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Damage caused by defective building materials like pyrite or mica. Photo by Martina Cleary.

‘Our home is falling slowly’ – homeowners tell politicians

MORE than 20 people shared their stories of living in homes which are cracking, crumbing and letting the elements in, at a meeting between members of Clare Pyrite/Mica Action Group and political representatives. In one case, a homeowner has had to put metal cladding over a gable wall to stop the rain getting in.

Since the action group was set up at the start of last month, 31 people have contacted it to call for the extension of a grant scheme for those with defective concrete blocks. A number of their stories have been covered to-date by The Champion.

At the outset of last Monday’s meeting, which was held on Zoom, group founder Dr Martina Cleary outlined details of a survey conducted with 24 members.

Homeowners across the county have now come forward, from Fanore to Feakle and Kilrush to Meelick. The majority of the houses were built in 1989 and 1990, but homeowners with properties built between 1984 and 2008 are affected. Two-third of them have engineers’ reports which indicate the presence of “deleterious materials” including pyrite and/or mica. One-third have had their blocks sampled, while eight percent have paid for a process called ‘core sampling’ which can cost up to €10,000. Over 50% of the householders know the source of the blocks in their homes. Temporary repair works carried out by members include the underpinning of the foundation in one home. The measure cost €25,000 and has no impact as the walls continue to crack.

“I thought I was the only one until I read Martina and Geraldine [Kennedy]’s stories,” said Mary Hanley of Shannon. Mary and her husband Séamus have met a number of Shannon councillors at their home and showed them a crack where it is possible to put a one-foot-long skewer through the wall. Mary told the meeting that two motions will now be tabled before a meeting of Clare County Councillors. Other group members, across the four other local electoral areas, said that they had spoken to councillors there, with a view to getting support.

“Our house is falling slowly,” Geraldine Kennedy told the meeting. “Human lives are in danger in their own homes. We have paid for everything all our lives. Now we are retired and living in fear. We’ve had 18 years of misery and torment.”

“Really and truly, we are depending on ye,” Mrs Hanley told the politicians present.

Deputy Cathal Crowe outlined how he had met Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien on the matter and would do so again. He welcomed the Clare survey and pledged that all TDs would work together. The Fianna Fáil member said that he had spoken to party colleague Councillor Shane Talty with a view to a public consultation process headed up by Director of Services Anne Haugh. “That would put an official stamp on what Mary and Martina have started,” he said. “We need high level engagement with Clare County Council.”

Deputy Joe Carey added that it was important to get the local authority involved. “Over the last few of years, a number of people have come forward, some people have been afraid to speak out,” he said. “I have raised the issue with [council chief executive] Pat Dowling. I wasn’t aware of the numbers until now. Now we have a lot more information and it’s important to get Clare County Council on board. Defective blockwork is a prevalent problem in Clare without any doubt. We should go aggressively after the block scheme. It’s not good enough that people have had to go through this.”

Senator Timmy Dooley said it was vital that the Clare action group was not fobbed off by the Department of Housing. “Successive governments have pushed back on this issue,” he noted, “but pyrite is now a very well known problem. It is an issue of equality. We, as politicians, need to meet the minister, with the support of the county council to outline the size and scale of the issue.”

Councillor Donna McGettigan said she had been “horrified” to hear what people had been through and encouraged everyone affected to come forward.

Deputy Violet-Anne Wynne described the situation as “harrowing”. “The people of Mayo and Donegal have fought for the defective blockwork scheme,” she said, “and there is no doubt but that you will have the full support of all politicians to have it extended to Clare.”

Deputy Michael McNamara said that he would also lend his full support. “I have been contacted by some of the homeowners affected,” he noted. “I am prepared work with all of the Oireachtas members to have the Defective Blocks Scheme extended to include affected homeowners in this county.”

Currently, there are two schemes which provide financial support to homeowners affected by the presence of pyrite and/or mica in their homes. Throughout the meeting, Dr Cleary was adamant that the applicable scheme for those who had come forward in Clare relates to blockwork.

The Pyrite Remediation Scheme covers homeowners in some areas including Limerick, parts of the midlands and east, if pyrite is present in their foundations. Earlier this year, the Defective Concrete Blocks Grant Scheme came on stream for Donegal and Mayo.

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 clarepyriteactiongroup@gmail.com or through their Facebook page.

About Fiona McGarry

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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 NUI Galway. If you have a story and would like to get in touch with Fiona you can email her at fmcgarry@clarechampion.ie or telephone 065 6864146.

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