MICA homes in Donegal : ‘They can’t let it go like this; houses are literally falling down’

A local man has spoken of how the dream home he and his wife built two decades ago has turned into a nightmare after they discovered the building blocks were riddled with mica.
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Kieran and Caroline White constructed their house in Malin Town and moved in as newlyweds back in 2003.

“That was to be the family home,” said Kieran. “We had it all done up lovely and finished to a tee and concreted all around for the children to play in, and then later things just started going pear shaped.

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“The cracks started appearing around 2010-2012. I didn’t really pay much attention when they started around the base. Like many others I thought it was settling cracks but then as more came out about mica, the panic set in then. I was going up into the loft and checking the walls to see if there was any cracking or crumbling.

Kieran White outside his mica damaged home in Malin Town.Kieran White outside his mica damaged home in Malin Town.
Kieran White outside his mica damaged home in Malin Town.

“It only got really, really bad the last couple of years. It seems once it got a hold then that was it. I was filling the cracks every year with silicone and they just got that big I was using expanding foam then.”

When the Mica Redress Scheme was first announced after a long campaign by the Mica Action Group, Kieran said that he, like others, thought it sounded great. When the details emerged later, campaigners and families who will have to demolish and rebuild their homes or get the outer leaf removed and replaced grew concerned, with many saying they will have to pay much more than the 10 per cent because of the cap on the 90% government contribution. A campaign has now been launched calling for 100% redress.

Kieran, who grew up in the Galliagh area of Derry before settling down in Inishowen almost two decades ago, said: “With our house we are hoping to replace the outer leaf only and they were saying up to 75,000 euro and I thought it’ll never cost that and 10 per cent of £30,000 - 40,000 euro might be manageable, and now you are coming up against prices over 75,000 euro and that’s not covering your engineer’s fees.

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“When the scheme came out everybody thought that’s a great relief, get in, get your names in, forms all in, but it’s a year past in March since I had my first visit from the engineer and his initial recommendation was the inside was grand and the outside definitely needed to be done. We are hoping it is still just the outer leaf. It would be catastrophic for me to have to demolish the house. If you have to do that you have to move out, and there is literally nowhere to go. There’s no houses available to rent and that’s another side of the coin.

MICA damage at the home of the White family.MICA damage at the home of the White family.
MICA damage at the home of the White family.

“My grant would be 75,000 euro and my last price was 88,000 euro and that is just for the building works and then it is costing 8,300 euro for the engineer schedule of works and you have to pay 10 percent.

“I might be able to stay in my house while the work is done but many other people will not be able to.”

Kieran is among thousands affected by the mica defective blocks issue across Donegal and beyond. Like many others, he is planning to join the cavalcade taking their campaign for 100% redress to Dublin on June 15. He praised the MICA Action Group for the massive amount of work they have done to get the issue on the radar and in bringing those affected together. “They did a brilliant job all behind the scenes and they are continuing to do a lot of work and Paddy Diver has been incredible.”

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Kieran said the government have to act now on the scheme. “They can’t let it go like this. Houses are literally falling down. If you see the lumps of plaster flaking off and a chimney or something is going to collapse and fall on top of some child. It’s not if, it’s when. I was lying in bed one morning and I heard this bang outside and I thought something fell off the house and I went outside and a crack I filled a few months before from the ground right up to the roof just must have busted open. You notice it now with the bit of dry weather, the blocks are just busting in every direction.

“I think this is only the tip of the iceberg. They are saying 5-6,000 buildings but I think it could be a lot more than that.”

Kieran said another issue is the major waiting list of up to 12 weeks for the engineers’ report required in advance of works and the cost of this, which now stands at between 6,000 and 8,000 euro. “I had to take a loan out of the bank to get that money scraped up at the start.”

The 40-year-old father of four said local children and young people are far from immune to what is going on, despite all the families’ efforts to try to protect them. “Children are asking a lot of questions. Where we are we are exposed to the weather and we are moving one of our children out of the bedroom because I’d be terribly worried that on a windy winter night the chimney might come into the house.”

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And the stress and toll on the mental health of parents, as well as the many single people, couples and pensioners is staggering, as Kieran attests himself. “It has affected my mental health. It has all taken its toll and I just knew there was something not right with me and I knew it was a doctor I needed to go to. I’m on anti-depressants now which I never thought I would be, for stress and anxiety, and sleeping tablets. I used to be involved in the coaching for football, GAA, out walking or out in the shed doing different things but I just don’t have the energy now. It is just the way all this has left me, and I’m sure there are a lot of people like that. And on top of everything else people are saying the banks are not lending to people affected by MICA. Everybody is in the same boat.

“It has to be one of the biggest issues to hit this country, never mind the county, and they are going to have to listen and address it.”