Sunday 23 July 2017

'The blocks in my home were crumbling like Weetabix'

Cracks: Oliver Hegarty at his home in Carndonagh, Co Donegal. Photo: North West Newspix
Cracks: Oliver Hegarty at his home in Carndonagh, Co Donegal. Photo: North West Newspix

Hundreds of homeowners in Donegal are still waiting anxiously for a resolution after discovering that their houses are built with defective concrete blocks.

The problem in the north of the county emerged four years ago when a local engineer, Damien McKay, went on Highland Radio to talk it.

The radio station was inundated with calls from homeowners facing similar problems with the crumbling blocks that come from a single supplier. Cracks have appeared on exterior walls around the area, and some residents have had to move out.

Mr McKay estimates that up to 3,000 homes may be affected.

The difficulty is due to a combination of low cement content and a high level of the mineral mica.

"If the mica content is high, more water is needed in making the blocks, but if the cement content is not increased accordingly, the block ends up being sub-standard."

"It breaks down over time and it ends up crumbling. It shows up with cracks."

Oliver Lafferty noticed severe problems with the walls of his home in Carndonagh by 2009.

He built the four-bedroom house in 2001, the same year he married his wife Veronica.

But within six years, he was beginning to notice minor cracks in the walls. Over the following two years the problem became much worse.

"It wasn't until 2009 that I copped on what was causing it. I pulled away some of the plaster and it was unbelievable. Some of the blocks were like Weetabix."

At one stage one of the cracks in an external wall was so big that he had to fill it to stop mice getting in.

Oliver had the blocks analysed and they were found to have a high mica content.

Up to 500 homeowners are registered with a local Mica Action Group, which is pressing the Government for some kind of redress. The problem also affects some council houses. "People are terrified to accept that they have a problem, because there is really no fix," says Eileen Doherty, spokeswoman for the Mica Action Group

"They also don't want their insurer to find out, because the house is uninsurable, and it also affects the value of the property."

Anne Owens, secretary of the action group, predicts "an explosion of names going forward if there is a redress scheme".

Nearly two years ago, the then Minister of State for Housing Paudie Coffey commissioned a report by an expert panel on the concrete blocks crisis.

A report was due after six months, but publication has been repeatedly delayed.

A spokesman for the Department of Housing told Review the report was currently undergoing "legal proofing".

"The Minister (currently Damien English) will await the outcome of the panel's report before considering what further actions may be required to assist the parties directly involved in reaching a satisfactory resolution to the problems."

Indo Review

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