Over ten thousand people gathered in protest across Donegal this past weekend as anger grows over the massive mica homes crisis. Protesters are demanding suitable government intervention that is accessible and does not leave homeowners destitute.
Homes built with defective blocks containing mica or, in a small number of homes in Mayo, mica or pyrite, are literally crumbling. Lives have been destroyed because of this crisis, yet with a staggering estimate of 4,000 homes affected in Donegal, the government redress scheme is proving to be entirely inadequate and ignorant of the realities of living in the North West.
In October 2018, after a campaign for government intervention, a redress scheme was finally established. However, homeowners have to pay for an engineer report out of pocket in order to even apply for the scheme. Reports can be as costly as €6,000, meaning the scheme is unaffordable and inaccessible to too many. More and more residents have organised themselves, as they’ve realised that they are priced out of availing of this redress.
Unlike in Dublin, where homes affected by pyrite received 100% financial support in a government compensation program, in Donegal the Defective Concrete Blocks Grants Scheme only covers 90% of restorative works.
People affected in Donegal are expected to pay 10% of restoration costs, the cost of the initial assessment (estimated at about €6,000), and any cost of temporary accommodation while work is done.
Recent studies have found Donegal to have the lowest level of disposable income and ranked amongst the top ten areas of deprivation in Ireland. These facts coupled with increasing costs of building materials and rising builders’ prices has simply moved the scheme out of reach for most.
Despite the obvious need for a new, more suitable scheme, the coalition government and Micheál Martin have been slow to respond to the demand for 100% redress in Donegal. When challenged in Dáil Éireann on the issue, the Taoiseach hid behind meeting arrangements between the Housing Minister and concerned groups.
Emerging from meetings between elected representatives and campaign groups has been an all-too-familiar dynamic: ‘listening ears’ and ‘kind words’, but no firm commitment on action or redress. This has resulted in people in Donegal pushing on and taking their demands to the streets in massive protests.
So far, there has been no investigation into this scandal even though hundreds of Donegal County Council social housing units and public buildings, such as schools, are also crumbling with mica blocks. There needs to be a full public inquiry into every level of this scandal – from the developers to the suppliers to government involvement.
The companies responsible for supplying those mica blocks and who profited from this crisis should not continue to hold contracts or future contracts paid from the public purse, and they should be made to pay. Additionally, campaigners worry that those same suppliers will benefit financially from any new building because of the redress scheme. Those responsible need to be investigated and sanctioned.
The sense from the campaigners on the ground is one of determination. The people of Donegal are right not to put their faith in meetings with TDs and the Housing Minister. They are prepared to stay on the streets until a scheme in Donegal and Mayo delivers 100% redress. This demand is not unreasonable; it is in fact only demanding equal treatment and the same support as other parts of the country affected by defective pyrite and mica blocks.
Included in the redress should be the initial engineer assessment, the cost of temporary accommodation, and the establishment of a public inquiry.
Successive Irish Governments have ignored the needs of the north west for too long. The organised collective effort from residents in Donegal is the only reason ministers are prepared to host meetings or discuss the mica scandal in the Dáil. If the campaigners keep up this pressure, they can succeed in achieving their demands.