4,500 reports of mould and damp lead to warnings over potential tragedy similar to death of Awaab Ishak

Councillors attending the November meeting of Derry City and Strabane District Council were warned that unless action was taken, it would only be a matter of time before the area experienced a death similar to that of two-year old Awaab Ishak from Rochdale, who died in 2020 from prolonged exposure to mould in his family’s flat.

Awaab Ishak from Rochdale, who died after being exposed to mould.
Awaab Ishak from Rochdale, who died after being exposed to mould.

Many of the elected representatives had stories about residents across the city and district experiencing similar damp and mould issues in their homes.

Around 4,500 homes in the Derry City and Strabane area have been reported in the last five years with 1,100 in the last year alone.

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Raising the matter, Aontú councillor Emmet Doyle said: “We have all heard of the case in the last 10 days of the young boy, Awaab Ishak from Rochdale, who met his death due to mould in the home he shared with his father as a result of respiratory illness.

“I don’t think it is any secret for many of us who are out and about and who focus on housing cases in this city and district that mould is a problem.

“Condensation is not the catch all word for absolutely everything.”

He continued: "We have a fantastic environmental health team who provide guidance and help for residents and businesses right across this city and we should encourage anyone who is concerned about mould in their homes to make contact with them.

“I have been contacted, and I know other members will too, about young children developing coughs in homes as a result of mould and I am very saddened to say whenever I saw the pictures of the young boy’s home in Rochdale, I scarily thought to myself, I’ve seen worse in Derry.”

Colr. Doyle said he believed it is ‘important for us to send the message that regardless of who your landlord is that it is unacceptable’.

“I have a short proposal asking for the management of the Housing Executive and other housing associations to review and where appropriate, adapt their remediation practices for damp and mould because it is a health issue and it’s not acceptable that anyone should live in those conditions in this day and age,” he said.

Seconding the proposal, Independent councillor Gary Donnelly added: “Awaab’s death could have been prevented and unfortunately there are similar conditions in this city.

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“There are cases here I could clearly relate to and excuses used by housing associations relating to condensation and damp. I’ve been in two homes in the last week - one in the Bogside and one in the Brandywell.

"In one, a single man had to move his bed into the living room and his health has deteriorated. I contacted the Housing Executive and they are dealing with it.

“The other one is in the Brandywell. It’s a problem that’s gone on for years and they had already dug up the kitchen and the back porch.”

Agreeing, all councillors have had to deal with these issues on a daily basis, Sinn Féin councillor Patricia Logue called the situation ‘not acceptable’, adding: “There are huge problems in the social and private rental homes and they need to be addressed immediately and I would urge all those who have responsibilities for repairs and maintenance to take an in depth look at what has happened here.”

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Also supporting the motion, SDLP councillor Martin Reilly commented: “This is something that is causing huge disruption to people right across our council area.

“We have all seen the news and the heart-breaking story of the death of the toddler in Rochdale and I think we as a public authority should be looking at what we can to encourage the relevant Assembly department to take action on this.”

Referring to ongoing issues at the Waterside Triangle, Sinn Féin councillor Christopher Jackson said: “When we are talking about damp homes, in the Waterside Triangle it is well established, there are issues with water ingress. There is water literally running down homes.

“I have seen in the past few years where the Housing Executive has come out and advised the residents to open windows, to take measures to prevent condensation.

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"That’s one of the most extreme examples where it is well-established that a scheme is needed to address problems with damp but it’s still being put down to condensation. Action needs to be taken to fix this problem.”

Alliance councillor Rachael Ferguson stated that it was ‘a common story to see families living in this level of damp’ before People Before Profit councillor Shaun Harkin said: “What happened to Awaab and his family in Rochdale was an absolute tragedy.

“One of the worst things about it was the family tried again and again to rectify the problem. They didn’t sit on their hands. There was a complete failure by those with responsibility to sort out the issue.

“As others have said, I personally have been in houses where people have been constantly calling for help and it’s taken years to get issues sorted out. They are being told it’s what they are doing that’s the problem rather than actually accept there are issues with damp in houses.

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“Even now, we do have deaths that aren’t recorded, that are due to respiratory issues, we do have hospitalisations now that are due to mould and damp that might not be recorded.

“Everybody knows that it is a huge issue in our district but it takes this tragedy to put a spotlight on it.”

The motion calling for council to write to the Housing Executive and housing associations operating in the council area requesting information on how they will review and where appropriate, adapt their remediation practices for damp and mould to ensure the case of Awaab Ishak isn’t repeated in the council area, passed unanimously.