Mica nightmare: crumbling dream home in picturesque Co Donegal village

Engineer warned Crumish family to get out of their condemned home immediately

Tina Crumlish and her husband, Harry Crumlish, at the family home they vacated due to mica damage in Culdaff, Co Donegal. Photograph: Joe Dunne

Tina Crumlish and her husband, Harry Crumlish, at the family home they vacated due to mica damage in Culdaff, Co Donegal. Photograph: Joe Dunne

 

“The kids would be in bed at night, and we’d be watching TV and would hear this really loud banging,” says Tina Crumlish, outside her crumbling dream home in the picturesque seaside village of Culdaff in Co Donegal.

“My husband Harry would run outside to see if someone crashed into the house, and I would run to check on the kids.

“There were cement bars at the side of the house coming down, or a cornerstone coming off. Concrete blocks exploding inside the walls. Literally plaster falling off the walls.”

Ms Crumlish built her home in 2002, when she was 22 and her husband, Harry, was 26. They are one of thousands of families, mostly in the northwest, whose houses are cracking apart because of defective concrete blocks containing the substance mica.

While friends were off travelling the world, the pair decided to get married and “put every penny” into their house and raise a family. They could have their big holidays later when the children grew up and the mortgage was paid off, they thought.

But now, nearly 20s years later, their home is being demolished and they are “starting from scratch”.

It was in 2010, during a bad frost, when the couple began to notice something not right with their four-bedroom dormer bungalow, built on family land belonging to Ms Crumlish, a special needs assistant at the local school.

At first they put the cracks down to the house “settling in” and, as it was hard to heat, they had it pumped for insulation. From then on, things just got worse, with cracks getting bigger and lumps of masonry falling off.

“We were doing up the house one room at a time and a tiler called round to do the bathroom,” said Ms Crumlish.

“He said you’re in big bother. You’ve got mica. I just thought this can’t be happening. We did everything right, we got a good builder, the architects signed it off. We did it all the right way.”

By then, her young daughter viewed her bedroom wall as a jigsaw, picking up chunks of plaster that had fallen out and trying to slot them back into place as if it were a toy puzzle.

By 2017, the family had their bags packed any time a storm or bad weather was forecast so they could take shelter in Ms Crumlish’s parents house.

“We just couldn’t take the chance that a wall would fall down,” she said.

“The children were scared the house was going to fall in on them. They couldn’t have their friends over, even to play outside in case someone kicked a ball against the wall, and it would come down.”

They hired a structural engineer to assess the house. Ms Crumlish said she would never forget the day he came, two weeks before Christmas.

“I could just tell by his face. He just said, ‘Get out. Don’t even wait until Christmas is over. Get out now’.”

With the help of a friend, they found a house to stay in for a month, while the children asked if Santa would know where they were. Since then, they have been renting while still paying off the mortgage on their condemned home.

Ms Crumlish said she cannot remember the last time she had a full night’s sleep.

“Mica is in my head the whole time I’m constantly thinking where am I going to get this 10 per cent,” she says, referring to the local authority grant scheme which pays 90 per cent of the costs to rebuild mica-affected houses.

“How are we going to pay the rent, pay my son’s college fees? It’s just constant.

“I can’t think about how much I will actually need to cover everything. I would be violently sick. We are burnt-out now. The mental exhaustion is excruciating.”

The Government estimates up to 6,000 homes have been built with the defective concrete blocks and predicts they will cost more than €1 billion to repair.

About a third will need to be completely demolished.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin met with some families affected on Thursday and described their plight as “absolutely shocking”.

Eileen Doherty, a campaigner for those impacted, whose own house in Carndonagh has to be demolished, said she expects thousands to march on Leinster House in Dublin on Tuesday to demand that the full costs be paid by the State. About 45 buses have been booked. Homeowners from Co Mayo and Co Sligo suffering similar ordeals are also expected at the demonstration.

Ms Doherty said the official estimates of the number of houses involved is conservative and does not include other buildings suspected of being built with mica blocks, including “hundreds” of social housing units, public services centres, schools, hospitals and doctors’ surgeries.

The current grant scheme for repairs launched in January last year, which ranges from €49,500-€247,500, does not cover the costs of structural inspections and testing, doors, windows, stairs, kitchens and sanitary ware or rent while work is being done, she said.

“Over and above the 10 per cent homeowners are expected to pay, the extra costs can run into thousands and thousands of euro,” she said.

“The scheme is out of most people’s reach. People are absolutely on their knees, their homes are falling down. We are totally and utterly desperate. We can’t wait any longer.”

Mr Martin has said he will discuss what can be done with the Attorney General.

The Department of Housing said Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien remains in talks with campaigners and local authorities.