Republic of Ireland news

Kitchen table to Cabinet table: How mica found its way to Government Buildings

Protesters during a demonstration outside the Government Buildings in Dublin on June 14 2021 to demand a 100% redress scheme for homes and properties affected by bricks contaminated with mica. Picture by Niall Carson/PA Wire

For the past 11 years, Ann Owens has been campaigning on behalf of families in Ireland whose homes have been ruined by a building defect.

She has witnessed the devastation wreaked by the mineral mica throughout her home county of Donegal.

Thousands of homes dotted throughout the county are riddled with web-like cracks that stretch the length of properties.

For many home-owners, the cracks are so wide they can see and touch the cavity walls.

Ms Owens, from Carndonagh, is one of seven people in her family to own a home affected by mica.

The blocks used to build the properties were unfit for purpose, and the large amounts of the mineral caused the blocks to crumble.

“Our houses were a slow burn, they were just a slow burn to failure from the very start,” Ms Owens said.

More than 11 years ago, she spotted cracks in the walls of her home and then heard about the defective blocks.

“My brother heard someone say they had problems with their blocks, so I phoned them and he came to my house, and he said he knew someone else with the same issue and it wasn’t long before my house was filled with people who had the same problems,” she added.

Within two years, the Mica Action Group was formed.

“The Mica Action Group provided all the foundation for a lift-off because we told people what mica was,” Ms Owens said. “People didn’t want to know about it or hear us and it took years to make them aware of this complicated material.”

Some four years ago, she spent 20,000 euro out of her pension to demolish the outside walls of her home and have them replaced.

“Now, the inside walls of my house are cracking and I don’t know how much mica are in those walls.

“My house is now failing again and I am scared stiff of going to my new insurers as it has no value again. I can’t sell it and I flushed my hard-earned money down the toilet.

“The very walls that hold the structural integrity to my house is failing.”

The campaign group has been calling on the government to introduce a 100% redress initiative after it rejected its Defective Block Scheme, which offered to pay 90% of the home-owners’ costs.

The campaign escalated around six months ago when a group of protesters gathered outside a building site in Carndonagh in an attempt to prevent a lorry from entering the area.

After that, Ms Owens said they took the campaign from her kitchen table to the Cabinet table.

“The Government said in the latest paper that they will pay 100% for the cost of the remediation but they won’t pay 100% for the demolitions,” she added.

“They’re saying they won’t pay 100% for the very worst of homes that must be demolished.

“It’s real slap in the face to the very worst-affected home-owners. It’s a very arrogant response.

“We understand there are significant financial implications for the taxpayer, we know that. But this is a humanitarian crisis caused by our governments, and they say then what about the big houses? And we say the big houses are irrelevant.”

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