Mica homeowners call on Government to allow them to downsize without grant cuts

Defective blocks scheme to include foundations if review finds problems with materials, Minister says

Homeowners affected by pyrite and mica have called on the Government to allow them to downsize their homes without having their grants cut.

The Oireachtas Committee on Housing held three separate hearings on Thursday as part of fast-tracked scrutiny into legislation that will set up a new enhanced grant scheme.

The committee was told by Michael Doherty of the Mica Action Group in Donegal that the new scheme is “inflexible, cynical, illogical and blinkered” and is “burdening homeowners with yet more stress”.

Last year, the Cabinet agreed to finance a €2.2 billion scheme – the cost of which has now increased to at least €2.7 billion – to rebuild an estimated affected 7,500 homes. The maximum grant is now €420,000, up from €247,500 under a previous version of the scheme.


Mr Doherty said that “families are stressed to breaking point” and “have endured years of uncertainty and anxiety in every possible description”.

Along with other homeowners at the committee, Mr Doherty said the State should allow homeowners to downsize, saying it would come at no additional cost.

Under the new legislation, if a homeowner receives a grant for demolition to foundation level and decides to rebuild a smaller home than that on which the grant amount was determined, the local authority will reduce the grant amount approved.

Martina Hegarty, whose home was built using defective concrete blocks in Mayo, described allowing for downsizing as a “workable solution”.

“This is the only solution that provides a true pathway for homeowners to receive 100 per cent [redress],” Ms Hegarty said.

“There are multiple benefits to the homeowner and the State in this choice that enable our elderly, those planning for retirement and vulnerable adults who are living in the counties with the lowest disposable income in the country to rebuild their homes.”

She said that based on current estimates she has been given for the rebuild of her own home, she will be left €50,000 out of pocket.

“As homeowners, we are being restricted by not one, but two caps. The current upper grant cap is €420,000,” Ms Hegarty said.

“Removing the allowance for rent, storage and emergency costs, we are left with €395,000. The placement of this cap forces 33 per cent of our homeowners into even more debt.

“It forces them into situations of not being able to send their children to college or [being] unable to rebuild the granny flat for their parents.

“Homeowners will not have the opportunity to draw down a top-up or second mortgage as their homes are currently worthless, while many are still repaying their first mortgage.”

Martina Cleary, chairperson of the Clare Pyrite Action Group, said: “The horror of discovering your home has this problem is impossible to fully describe to those who haven’t experienced this journey.

“It includes sleepless nights, fear of the danger, a continuous struggle to not only come to terms with the loss of your home, but also to try to understand how this could have ever happened,”

She said she has identified 1,025 potentially impacted private homes, 17 private housing estates, five local authority housing estates and 11 larger-scale public and private dwellings in her area. “This is only the beginning,” Ms Cleary said.

Homeowners at the committee asked for the grant cap to be either eliminated or increased to a minimum of €460,000. They have asked for inflation forecasts to be built into the scheme and that in future holiday homes, other buy-to-lets and partially-built homes might be included.

Mr Doherty said the issue with deleterious materials “primarily arose during the Celtic Tiger years”.

“Self-regulation of manufacturers, together with inadequate local authority enforcement of standards, allowed unfit concrete products to enter the Irish market for years,” Mr Doherty said.

“The regulations that should have protected consumers did not, and homeowners were unknowingly exposed to defective products destined to fail on the biggest and most significant purchase of their lives.

“In desperation we chased the quarry owners, insurance companies and those that provide bonds on our homes.” He said the homeowners had no choice but to “chase the State”.

Meanwhile, the defective concrete blocks grant scheme will be changed to include replacement of the foundations of homes if a scientific review finds problems with materials used, Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien told the Dáil earlier on Thursday.

The legislation for the scheme for householders in Donegal, Clare and Limerick whose homes have been damaged by mica will be published on Thursday.

Donegal Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty raised the issue of replacing foundations – which are not covered by the scheme as currently proposed – with Mr O’Brien in the Dáil.

He said the current scheme could see households build on “potentially shaky and damaged foundations” and he said this would be “a serious waste of taxpayers’ money if that were to materialise”.

He asked if the cost of replacing foundations, and if caps on the overall remediation work, would be raised to cater for this.

Mr O’Brien did not address whether caps would be raised.

Mr O’Brien said the National Standards Authority of Ireland (NSAI) is reviewing the standards for concrete blocks including to see if another mineral – pyrrhotite – impacts on foundations.

The Minister said: “It’s currently understood ... that foundations are not impacted and there’s currently no evidence to support the claims that they are.”

However, he said independent scientific research is being carried out and: “If that comes back and if there’s a problem with foundations we’ll amend it by regulation and include that within the scheme.”

Mr Doherty said he took issue with the suggestion that there is no evidence that foundations are affected and he said the housing committee would hear such evidence on Thursday.

He raised concerns that applications to the grant scheme will be stalled until the NSAI makes its determination because householders will not want to build on foundations that are damaged.

Mr O’Brien said no one could prejudge the scientific research.

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times