formed the Mica Action Group (MAG) . An estimated 7,000 houses in Donegal Mayo and Sligo are affected but these numbers will rise as the damage becomes more apparent as time goes by .
The Mica Action Group is seeking parity with a 100 per cent redress scheme that was set up for people in Dublin whose homes were damaged by the use of pyrites mainly in the foundations of the buildings. The Pyrite Remediation Scheme covered 100 per cent of the structural damage caused by pyrites.
The Government’s ‘Defective Block scheme’ or the Mica Redress Scheme was launched in January 2020 and aimed to cover homes affected in Donegal and Mayo. It is administered by the respective county councils. The budget allocated to the repair scheme in 2019 was €20m (£17.2m) .
Dáil vote for 100%
On 15 June 2021 the Government did not oppose a Sinn Féin motion calling for a 100pc redress scheme for people affected by mica, which was adopted by the Dáil.
Mica Redress scheme
Up to 475 people in Donegal have engaged so far. MICA Campaigners say this is not a true number of how many people want to be on the scheme as many people are unable to afford the 5000 euro to test their blocks to gain entry to the scheme along with meeting some of the other conditions to get on the scheme. The scheme provides for repair costs from €50,000 for a partial rebuild to a maximum of €275,000 for demolition and a complete rebuild.
MAG says that the scheme is not fit for purpose because it provides 90 per cent of rebuilding costs but does not cover the fee for an engineer’s report, which can cost up to €5000, puts a cap on the amount of redress of €247,500 and leaves home owners to pay 10 percent of the cost of repairs, rent for alternative accommodation, planning expenses and the mortgage payments outstanding on the damaged or demolished house. There is less compensation for houses that don’t need to be demolished and rebuilt.
The scheme in Donegal is administered by Donegal County Council on the basis of ‘one owner, one dwelling – one dwelling, one grant’. For a damaged house to qualify it must be the permanent dwelling place of the applicant. Homeowners also say the scheme means that they couldn’t apply for the grant twice if future additional repairs were required.
Eamon Jackson, chairperson of MAG, said that MAG was simply asking for a 100% redress scheme from the Irish Government, in an attempt to solve the crisis, and the removal of the cap per house.
“To be accepted onto the grant system, stressed parents and worried owners of these crumbling homes must pay a minimum of €5,000 for an engineer to confirm that the blocks are defective. All it takes is one look and it’s obvious that these buildings are no stronger than the box of Weetabix.”Eamon Jackson
Conditions of Mica Redress Scheme
Some of the requirements to qualify for the current Mica redress scheme are:
- No remedial works have been started or completed – you will not be recouped any costs for remedial work carried out prior to grant approval
- Alternative accommodation costs are not covered whilst the remedial works are underway
- If you do not qualify for the grant or it is discovered that mica or pyrite is not the reason for the dilapidation of your dwelling you will not be reimbursed the fees you paid for the engineer’s report
- Only attached buildings are included, for example, an attached garage will be included for remedial works but not a standalone garage
- If windows or doors have been damaged by mica, they will be covered by the scheme; however, if your home is classed as a new build you will be required to use new standard, triple glazed windows and M class doors that are wheelchair accessible
- If work costs increase during the build, the grant scheme amount will not be increased
- If your house becomes more damaged before work begins you may apply for a revised report but this will mean another engineer’s report, the fee of which will not be covered by the scheme
Expert Group investigation found ‘severe non-compliance’
Following years of campaigning by concerned homeowners, in 2016 an expert panel was set up by the Government to investigate problems with homes affected by mica and the mineral pyrite. In its report to the Government in 2017, it stated that masonry problems in Donegal and Mayo added to “the legacy of building failures or severe non-compliance concerns following the downturn in economic and construction activity in 2008, which exposed vulnerabilities in the building control system that was in place at that time”.
The 2017 report included clarification from the National Standards Authority that a 1% limit applies to the quantity of mica or other harmful impurities that could be used in concrete blocks.
Any company placing construction products on the market has specific legal responsibilities that state they will not put a product on the market unless it has characteristics that satisfy requirements under regulations such as Ireland’s Building Control Regulations.
In a number of the impacted homes in Donegal, the levels in samples taken were significantly higher that one per cent.
Despite this, the Expert Group said it did not consider it was reasonable to expect that the building control authorities could have prevented the problem from occurring.
The 2017 report stated that during the period under consideration, building control authorities did not have the technical resources in-house to test construction products which may have been non-compliant with the requirements of the Construction Products Directive. All enforcement activity was performed within existing local authority budgets.
The Expert Group in its report recommended that “more meaningful on-site inspections and enforcement by building control personnel is required to ensure that standards are maintained as a necessary check and balance to requirements under the current building control system”.
The panel also advocated that market surveillance authorities be sufficiently resourced with dedicated units which would have available expertise in the quarrying sector to provide effective enforcement nationwide.
facts about Mica
Micas are a group of minerals that are found in rock, including rock taken from quarries. There are various types of Mica, and the main type found in homes in Donegal and the northwest is Muscovite mica, taking its name from “Muscovy windows” that were popular in medieval Russia when sheets of mica were used as a cheaper alternative to window glass.
Mica acts as a sponge and absorbs water before expanding. This produces an excessive amount of water in concrete blocks, which damages and destroys them by weakening their composition. This can cause cracking to external and internal building walls, potentially causing structural failure to dwellings and posing a significant health and safety risk.