Up to 400 people logged in to the Zoom meeting held by the Inishowen-based Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, as the campaign for 100% mica redress gathers pace.
The meeting heard how the mica issue has created much hurt and pain across the county and has had an impact on people’s physical and mental health.
Minister McConalogue said people had been working on the current scheme ‘in good faith’ but issues have emerged, which are being highlighted to the Minister for Housing.
He said they must be resolved.
“This has been a blight on our country for many years. It has been a blight on people’s family lives and on people’s health.
“People deserve to have their lives get back to normal and have something that was no fault of their own sorted out, to try and be able to get on with their lives and not have it carried as a burden in the years ahead.”
On opening the meeting, Min McConalogue said no bigger issue than mica had affected Donegal ‘for many years.’
He said that for homeowners to find out that, as a result of ‘defects,’ the blocks of their homes had been impacted was an ‘absolute tragedy.’
He added how he is aware of the ‘frustrations’ that have come to light since the scheme has been rolled out. Min McConalogue said these issues were addressed with the Minister for Housing in February and the Minister has been considering them.
A meeting between the Ministers, Mica Action Group, Oireachtas members and public representatives was due to take place yesterday evening. (Thursday).
“I know these frustrations have boiled over in the last week or so and understandably,” said Min McConalogue.
“I know that the issues and people’s view on the scheme have changed and there is now a demand for 100% redress.”
Min McConalogue said the sentiment and view in relation to 100% redress ‘has emerged very strongly’ and has also been ‘communicated strongly’ to the Minister.
There were many issues raised at the meeting by homeowners, including the need for 100% redress, calls for a public inquiry, parity with the pyrite scheme, the inaccessibility of the scheme to those who cannot afford it - in particular the 6,000 euro testing cost that ‘blocks people’ at the first hurdle, dissatisfaction over what was termed a lack of engagement with homeowners by financial institutions who aren’t ‘stepping up to the mark’, the ‘one home, one grant’ clause, council procurement of materials, houses not being covered by insurance, the exclusion of second and holiday homes from the scheme, the pace of the rollout of the scheme and the council seeking further information on engineers’ reports.
One homeowner told how she has paid 6,000 euro for an engineer’s report, which has recommended demolition. However, the council is now seeking evidence of internal cracking, The homeowner said this information was in the report and queried why the engineer’s lengthy report was not deemed sufficient.
Councillor Martin McDermott, chairperson of the council’s Mica Committee, said the application process is ‘cumbersome’ and ‘too slow and long.’
He said the issue raised is one which is coming up a lot and has to be addressed.
“We have to make this process more streamlined than it is.”
Colr McDermott, who also acknowledged the work of the Mica Action Committee and the council staff working on the scheme, said that extra engineers and staff are being taken on by the council to work on the scheme. He outlined how the senior engineer signs off on the reports and if there are ‘questions he doesn’t think ties up’ to the regulation relating to the scheme he ‘queries them with the engineers’.
Colr McDermott added how it is also ‘becoming clear that a lot of people are being left behind because of the 90-10 and the increasing costs over the last number of months.’
Michael Doherty PRO of Mica Action Group, also addressed the meeting and said there have been a ‘lot of issues the whole way along.’
He added how he ‘feels we’re being treated differently in Donegal and like we’re second class citizens all the time.’
“We think there should be no difference between us and Leinster and the pyrite scheme.’
Mr Doherty said MAG were assured three years ago that mica homeowners would have full parity with pyrite homeowners - who received 100% redress.
He said MAG were given the 90 -10 scheme on a ‘take it or leave it basis.’
“There are people out there with the impression MAG had a choice in this.”
Mr Doherty outlined how then Taoiseach Leo Varadkar spoke to MAG when he was in Inishowen for the opening of the Cockhill Bridge and said ‘his words were that it was only fair the mica families would be treated the same way as pyrite families.’
He said MAG was told that anything other than 90-10 was going to need legislative change. He outlined how the grant was initially 70% to 30% which was then negotiated to 80-20% and then to 90-10%.
“We said: Ok, it’s still better than where we were, bearing in mind that people were at the end of their tether and we needed houses fixed.”
Mr Doherty said MAG was ‘shocked and disillusioned’ when the ‘devil in the detail’ of the scheme emerged sometime later.
“We looked at the detail and the caps and exclusions and could see right away this was never going to be a 90-10. It was more like a 70-30.”
Mr Doherty said there are four major issues that initially need addressed, which they refer to as the ‘Big Four.’
The 90-10 scheme is issue one. He said it is ‘ultimately clear’ that people want 100% redress and this is what MAG is campaigning for.
“We see the posters on the side of the road, the posts on Facebook.”
The second issue is the ‘one home, one grant’ clause, which does not allow for someone to fix their outer leaf and then receive a grant for inner leaf if it begins to crack years later.
The third issue is the non-engagement of banks and financial institutions.
The fourth issue is that of excluded homes, such as second homes and holiday homes.
“Their investment has turned into a liability.
“They paid for these houses and through no fault of their own, these houses are now worth nothing.”
Mr Doherty said a few other issues have also been emerging. He said there ‘needs to be someone at council level to be made available to talk people through how they can engage with the scheme properly.’
“Not everyone is going to be so IT au fair that they can do this.
“ Right now, it looks like it’s discouraging people and it needs to be a more welcoming scheme for the homeowner.”
Mr Doherty said a public inquiry also needs to be ‘pushed for.’
Min McConalogue said that issues and frustrations are ‘very clear’ and while he cannot ‘give promises about where this will land or the outcome’ he could promise he and other elected representatives would do their ‘best.’
In relation to parity with the pyrite scheme, Min McConalogue outlined how the costs of the pyrite scheme amounted to in the region of 100 million euro.
Around 1200 houses were affected, at an average cost of 65-70,000 euro.
Mica ‘is on a different scale not seen anywhere in the history of the country.’ The expert panel estimated there are at least 5,000 homes affected, which Min McConalogue said he has ‘no doubt is a conservative estimate.’
It is estimated it will take ‘at least a billion euro’ to rectify mica homes.
Min McConalogue confirmed that he cannot attend Saturday’s peaceful demonstrations due to pandemic regulations brought in by government.
He said he held the meeting to engage with homeowners and wanted to make it clear he is at the Cabinet table and ‘will be trying to get the issues emerging addressed and to ensure we have a scheme so that families can rebuild their homes and lives’.