A PARTEEN woman, whose home has been seriously damaged by the presence of a defective building material, has made an emotional appear for others affected to go public about their situation.
Geraldine Kennedy is one of more than 35 members of the recently-formed Clare Pyrite/Mica Action Group. The group is calling for home owners in this county to be allowed into a scheme to address the issue of defective concrete blocks in Donegal and Mayo.
The grandmother of ten has already spent thousands of Euro on tests to prove that her home has 95% pyrite. She later spent €6,000 to have a chimney taken down, after fears it might fall.
During a meeting over Zoom with Senator Timmy Dooley, Mrs Kennedy urged others to go public to highlight the extent of the distress the issue is causing. “I would encourage people to get in touch with the media,” she said. “We have already gotten local and national publicity. It’s not your fault if you were sold defective blocks. This has to be highlighted. There are other people out there who are affected and I would urge them to come forward too.”
Senator Dooley told the home owners that, following discussions with Housing Minister Daragh O’Brien, he is hopeful that Clare will be allowed into the Defective Concrete Blocks Grant Scheme, which opened this year. “When I spoke to the minister, he was of the view that it wasn’t a sustainable position to have a situation in Mayo and Donegal that is being resolved, when it is not being resolved elsewhere,” Senator Dooley said. “It is an issue of equity and fairness. It is well accepted at Department level that you can’t identify Donegal and Mayo and say ‘tough’ to the people of Clare and Limerick. That would not be a sustainable position.”
The Fianna Fáil member outlined that Director of Services Ann Haugh is awaiting a formal response from the Department, after which it is likely that she will be told by the minister to engage with the Action Group. “The Department will be the route by which any funding will be provided and the County Council will be the agent,” he said. “It will be consistent with the approach taken in Donegal and Mayo. There are a range of resolutions offered by the scheme depending on the extent of the presence of defective material in the blocks. The moneys available will go up to 90% up to and including covering full demolition at a maximum of €275,000.”
One home owner who attended the meeting noted that many members of the Action Group are retired and face a difficultly in raising 10% of the repair or reconstruction costs. “If, in a worst case scenario, my house has to be knocked,” he said, “I wouldn’t have a hope in hell of finding the 10% of the cost. There’s also the issue of having to find accommodation in the meantime. If, like me, you’re well into retirement, there is not a hope in hell that someone would loan you €20,000.”
When asked about the time-frame for opening a scheme for Clare, Senator Dooley said he is hopeful that some of the groundwork done in the other counties might speed up the process. “I don’t want to hazard a guess over a time-frame,” he said, “but obviously, the sooner, the better. A lot of back-breaking donkey work has been done by people in Mayo and Donegal. The only thing we have to argue is that if something is available there, it should be made available here too. We need to get the existing scheme extended. We shouldn’t be looking at waiting for years, that’s for sure.”
Both Senator Dooley and Senator Martin Conway have raised the plight of Clare home owners in Seanad Éireann, and asked for a debate on the issue.
Senator Dooley urged that the householders of Clare be saved the “rigamarole” that those in other counties have had to go through. “I know there are departmental mandarins who like to limit the potential exposure of the State,” he told the upper house. “I get that. I understand that. Why does the scheme developed for Donegal and Mayo not apply to home owners in counties Clare, Kerry, Limerick or elsewhere? A nationwide scheme should be instituted in the interests of fairness and equity and in recognition of the tremendous impact this issue has on home owners and families. If one’s home is not protected under such a scheme, what else can be done? These issues are not covered by insurance. When these houses were built, building regulations were not as strictly observed as they currently are. Nobody wishes to cast blame or look back. One cannot do so because this condition was not known or tested for at the time, but the manifestation of it now is very serious. It is a matter the House should try to address without delay.”
Pyrite and mica are naturally occurring materials in stone, but when present in large quantities can cause irreparable damage in buildings. The Clare action group can be contacted at email@example.com or through their Facebook page.
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.