MICA homes in Donegal: Our children have been ‘robbed of their childhood’
undreds, if not thousands of children are living in cracking, crumbling, mica affected homes in Donegal.
The mica children campaign aims to show the reality of this for young people, who are seeing the worry and strain in their parents faces, hearing about the crisis in schools and who are living in homes, which are supposed to be their safe haven, that are not fit for purpose.
Three families, two from the mica epicentre that is Inishowen and one from Letterkenny, have spoken to the Journal about the impact this is having on their children and their concerns for the future.
Nine-year-old Tiernan Long from Inch Island offered his parents cash from his money bank to pay towards the cost of mica testing their home.
Tiernan’s mother Eileen, who also has five-year-old Samarah and two-year-old Matthew, said he can’t even kick a ball against the wall of their house as she’s too worried for his safety.
Eileen and Stephen built their home in 2005 and started seeing cracks around five years ago.
“We told ourselves it was just settling cracks but over the last three years we knew without a doubt it was mica. It just got worse and worse.”
Testing has shown the house is sitting on foundations of 1.7 newton, with internal walls at 2.7 newtown and with two 59 foot steel beams supporting the roof. Demolition seems to be the only option.
Eileen told how her house ‘isn’t as bad as some others yet’ but worries that delays in the mica redress scheme and passing time will lead to continued decay.
She said she and her partner were going to try and get the money to fix the outer leaf, but it ‘needs to be demolished,’ something which is financially unreachable for the vast majority of people.
“Even at that, I think that we’re one of the lucky ones. We’re able to live in the house at the minute,. But, for how long? The outside is starting to get really, really bad.”
Eileen added how she ‘is so glad’ her children are healthy and tries to hold on to that fact, but outlined how they are ‘shouldering a burden that’s not theirs to carry.’
“You try to shield them, but they hear about it. My daughter asked when the builders were going to come and knock down our house.”
Samarah shares a bedroom with her brother, as it’s not safe for her to sleep upstairs. Like many little girls her age, she wants her own room, with rainbow and unicorn wallpaper. But, something so simple for others is not achievable for this little girl, due to the mica that invades the walls.
Tiernan, sees ‘the worst’ of the mica crisis and admitted recently that he’d sneak downstairs at night and listen to his parents talk about it when they thought the children were asleep.
“He asks if he can go out and play but he can’t kick a ball against the wall, as I’m too worried. He admitted that he used to sneak down and listen to us talk. In the winter time, he’s come down to us and said he was worried the house was going to come down.”
Eileen has found notes and pictures Tiernan has drawn, writing how he hates his house.
A picture of his house showed cracks in the walls.
Eileen added how, instead of playing I Spy in the car, it’s ‘Look at that house, it’s all cracked, it must have mica.’
“I just think it is so unfair that many children have been robbed of their childhood. So many children are living in houses that are like a war zone, which is so cruel.
“The scheme at the minute isn’t practicable. We were nearly begging the engineer not to say demolition. We’re all just sitting in limbo, not knowing what’s coming next.”
Then, there are the children for whom moving out is unfathomable.
‘I do not want to split up our family’
Catherine Duffy, from Drumkeen, told how she is considering moving her 14-year-old son to her mother’s house when work begins on their home, to ‘make life as easy as I can for him.’
Catherine’s son is autistic and she is worried that the upheaval and change of moving into a new home, which could occur the same time as he’s sitting his Junior Certificate, will negatively impact him.
Catherine and her husband Pauric built their house in 2003 and noticed ‘something wrong’ around eight years ago when the paint ‘wasn’t staying on the walls.’
“We have had eight years to go through this rollercoaster that some people are only starting now, asking ourselves: ‘Is it or isn’t it?’ Wee cracks appeared and we got someone to look at it.
“They thought it wasn’t mica, so there was this relief, and we thought it might be bad plastering. We even got the house reinsulated. But then every year, my husband was filling in cracks and we came to the realisation we had mica.”
A visual inspection and tests confirmed it. But the family was told that additional testing was also needed to detect pyrite and pyrrhotite, which have also been detected.
“So, we have mica, pyrite and pyrrhotite in the block. We’re still being recommended for outer leaf, which we’re conflicted about, but we’re still waiting on the engineer’s report to get on the scheme.”
Catherine told how the blocks are rapidly deteriorating, so much so that they’re now starting to see gaps around the window that ‘weren’t there a few weeks ago.’
She told how she and her husband are ‘very, very open’ about the situation with their 14 year old and 12 year old sons.
“We don’t hide anything from them, as everything has to be normalised for the 14-year-old.
“We make sure we’re very honest with him and explain what’s happening.
“When we thought we might possibly have to demolish - and we might have to go back and revisit that, we outlined it all. He won’t let us change anything in his room, like the layout or paint it. Everything has to stay the same for him and if you do want to change it, you have to get the buy in from him first.
“Our engineer told us that work on our house probably won’t begin until next spring, and we’ll be lucky to get that, I’d say. But he’ll be doing his Junior Cert then. That, coupled with the fact we’re going to have to move out of our home will be difficult. Another house will be a strange house. We’re very lucky in that my sister-in-law is letting us stay in her house, which is beside us, but it’s still change.
“It’s not going to be the same for him. Everything will be completely different. And he’ll also be going through the stress of his exams, studying, moving out.
“I’m actually considering moving him into my mother’s house. I do not want to do it. I do not want to split up our family, but I want to make life as easy as I can for him. I’m so conflicted over what to do and feel like everything is up in the air.”
Catherine said she feels as if the government isn’t taking into account children and adults with additional needs, who may need adapted homes or who will not cope well with the upset and upheaval the current situation is causing.
There are hundreds of people and families in the same situation and she said their needs must also be considered.
Many people with additional needs are living in homes that are not fit for purpose and are cracking and crumbling, So, not only is there the worry of their current home, there is also the concern over what happens next.
Catherine’s younger son has also been affected by the situation and she told how he was worried the house wasn’t safe. “His daddy reassured him and spoke to him and told him we’d get it fixed. He told him that if there was ever a time it wasn’t safe we would move out. You try to make sure they’re ok, but they’re hearing about it. He came home from school the other day and said that one of his friend’s houses had to be demolished and that he isn’t the only one who has a house with mica. This is what our children are chatting about at school. That’s just heartbreaking.
“Our house isn’t one of those with the safety barricades around it yet and that is something no child should ever have to live through. Some of the houses are putting children in danger. You see the pictures and it’s like those in a war-torn country, where it looks like the building is going to fall on top of them. No child should ever have to live in a home like that.”