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Founder of the Clare Pyrite Action Group, Dr Martina Cleary.

Up to 18 Clare housing estates could have defective blocks

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RESEARCH by the Clare Pyrite Action Group (CPAG) shows that up to 18 housing estates in the county could have defective concrete blocks. 

Dr Martina Cleary said that information received by the action group also suggests that up to eight public buildings could be affected.

“We have had contact from people all over the county about suspected pyrite,” she said.

“It is very important to say that this is suspected pyrite, as testing might not yet have been done in some cases. Our group has had contact and photos and videos sent in from people in every corner of Clare, and more people are coming forward all the time.”

Clare County Council is still in a process of negotiation with the Department of Housing over a report submitted last July to make the case for inclusion in the Defective Concrete Blocks Grant Scheme.

Meanwhile, the scheme itself is being revised after a government decision last November. While homeowners had hoped that the new scheme would be up and running by now, and that Clare and other counties would have been given access, the drafting is ongoing. 

As those two processes continue, Dr Cleary said the CPAG is compiling more data.

“Right now, we are quantifying how much we know,” she said. “I have conducted 80 interviews with homeowners at this stage. I do know from these interviews that some people have contacted their suppliers and been treated with scorn. In some cases, testing has been done and people have been denied first-hand access to the test results.”

In February, the Council confirmed that up to 350 homes in its ownership could be affected by pyrite. It said that five properties within three local authority built estates have been identified to date as affected or potentially affected. The Council said that using the same criteria used in Donegal and Mayo, the estimated total of units affected would run to around 350.

Meanwhile, a report from the Expert Group tasked with revising the grant scheme, which was published in the last week, has been strongly criticised by Dr Cleary. She said that with the number of “prohibitive clauses” being introduced, only a fraction of applicants would get the grant.

The document deals with several issues, including the introduction of a damage threshold that homes will have to meet before being eligible for the grant.

The Expert Group has now recommended that the categorisation outlined in the protocol for assessing homes with suspected pyrite or mica, IS465, would be used.

The group has recommended the threshold be “a minimum of Group 2 damaged dwellings as set out in Table 1 of IS 465 with extensive pattern cracking of at least 1,5mm”, something Dr Cleary says is “very problematic”.

“In my own house cracks are opening and I have engineering advice to seal these to keep the water out. It’s an absolute absurdity. I know of people in Mayo whose applications were frozen for the last eight months. Now, they have engineers coming out to measure the cracks.”

Dr Cleary also raised concerns about the certification system proposed for remediated homes. The Expert Group has recommended that “it be provided for in the primary legislation and that the format be prescribed in regulations to be made by the Minister”.

“In cases where full demolition is needed, there is no engineer who will sign off on anything less than that,” Dr Cleary said.

“They know this. Our politicians in Clare should be under no illusion that they can tell us everything will be fine when we get access to the grant scheme. There is no point in them voting for a scheme if it’s going to be completely useless.”

The Expert Group has also noted requests made for access for Clare, Sligo, Limerick and Tipperary. In its advice to the minister, the group said: “that It appears inevitable that the scheme will have to be extended to additional counties and that such provision should be made within the primary legislation but provided for by way of regulation.

“Consideration should also be given to the feasibility of extending the scheme to estates, towns or parts of counties but not necessarily the full county where the evidence supports such a strategy”.

Dr Cleary said the problem in Clare should have been addressed long ago.

“Really, that’s obvious,” she said. “We know the problem exists here. Homeowners in Clare have been completely stonewalled and that’s not acceptable. If you look at what is happening in Donegal in terms of stakeholder engagement, people are getting nowhere.

“What’s more concerning is the raft of delaying prohibitive clauses that the new scheme is going to introduce, particularly around the damage threshold. The chances of accessing the scheme, under the recommendations being made at the moment, will be two in 200.”

Dr Cleary said the next stage now for CPAG members will be to lobby their elected representatives.

“Our politicians must stop paying lip service,” she said. “There is no point in jumping up and down about Clare getting on the grant scheme if it is not fit for purpose.”

The Crusheen woman also urged people to consider their legal options.

“People do need to speak to their solicitors at this stage,” she said.

“Suppliers must not be let off the hook in all of this. This is being kicked down the line all the time and the danger is that by the time people think about legal action, they could be caught by the statute of limitations.” 

The Housing Minister visited the badly damaged home of Mary and Séamus Hanley in Drumline last August and met with members of the GPAG in Ennis.

At that time, he promised that Clare would have access to the scheme within a matter of weeks. There was concern in December, however, at the far-reaching questions raised by the minister’s department over the council’s application to access the scheme – particularly in relation to the need to prove a causal link between the presence of pyrite and the damage to the homes. 

About Fiona McGarry

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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