Thousands protested outside the Convention Centre and the Dáil in Dublin yesterday to demand the government take action on their crumbling family homes, which are being destroyed by mica.
Mica is a mineral found in rocks, which absorbs moisture and causes bricks to crumble and fall apart. There are currently between around 5000 homes affected by the mineral, mostly in counties Donegal and Mayo. Protestors were demanding a 100% redress scheme to cover all their costs, in line with the Pyrite Remediation Scheme for homeowners of Dublin and North Leinster.
In 2017 the National Standards Authority found that building control authorities did not have the technical resources in-house to test whether construction products were compliant with the standards set out in the Construction Products Directive. Although fault was not found with the council for this, lack of resources was cited as the reason this mica crisis has occurred.
Taoiseach Michael Martin acknowledged in the Dáil that the government will have to give more money than the current grants available to mica-affected communities, but stated that “the State can’t forever be held accountable alone in respect of behaviours or actions where others fell short, be it in the private sector or elsewhere.
He has asked the Attorney General to examine the role of other parties in the cracking houses, who have as he put it, “walked off the pitch”.
Organisers of the protest in the capital yesterday estimated that around 10,000 marched yesterday to show their support for those affected by mica, although this number has not been independently verified.
They are demanding the same treatment as Dublin homeowners affected by pyrite, who had a 100% redress scheme. The Mica Redress Scheme currently covers up to approximately €250,000 of costs of a house that has to be completely demolished, around 90% of associated costs.
However, without the costs of many furnishings of a house in that price including windows and doors, along with no suitable accommodation provided during the process, it is said that those affected are paying far more than 90%. It has been said that 10% of costs could well be in the region of €100,000 - a number many people simply would not be in a position to pay. Many fear that this process could push them into homelessness, especially as they must continue to pay a mortgage on an uninhabitable home.
This fear is further compounded by the lack of rental options available in many of the affected areas.
There is also the issue of the €5000 test for mica presence in a house that must be carried out before the government grant scheme can be applied for.
This is a number that many families are struggling to come up with, as they watch cracks form in their walls around them. It is also in stark contrast to the costs of the pyrite test required for Dublin homeowners to apply for the Remediation Scheme, which stood at €500.
Martin McKinney is an Irish expat in Boston, who moved from Donegal in the 2000s. He set about raising money for those affected by the mica and has raised €10,000 for the cause in a little under a week.
He explained that “it’s a fear of my own that the Government isn’t going to act until they have to react; until a house comes down on top of a family. It’s then that they’ll take action and it’s too late at that stage”. He also stated “It’s 100%, no less.
If it’s good for Dublin, it’s good for Donegal”, reflecting sentiments that a scheme not fit for purpose would not have occurred in other, less remote areas of the country with Donegal TD Thomas Pringle dubbing Donegal “the forgotten county”.
Michael Martin reacted to this disparity, stating that the mica and pyrite schemes were different as they reflected different costs of each situation. In the pyrite affected homes, the average cost was €70,000. In the mica affected homes the average cost is at least double that.
However this did not dissuade protesters, as they reminded the Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien that they were tax-payers too, and it is through no fault of their own that they find themselves in this situation; paying for uninhabitable homes.
Paul Finucane, an affected Donegal native explains the impact this is having on those who face housing insecurity as a result of mica. “We are stuck in limbo. It is a waking nightmare. It is extremely tough to make any meaningful long-term plan when you have an issue like mica hanging over you”.
He also stated that “we will not accept anything less than parity with pyrite.” This was echoed by Sinn Fein leader, Mary Lou Mcdonald in the Dail, as she spoke of the impact and toll this is taking on the mental health of those living in mica infested dwellings, as mica protestors spoke of family fall outs, marriage breakups and suicides that have occurred in affected communities.
The Dail have accepted the Sinn Fein motion proposed, which sets out a 100% redress scheme for homes with mica, which the government did not oppose.
The government has accepted that in many cases homeowners are paying far more than 10% of the costs of the redress, with Gael TD Joe McHugh admitting that the scheme is not covering 90% of the costs, but closer to 70% “through the back door”.
Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien stated that productive talks were held with representatives of the affected homeowners. Spokesperson for the minister stated “the minister has proposed establishing a focused, time-bound working working group, between department officials, Mica action group representatives from Mayo and Donegal and local authority representatives”.
It is estimated that the scheme will cost more than €1 billion. Without promising 100% redress on Prime Time, the minister stated that there will be improvements to the current scheme, with homeowners at the very least receiving the full 90% of the costs.
The issue of covering rent by those who await construction on their uninhabitable homes will be considered by the working group, who will convene at the end of July.