Government Mica offer does not cover hidden costs claim

Eileen Doherty (right) and Anne Owens (left) served as joint secretaries of the Mica Action Campaign.
Eileen Doherty (right) and Anne Owens (left) served as joint secretaries of the Mica Action Campaign.

WITH anger of families affected by defective building blocks spilling onto the streets, Seamus McKinney looks at the plight of those caught up in the Mica controversy.

DONEGAL Mica campaigners have claimed the Irish government's 90 per cent redress offer to solve the problem will leave home-owners in reality paying for more than a third of the cost.

They believe that with `hidden costs' such as engineering fees the government offer in real terms amounts to 60 per cent and only a full 100 per cent scheme can ensure damaged homes are repaired or re-built.

Thousands of protestors took to the streets of Dublin on Friday to highlight the plight of up to 10,000 families whose homes are crumbling because they were built with defective blocks.

More than 5,000 homes built in Co Donegal in the last 30 years and a similar number in counties Mayo, Clare and Sligo are believed to be affected. Owners of homes built with Mica blocks in the 1990s and early part of this century became alarms when they noticed cracks appearing on the internal and external walls.

Following failed attempts to take legal action against the block suppliers, home-owners turned their demands for redress to the Irish government. They have flatly dismissed a government scheme, offering to cover 90 per cent of the cost of repair or replacement.

Campaigner, Eileen Doherty said the Mica Action Group was also angry with a claim last week that the total cost of redress to the Irish tax-payer could be as high as €3.2 billion (£2.7 billion).

"This was a scare tactic to turn people against us," Ms Doherty said.

Ms Doherty from Inishowen - who with Anne Owens served as joint secretary of the Mica campaign - said she lies awake a night in her own home listening to water running down the walls of her en suite bathroom and fearful of the crumbling blocks that were used to build her house. In other homes, it is the norm to see buckets in the living room to catch water running of gaps in the walls.

"This is causing serious mental health issues and is impacting on children. There's a class at a school in Inishowen and at the start of September the teacher asked the 30 children how many of them were having Mica problems at home and 29 put up their hands."

It was difficult for people who did not face the problems to understand how frustrated home-owners were, Ms Doherty said.

"People say why should the tax payer pay for our homes. We're tax payers too and like everyone else we work hard to pay our taxes. We tried everything else and we were left with the only option to seek redress from the government.

"The government stood by and let this happen; they didn’t ensure proper checks were carried out; they allowed insurance companies to walk away. Our government failed us at EU level at state level and in every avenue; the state failed us," she said.

Ms Doherty was particularly critical of the Dublin government's suggestion that 90 per cent of the cost of repairs would solve the problem. She pointed out that the government cap on redress did not cover costs such home inspections (€5,000) to even get onto the scheme

"People think that the 90 per cent (redress offer) should be accepted but when you take in all the hidden costs that home owners would have to pay, it's really around 60 per cent. If it's 100 per cent redress, there can’t be any hidden costs."

The government is expected to unveil a new redress offer within weeks.

Sidebar 1

Mica: New houses built with blocks containing `Muscovite mica', a mineral found in rocks excavated in quarries started showing problems in the last 15 years. When exposed to moisture, the mica content absorbs water, causing blocks to crack and crumble, ultimately leading to the collapse of the building.

An estimated 5,000 homes in Donegal, for the greater part in Inishowen, have been built with blocks containing high levels of Mica dust. Further homes have been identified in Counties Mayo, Clare, Sligo. The total number of homes impacted could be as high as 10,000.

Pyrite: Similar to Mica, pyrite is found in low grade quarried rocks. The use of pyrite blocks was identified in Leinster. Unlike, Mica, pyrite blocks were used in the building of foundations. This meant the problem could be addressed by underpinning foundations.

Pyrite Remediation Scheme: The Irish government covered 100 per cent of repair costs for Pyrite block homes.

Defective Concrete Blocks Grant Scheme (Mica): The Irish government has suggested the owners of homes built with Mica blocks be offered 90 per cent of repair or replacement costs. This is being opposed by home-owners who claim it does not take account of hidden costs and, in reality, amounts to around 60 per cent of replacement costs.

Under the Mica scheme, home-owners are provided with a number of options from repair (replacement of outer leaf) to complete demolition and rebuild. Redress offered covers repair costs from €50,000 (for partial rebuild) to €275,000 for demolition and rebuild.

Total cost: The Irish government has claimed the complete redress cost could be as high as €3.2 billion (£2.7 billion). However, this is disputed by Mica campaigners who have claimed the cost is likely to be much lower.

Legal action: A number of Mica families attempted to take legal action against block suppliers in 2016 but the action failed over insurance cover.

Sidebar 2

Derry and Strabane council has not received any reports of Mica problems in new homes despite the region's proximity to the Donegal epicentre of the problem.

A map compiled by Buncrana campaigner, Ryan Stewart shows the Donegal mica homes closely following the border from Inishowen into east Donegal. However, building controllers north of the border say there have been no reports of concerns in Derry and Strabane in the last three years.

A Derry and Strabane council spokeswoman said, following a widespread consultation with the construction industry in 2017, no evidence was found of major problems.

"Council officers did establish that there was one construction site with in the council area to which concrete blocks were supplied by one of the known manufacturers of defective blocks in Donegal. Council received assurance from the developer's structural engineer that a sample of concrete blocks was taken from this site which were tested in a laboratory and the blocks were found to contain an acceptable level of mica," she said.

The spokeswoman anyone with concerns about their home should seek advice from a professional engineer who specialises in that area of work.