Q&A: Why are Donegal homeowners protesting over their crumbling homes?

Hundreds of homeowners in the county are taking their protest to the capital next week
Q&A: Why are Donegal homeowners protesting over their crumbling homes?

Homeowners in Buncrana protest the mica redress scheme in May. The scheme only cover 90% of the rebuild costs of houses affected. Picture: Windy Day Media

Why are some Donegal homeowners planning a protest in Dublin next week?

Hundreds of Donegal homeowners are planning to descend on the Convention Centre in the capital next Tuesday, June 15, to protest over a Government scheme put in place to cover the rebuild costs of their homes, which are crumbling because of substandard building products containing mica.

The Mica Action Group and affected homeowners are calling on the Government to foot 100% of rebuild and repair costs, similar to a redress scheme put in place for defective builds due to pyrite.

The current mica redress scheme only covers 90% of the rebuild costs and requires homeowners to foot 10% of the bill, which has been reported as six-figure sums in some circumstances.

Excessive amounts of mica have been detected in the concrete blocks of more than 5,000 homes in Donegal and Mayo, causing the bricks to crumble and putting the structures at risk of collapse. Picture: Windy Day Media
Excessive amounts of mica have been detected in the concrete blocks of more than 5,000 homes in Donegal and Mayo, causing the bricks to crumble and putting the structures at risk of collapse. Picture: Windy Day Media

Those affected say all homeowners impacted by defective building products should be treated the same and intend to hand a letter to the Taoiseach next week seeking 100% redress.

Paddy Diver, who is involved in organising the mica protest next week, said it was the “biggest crisis in Donegal in living memory”.

What is the problem with mica?

Defective blocks that contain high levels of mica can absorb water and cause cracking to external and internal walls, potentially causing structural failure to dwellings and posing a significant health and safety risk.

Excessive amounts of mica have been detected in the concrete blocks of more than 5,000 homes in Donegal and Mayo, causing the bricks to crumble and putting the structures at risk of collapse.

Similar building defects have been reported in Clare and Sligo and other counties.

Is the mica problem similar to the pyrite issue experienced by other homeowners?

The mica problem in homes in Donegal and Mayo is similar to the pyrite issue identified in a large number of homes in Dublin and other parts of the country, which led to building defects and structural damage.

In response, the Government put in place a Pyrite Remediation Scheme that covered 100% of the costs of repairing structural damage caused by pyrite, found mainly in the foundations of the affected properties.

What redress is available to homeowners affected by mica or pyrite issues?

In response to the mica problem, the Government introduced the Defective Concrete Blocks Grant Scheme last year, which covers 90% of rebuild costs, but homeowners must cover 10% of costs.

The scheme opened for applications in June 2020 and 433 people in Donegal have engaged so far.

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.

 The problem has also been identified in some homes in Clare. Mary and Seamus Hanley at their home in Drumline, Newmarket-on-Fergus, which is affected by mica. Picture: Eamon Ward
The problem has also been identified in some homes in Clare. Mary and Seamus Hanley at their home in Drumline, Newmarket-on-Fergus, which is affected by mica. Picture: Eamon Ward

Properties damaged due to excessive amounts of mica or pyrite can qualify but the scheme is restricted to dwellings that are principal private residences.

The grant scheme is operated and administered by Mayo and Donegal County Councils.

It is understood that local authorities in Sligo and Clare are seeking admission to the scheme as more homeowners have reported building defects, likely to be mica or pyrite contamination.

What is the Government doing to help affected homeowners?

As more than 40 busloads of Donegal homeowners prepare to protest in Dublin next week, Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien updated the Cabinet on the mica issue on Wednesday and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said Government was “keen to find a solution” to the issue.

Speaking on Wednesday, Mr O'Brien said any changes to the scheme would require a whole-of-Government approach and noted the scheme was informed by the work of an expert panel and finalised in consultation with the Office of the Attorney General and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

Mr O'Brien said: “I met with the Mica Action Group in early February 2021 and requested further information from them in relation to their concerns with the scheme. My department and I have been working through their document which we received five weeks ago and we are liaising with other departments and agencies to figure out how best to address some of the concerns raised."

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