President Michael D Higgins is “acutely aware” of the “heartfelt pain and anguish” caused by the mica issue, his office told campaigners in a letter before yesterday’s mass protest.
In response to an invitation to attend the protest, sent to his office by the Mica Action Group, the Deputy Secretary General to the President wrote that President Higgins has been “following developments closely and continuously raises this issue in his regular briefings with the Taoiseach”.
“The President is acutely aware of the very difficult situation that so many households and families find themselves in as a result of mica, and indeed the heartfelt pain and anguish that this is causing.”
While the letter stated that the President “due to the constitutional nature of his office, cannot become directly involved in matters that are the policy responsible of Government”, his comments mark a contribution to a high-profile public issue which is shortly to be the subject of a Government decision entailing significant exchequer spending.
His office confirmed the letter was sent by the Áras, but had no further comment. A spokesman for the Taoiseach said the convention was that the head of Government did not comment on briefings with the President.
Fiachra Ó Luain, who sent the invite on behalf of the group, said it was “good to know Micheál Martin is hearing this from the President in his private audiences, and we know it’s genuine because Michael D always does things in a genuine way.”
“He’s able to understand this as a human, and that’s the mark of any good politician.”
News of the letter emerged after thousands of mica protestors marched through Dublin on Friday and came to a halt beneath the windows of the Department of Housing demanding 100 per cent redress for homes affected by defective building blocks.
The fight by campaign groups in the northwest culminated here, weeks before Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien is due to finalise proposals to deal with their plight. The message was clear: total redress or politicians would pay the price.
“We did nothing wrong,” campaigner Eileen Doherty told the assembled crowd which, according to organiser estimates, numbered over 20,000 people. “We are not spongers. We have built and bought our homes ourselves.”
Agriculture Minister and Donegal TD Charlie McConalogue cut a lonely figure on the podium, caught as he is between fever-pitched local demands and having a seat at Cabinet. For a full minute he was drowned out by a hostile crowd before managing to tell them he was fully behind them.
Moments before, a Sinn Féin triumvirate of Mary Lou McDonald, Pearse Doherty and Padraig Mac Lochlainn rallied the audience.
On the march from the Garden of Remembrance, to the tribal beat of nine large Donegal drums, were many who had taken the day off work and school. Many had travelled a seven hour round trip to raise their voices.
Among them was the Gillen family from Manorcunningham just outside Letterkenny. Frank and Claire spoke about how their house, built in 2003, began to crumble in 2011. Their boys Frankie (10) and Shay (7) had never known any other kind of home.
“They are heartbroken. They are scared,” said Claire.
Most people at the demonstration know at least two or three others whose homes have begun to deteriorate.
Patricia Hennessy, a nurse from Inch Island in Co Donegal who set out on her three-and-a-half-hour journey from the northern extremity of the country immediately after her night shift knows four others in her department with mica. One of the homes is condemned.
“I have the cracks but they haven’t separated yet,” she said. “[BUT] we don’t know how quickly it changes from cracks to separation.”
Paddy Diver told the rally politicians should tred carefully. “Don’t darken our doors ever again boys,” he said of TDs in the affected counties, should their demands go unmet. “That’s the bottom line.”