Pyrite in Mayo: ‘We worked hard. We bought our house in good faith’

As their homes crumble, protesters want State to cover 100% rebuild and repair costs

 Louise and Joe Pye at their pyrite-damaged home in Foxford, Co Mayo: The scheme covers 90 per cent of repair costs, with a €247,500 cap, but there are “hidden” costs, such as doors, windows and kitchen cabinets. Photograph: Keith Heneghan

Louise and Joe Pye at their pyrite-damaged home in Foxford, Co Mayo: The scheme covers 90 per cent of repair costs, with a €247,500 cap, but there are “hidden” costs, such as doors, windows and kitchen cabinets. Photograph: Keith Heneghan

 

Mayo residents Louise and Joe Pye never anticipated they would need to demolish their home just as they were nearing the end of their mortgage.

The couple discovered last year that their house in Foxford was among thousands of properties across Mayo and Donegal affected by the minerals pyrite and mica, which cause concrete blocks to crack and crumble.

Ms Pye (46) cannot just paint over the fractures – the house needs to be completely knocked and rebuilt.

“We had a lovely beautiful home with our two children. We still haven’t paid fully for this house. Who can afford to pay for two houses in their life?”

Ms Pye believes she is facing into the final winter in her current home: “I won’t be able to stay here much longer because it will fall down and somebody will get killed,” she speculated.

The defects are not the fault of affected homeowners, and it is unfair that they should have to foot the costs, she said.

“We worked hard and we slogged hard to get our house to be the beautiful house it is today. We bought a house in good faith.”

On Tuesday, Ms Pye will join others with pyrite and mica-affected properties at a protest in Dublin over the conditions of the Department of Housing’s Defective Concrete Blocks Grant Scheme.

The scheme covers 90 per cent of the repair costs, with a €247,500 cap, but Ms Pye said there are many other “hidden” costs, such as replacing doors, windows and kitchen cabinets.

Protesters are calling for 100 per cent of the rebuild and repair costs to be covered by the State.

Ms Pye and her husband have progressed through the first phase of the defective blocks scheme, but say they will not continue with it as they “cannot afford to go out and borrow another €100,000”.

‘No sense whatsoever’

They estimate the work would cost at least €60,000 more than the maximum grant available under the scheme, plus 10 per cent of the remaining construction costs.

Ms Pye contends that many of the scheme’s rules “make no sense whatsoever”.

Grants from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) to improve a home’s energy rating do not work in conjunction with the scheme. There is also no State contribution to rental costs if people need to move out while works are underway.

Ms Pye points to a pyrite scheme in the east of the country which provided 100 per cent redress for people whose homes were damaged by pyrite.

However, the average cost of repairs to properties in Dublin and surrounding counties was less than €70,000, whereas many of the Mayo homes need to be knocked to the foundations, according to Mayo County Council’s director of services for housing, Tom Gilligan.

Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien recently estimated the new redress scheme could surpass €1 billion.

More than 90 Mayo residents have applied for the scheme so far, according to Mr Gilligan, while the Cabinet heard 433 people in Donegal have registered.

When the scheme was announced in January 2020, a lot of people were “relatively happy” with the 90 per cent proposal, having fought hard to get to that point, Mr Gilligan recalls.

However, public opinion “seems to have changed a bit”, with more people now pushing for 100 per cent redress, he said, adding: “There is a lot of anxiety out there.”

A sum of €20 million was allocated to the scheme for 2020 and 2021, but it had been initially estimated that 362 Mayo homes and up to 4,000 Donegal properties were affected. Many more Mayo residents have since come forward after discovering defects, and Mr Gilligan says there could be well over 1,000 affected properties in the county.

‘Mental health’

Belmullet councillor Gerry Coyle says the arrival of the scheme in 2020 was the culmination of years of work.

“Of course it is not perfect. There is no one size fits all . . . If they can get 100 per cent I would be delighted for them; some other people are moving on with the scheme and are delighted with it,” the Fine Gael councillor said.

The scheme “needs tweaking”, but at least people in Mayo and Donegal can apply for redress, he said, noting that those affected in Sligo, Galway and Clare are not catered for at all.

Fianna Fáil TD for Mayo Darragh Calleary said there was a “rush” to iron out the scheme’s kinks as the defective blocks were causing “the most extraordinary damage to people’s mental health”.

Mr O’Brien was engaging with stakeholders and was taking concerns seriously, Mr Calleary added, but noted that other Ministers would need to sign off on any changes.

Sinn Féin’s Rose Conway-Walsh TD warned that the Government must not take it as a sign of satisfaction that people have registered for the scheme.

There is a renewed energy around the campaign involving pyrite-affected homeowners, given the recent discovery of the mineral in many buildings around Ballina, Crossmolina and Foxford, Ms Conway-Walsh said.

In her native Erris, on Mayo’s northwestern coast, the eight-year battle has taken a toll on the mental and physical health of many, she said.

“People have been fighting this for so long . . . It really has manifested itself in ways that it is destroying people’s lives.”

Ms Conway-Walsh was one of a number of local politicians to push for the scheme that now on offer: “We had to make sure that we got the plan in the budget . . . It is now clear that the scheme is not fit for purpose,” she said.

People on lower incomes and older people unable to get a mortgage are “locked out”.