‘The people have spoken’ in Inishowen on mica issue, meeting hears

A special meeting of the Mica Redress Committee has heard how there has been a ‘massive groundswell’ of frustration, which is ‘only getting bigger.’

Monday, 17th May 2021, 2:06 pm
A home affected by mica.

The meeting was called on Thursday by committee chairperson, Councillor Martin McDermott, in response to increasing anger and frustration in the community.

At the meeting, following a proposal from Colr Liam Blaney, seconded by Colr Gerry McMonagle , Donegal County Council is to seek guidance on the legislation related to decisions on sourcing building materials.

There is also the possibility of the proposal being submitted as a motion at the full council meeting.

The meeting also heard of frustrations surrounding delays in the roll-out of the scheme, how the scheme itself is financially inaccessible to most homeowners and must be reviewed.

There was also support for a full public inquiry and councillors are to seek an urgent meeting with the Minister for Housing.

Concerns were also raised about social housing and how some tenants are speaking of withholding rent in protest due to living in ‘increasingly worsening conditions.’

It was also confirmed that the council has procured more staff to deal with mica applications, which should see turnaround for the first stage reduced from 10 weeks to 4-6 weeks.

It further emerged that a peaceful public protest by mica homeowners, friends and family has been organised for next weekend.

Colr McDermott told how people’s frustrations are high and ‘rightly so’ and over the last week, they have ‘vented their frustration and anger at the situation they have found themselves in.’

He added how the ‘people have spoken’ and have said the scheme needs to be looked at’.

Colr McDermott pointed out how Paddy Diver was one of the first people who ‘brought it to the fore’ and added how people have ‘come to the end of their tether.’

olr Liam Blaney raised concern over the length of time it takes for applications to process.

He asked why further information is being sought and pointed out how, almost a year into the process, only nine applications have ‘passed so far for the grant.’

He added how one house has also shown the presence of pyrite, the first case the council has seen, and the homeowner now has to pay a further 1,500 euro for pyrite testing.

Colr Gerry McMonagle said the contribution by a homeowner is ‘not 10%, it is more like 30-40%.’

He outlined how the value of the nine homes currently passed for the scheme is over one million and raised concern that ‘the money we have will not go anywhere near addressing this problem.’

He added how there is ‘growing anger’ in relation to social housing with tenants living in ‘increasingly worsening conditions.’

Colr Martin Farren said that the 10% ‘has to be done away with’.

Colr Jimmy Kavanagh said the government ‘seems to have been caught by surprise’ by the extent of mica in social housing. The meeting was told that testing has been undertaken in 15 houses but the results of these have yet to be confirmed.

Concerns were also raised over those who had bought their homes from the council and are now liable to pay 10% of the scheme, whereas their neighbours who did not buy their homes will have them fixed by the council.

Colr Bernard McGuinness hailed the ‘great work’ of Mica Action Group and said the scheme was the best at that time, however ‘inflation has gone up’ and costs are higher than anticipated.

Colr McGuinness also said the banks need to ‘step up’ and support homeowners.

He added how he ‘fully supports’ the community and campaigners who have found the ‘only route they can turn to is a paltry grant.’

“It has to cover the cost and if it doesn’t, you can’t call it a grant.’

Colr McGuinness raised concerns regarding council workers ‘who are living in abominable conditions’ in mica homes.

“We live in a community and we have to take a stand with that community.”

He also raised concern over the lack of accommodation for those having to leave their homes for works to take place.

Colr Frank McBrearty said the scheme in its current format should be ‘totally rejected’ and a public inquiry must take place

He added: “It’s a scandal itself that people are being quoted 5-7000 euro for reports. The government should establish a forum of engineers, paid by the State to do these reports.

“This is the biggest scandal in the housing construction industry in the history of the State. There is no compensation for mental health problems, marriage break ups, mortgage arrears and that’s why a public inquiry has to happen.

“We need to know the root of when this started and who is to blame.”

Colr Albert Doherty told the meeting that on November 4, 1949, the Minister for Industry and Commerce signed the Standard Specification Order of 1949, which indicated the final fine aggregate should be 3%, crushed stone 5% and the limit for course aggregate should be 1%.

“All those years ago it was stated the manufacturer shall satisfy himself the blocks conform to the requirements of this specification and if required shall forward a certificate to this effect.

It even went into testing, the cost of which shall be borne by the manufacturer in results if it shows the blocks do not comply with the specification.

“Why mention that in relation to remediation?”

He added how in 2016, a letter was written to the NSAI seeking clarification in relation to the aggregates for concrete and stated how, as far back as 1949, the course aggregate should not exceed 1%, but in later standards this is no longer specified.

Colr Doherty said the NSAI responded and said that while it is true there may be ‘some ambiguity in language surrounding the interchangeability of terms and impurities, we are satisfied that while the ambiguity has been highlighted, it does not affect statements one to four that 1% of muscovite mica is the final, highest amount.’

Colr Doherty said one man confirmed he has 58% mica in his blocks.

Colr Paul Canning gave his support to the public inquiry to find out who was at fault. He added how ‘we can all pick parts of building control, but that would put it to bed, once and for all.’

He also asked that the committee clarify what it is seeking from the department.

“There is no point running to the minister and asking for a review when it could put us back to the start.’

Colr Terry Crossan told the meeting he is aware of a couple in their 80s, who had to get a loan of 6000 euro in the credit union to pay for sampling.

He also highlighted how a couple bought a home for 120,000 euro only to later find out it had mica in its blocks.

Colr Crossan added he ‘fully supports the protestors.’

Michael Doherty, chairperson for the Mica Action Group, also attended the online meeting and told how there has been a ‘massive groundswell of frustration on the streets and that is getting nothing but bigger.’

Mr Doherty said MAG is seeking the resolution of four key issues - a true 90-10% scheme, where 90% of the final cost is paid, with no grant cap, the abolition of the ‘one home, one grant clause’; for the banks to ‘step up’ and that excluded houses such as second homes are included in the scheme.

Joe Peoples, Director of Service told the meeting the four issues raised by Mr Doherty are important to take on board and should ‘go front and centre’ along with the council’s experience in operating the scheme for any discussion with the minister.

He said this is ‘urgent in the extreme’ in terms of the groundswell of support, in view of this scheme and what had happened.’

He added that the council is ’certainly not content with the speed’ in which they are turning around applications but have added resources to the team.

In relation to building control, he referred the committee to the report of the mica expert panel, which stated it did not consider it was ‘reasonable to expect building control authorities could not have prevented the problem from occurring.’

Mr Peoples added he has ‘no problem’ sharing the information to date regarding social housing and testing and ‘what the likely remedial works will be.’

“Our objective was to do a small number of houses initially and that would set a standard for what was needed across all of the social housing in the county that was affected.’

Mr People confirmed the supply of housing in the county is a concern but they are seeking solutions. He urged any council tenant with a concern over mica to contact them.

In relation to the tendering and procurement from particular companies, Mr Peoples said the council is obliged to allow anyone that provides a service to have an opportunity to ‘make an offer or bid to provide that service to us in an open procurement process and we have no discretion in relation to that.’

“I also would say that, at a point where the government considered this matter initially, there clearly did not appear to be any options or avenues available to the government in relation to pursuing any parties in relation to this in terms of having liability and that’s in the expert report.

“So, we’re in a situation where the State is funding the private sector and social housing remedial works and unfortunately, we’d be reckless, I think, to consider pursuing any other avenue in relation to the procurement of goods and services that would likely leave the council exposed to challenge.”

In concluding the meeting, Colr McDermott thanked the public. “Sometimes, when something has to be done, it’s the will of the people that makes that happen.”