Mica crisis: Government ‘committed’ to better redress scheme

Minister not ruling out 100% redress for owners of homes affected by building defects

July 31st, 2021: Families affected by mica in Donegal are facing huge bills as talks with the Government over redress have stalled. Video: Enda O'Dowd

 

A “significantly enhanced” scheme will be needed to help the owners of severely damaged and crumbling homes with mica problems, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said.

He told Sinn Féin finance spokesman Pearse Doherty that he could not make any definitive commitments on it at the moment but “it will be a matter for Government to decide before the end of the month”.

Speaking in the Dáil, Mr Varadkar said Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien was committed to working with the homeowners to find a resolution to the problem and he acknowledged that a “resolution is long overdue”.

He also accepted that “we need a significantly enhanced scheme” which was being developed.

Mica is a mineral that can absorb and store water, resulting in excessive amounts in building blocks which over time causes cracks and crumbling in blocks. The number of affected homeowners in Donegal and Mayo is estimated at between 7,000 and 8,000 “and possibly more”, according to the Government source. Claims have also been made in Mayo, Limerick and other counties.

A 2018 redress scheme opened for applications in 2020 but required owners to pay 10 per cent of costs, unlike the pyrite scheme for Dublin homes which was 100 per cent Government-funded.

Mr Varadkar acknowledged that with the mica scheme the 90 per cent in Government funding did not turn out to be 90 per cent “because of other costs including rent when people move out of their house, engineering reports and such matters”.

Mr Doherty called on the Tánaiste to “lift the burden off so many families” and commit to establishing a 100 per cent redress scheme for homeowners and families “in Donegal, Mayo and other counties who are seeing their homes crumble before their eyes”.

He said that several family homes had been demolished including that of Donna and Mike Price and their three children. Their home “was reduced to rubble by a digger”.

He said “others continue to live in the conditions that put them and their children at risk with walls and ceiling crumbling around them”, and the problem had placed a heavy toll on their mental health and relationships.

“They cannot be allowed to wait any longer. They are victims of self-regulation, no-regulation and light-touch regulation regimes.”

Mr Varadkar, who previously visited Donegal to witness the impact of mica, said “not only have I seen it with my own eyes, but I have felt it in my fingers when I touched those walls.

“One can see how easily they can break and crumble. I know the devastation it has caused people.”

He said: “I agree that we need to bring forward an enhanced scheme, a better scheme, than the one we put together under the last Government to deal with this issue. We are committed to doing that.”

Speaking in Limerick on Thursday, the Minister for Housing appeared to open the door for a 100 per cent redress scheme for homeowners. When asked about the possibility, he said: “I’ve taken nothing off the table.”

Mr O’Brien said the Cabinet would “assess” documents to be handed into Government by Donegal and Mayo campaigners on Friday, adding: “I want to be able to bring improvements to the scheme, and try to bring a resolution to this in the next few weeks.”

“I’ll have to go to Cabinet with some of the changes, if they require additional expenditure, which I expect it will do so.”

On Thursday, Fine Gael TD Joe McHugh said the problem had become a “national emergency” and it was time for Government “to bite the bullet”over the mica scandal.

Mr McHugh said the original redress scheme – ostensibly offering homeowners 90 per cent of the cost of repairs – was reluctantly accepted at the time by those affected but was scuppered by changes made by Department of Public Expenditure officials.

“I believe to this day if that scheme was honoured in the way it should have been done, in terms of the conditions applied therein, we may not even be here today because that 90/10 [90 per cent redress, 10 per cent paid by homeowner] scheme effectively became a 70/30 and in some cases a 60/40,” he said.

Different caveats and different cost measures were brought into it, the Donegal TD told RTÉ’s Today with Claire Byrne.

“The scheme was politically signed off on, and like anything in politics, you have a policy as a government, and once the officials start digging down and delving into it, we came out with a scheme that is not workable.”

Separately, a survey published on Thursday by the Mica Action Group, found that mica householders are “suffering a major negative impact to their mental health” and that some are medicating for the first time ever in order to cope with the stress.

Representatives of the mica action group are to hand in their survey as well as a document calling for 100 per cent redress which will “detail exactly what is needed to end the homeowners’ turmoil and allow them to move forward”.

“It can only be hoped that it is treated with respect and gravity, and is acted upon with urgency,” said Lisa Hone, a spokeswoman for the group.

Ms Hone said 483 registered members of the Mica Action Group responded to the survey, and they admitted to “dealing with unrelenting anxiety about safety and finances, the distress of having homes demolished and worries about future homelessness”.

“A common theme running through comments from defective block homeowners was the constant nature of the anxiety seeping into all corners of their lives, with 50 per cent feeling unsafe in their home.”