HUNDREDS of council homes in this county could be affected by pyrite, it has emerged.
At a council briefing for members of the Clare Pyrite Action Group (CPAG) and the Oireachtas, a figure of 350 local authority homes was given.
The council has since confirmed the accuracy of this estimate, based on tests conducted to-date.
Some believe, however, that even that figure may not paint a true picture of the extent of defective concrete blocks in homes in Clare, and that the actual situation could be worse.
The details have been welcomed by the founder of the CPAG as well as residents of one Ennis housing estate who spoke publicly to The Champion last year about the condition of their homes.
Eileen Downes of Oakwood Drive described how she and her neighbours felt ignored for years after first highlighting cracks in their houses.
“We’re looking at our homes getting worse for the last three to five years,” she said.
“It’s not just my house, but others in the estate. We’ve been fobbed off and told it was cosmetic, but now they finally seem to be listening to us and taking this situation seriously. It’s a great estate and a great community and it’s shame they didn’t listen to us sooner.”
Dr Martina Cleary of CPAG welcomed the council’s statement as “an acknowledgement of the fact pyrite is in this county and on this scale”.
“I think the figure is a very small estimate of what we’re looking at,” she said.
“It’s good that the council is admitting this now, but they could have done it months ago and it would have been helpful with the application for the grant scheme. Some residents of those houses have been writing to the council for years about this.”
Dr Cleary said greater clarity is needed on how council properties will be treated under the revised grant scheme, which is due to come before the Dáil shortly.
She said there are numerous questions to be answered about the remediation of semi-detached properties and situations where estates have a mix of council and private properties.
“If you have one house that has proven positive for pyrite and it’s attached to one that is negative, how will that be dealt with?” she asked.
“Can you take down one half of a semi-detached unit? The devil is in the detail with this scheme. There’s still a big issue with what kind of remediation will actually be done, because in so many cases, demolition is recommended.”
It is understood that the council carried out testing at Oakwood Drive and other homes last September. “Three houses out of the 34 here were tested,” Eileen said.
“We had hoped to find out about the results in January, but we’re still waiting. I don’t understand the delay, because we were told testing would take three months. People don’t know what’s happening and they’ve been worried because of all the bad weather. I think it’s time now that the council was open and honest with us. They’ve been denying the problem for years.”
Eileen understands that, even if pyrite is found in her house, the building won’t be demolished.
“They’ve said it’s going to be a remedial solution,” she said. “What I’m wondering is what that will mean for the inside of the house. I had a new bathroom put in last September. We’re doing everything right and the mould has come back, and I’m wondering why that is. I’ve had to clear down mould from the ceiling in my daughter’s bedroom.”
She added that her own situation is easier that that faced by many private homeowners.
“In one way, we’re blessed because the council has to house us,” she said. “People who own their homes are struggling to raise the money to even get their homes tested, because that costs around €7,000. The government needs to admit that there is a problem in Clare.”
Clare County Council is due to send results of complex core testing, which it has had carried out on its own stock, to the Department of Housing. That will form part of the full response to queries raised, by the Department, about an original report the council submitted last July, seeking access to the Defective Concrete Blocks Grant Scheme.
In response to a query from The Champion, Clare County Council explained how it arrived at the estimate of 350 homes.
“At the meeting between Clare Pyrite Action Group, Oireachtas members and officials of Clare County Council, a figure for the potential number of properties impacted by pyrite in the County was discussed,” a statement said.
“An estimate of circa 350 properties was put forward which was arrived at using the following methodology: 53 No. properties have been identified to-date as affected or potentially affected by the Clare Pyrite Action Group. 5 No. properties within 3 No. Local Authority built estates have been identified to-date as affected or potentially affected. On the basis that all dwellings within an estate are likely to be constructed at the same time using the same materials, it is reasonable to assume that potentially the entire estate could be affected. Applying this rationale to the properties identified above gives rise to the estimate of 350.”
“This approach to estimating the potential scale of the problem was adopted in both Donegal and Mayo and the Department of Housing Local Government and Heritage have accepted that it is not possible to be definitive in this regard and that any estimates at this time may we subject to change.”
Last week, in response to the Dáil question from Deputy Eoin O’Broin on the delay in extending the grant to Clare, Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien outlined the timeframe of discussions between the council and his department.
“If evidence of pyrite induced expansion is evident within the blockwork samples taken from these homes and the necessary causative link to the damage within the homes is established my Department should be in a position to recommend to Government that an extension of the scheme to Clare would be legislated for,” the Minister said.
“If evidence of pyrite induced expansion is evident within the blockwork samples taken from … homes and the necessary causative link to the damage within the homes is established my Department should be in a position to recommend to Government that an extension of the scheme to Clare would be legislated for.”
Fiona McGarry joined The Clare Champion as a reporter after a four-year stint as producer of Morning Focus on Clare FM. Prior to that she worked for various radio, print and online titles, including Newstalk, Maximum Media and The Tuam Herald.
Fiona’s media career began in her native Mayo when she joined Midwest Radio. She is the maker of a number of radio documentaries, funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI). She has also availed of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund to report on development issues supported by Irish Aid in Haiti.
She won a Justice Media Award for a short radio series on the work of Bedford Row Project, which supports prisoners and families in the Mid-West. Fiona also teaches on the Journalism programmes at The University of Galway.
If you have a story and would like to get in touch with Fiona you can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 065 6864146.