PYRITE-affected homeowners in Mayo shared their experiences with those in Clare during a major conference this week on the impact of defective concrete blocks.
Entitled ‘Losing Your Home,’ the event was hosted by the Technological University of the Shannon (TUS) and organised by lecturer and Chair of the Clare Pyrite Action Group (CPAG), Dr Martina Cleary. The two-day interdisciplinary event brought together expert engineers and geologists, politicians and affected homeowners.
Co-Chair of the Mayo Pyrite Action Group (MPAG), Josephine Murphy outlined the emergence of the problem in 2013 in the home of north Mayo couple, Dorothy and Tom Keane.
“They received a letter that December from the SEAI [Sustainable Energy Association of Ireland] to say that a cavity wall [insulation] service should not be delivered due to cracks in their walls, that was the first sign,” Mrs Murphy said.
“It was not until 2020 that tests confirmed the problem of pyrite. Two samples taken from their home were described as ‘debris’.”
Mrs Murphy said “Their engineers report recommends that their home be demolished and rebuilt.” Mrs Murphy, who along with Mrs Keane were prominent in the campaign that led to the unveiling of the Defective Concrete Blocks Grant Scheme in 2020, were also members of a Working Group established last June to revise the grant.
Both resigned after a number of months due to their frustrations at the approach taken by officials. Speaking on Monday last at the online conference, Mrs Murphy told listeners that Tom Keane’s health has deteriorated to the point where he is now unaware that his home will be demolished.
The Erris woman also outlined her experience of setting up MPAG in 2014 and of the group’s frustrations in dealing with officials who provided “useless information and senseless advice”. She said that in the time since the setting up of the action group, founder member Michael Healy had passed away.
“He had been hoping to have the home demolished and a modular home built,” she said. “I myself have a holiday home affected. I don’t and I won’t qualify for the grant.”
Conor O’Donnell, along with his husband Richard, bought a detached home in Mayo in 2017 and moved in the following year. Mr O’Donnell outlined how a detailed engineering report on the house found no cracking.
“Everything looked perfect,” Mr O’Donnell said, as he showed the daft.ie advertisement for the modern bungalow.
“Not too long after we moved in, some tiles in the bathroom started to crack. They were just popping and falling off showing cracks underneath. Then, cracks appeared in the gable. We tried solutions and began to find the old fixes that had been done by the home vendor. We also found evidence that core testing for pyrite had been carried out before the sale.”
Mr O’Donnell said that while the old grant scheme was of some help, the three-stage application process was difficult.
Outlining “the nightmare of the application process”, Mr O’Donnell said that after applying last June, he heard nothing from the local authority until November.
“That’s a long time to be hearing nothing,” he said. “Then, they started looking for additional information, even about the floors, which are not even covered in this scheme. I thought, ‘This must be Limbo’. We are still in limbo and have been led a merry dance of delay.”
Mayo TD, Rose Conway-Walsh also addressed the conference and was sharply critical of the 2020 grant scheme. “Some might ask why did we sign up to the scheme when it was not fit for purpose,” the Sinn Féin TD said.
“We had been working at it for years and were concerned that people would end up getting nothing at all. We submitted 20 alterations to the original scheme but these were not taken on board. At the time, we just had to get it included in the Budget and then try to get it altered afterwards.”
Deputy Conway-Walsh said that among the flaws in the old scheme was the fact that no grant aid would be paid retrospectively.
“That’s grossly unfair,” she said. “I know of homeowners who had to do major works and to spend their life savings to do so. They had no choice but to act even before the 2020 scheme came into place.”
The Belmullet woman also outlined the high level of refusals of applications to the old grant scheme, which covered only Mayo and Donegal.
“Twenty one people were refused the grant in August, 2021,” she said. “I visited their homes. It was very obvious they were badly affected. Then, Mayo County Council came looking for more information and concerns grew that the criteria were changing as the thing was going along. Nobody in the wide earthly world would say they had pyrite if they did not have it.”
Concerns were also voiced about construction inflation and the lack of rental property for those who will have to leave their homes.
“We must have pre-legislative scrutiny on the new scheme,” Deputy Conway-Walsh added. “We cannot, cannot, cannot have a scheme that people are locked out of. We have couples in their 60s and beyond who will not get mortgages or loans. Nobody wants anyone left behind.
“I have seen children who were aged six, seven and eight when this started. They have now come through their childhood with the stress and anxiety of this and it is absolutely scandalous. The nightmare has to come to an end.”