'It's not safe, get out now' - family fear they could be homeless for Christmas
People whose houses are disintegrating after defective building blocks fear their homes could collapse in on top of them.
More than 1,000 privately and publicly owned houses in the Inishowen area of Co Donegal are understood to be crumbling after mica blocks were used to build them.
The homeowners include many from Derry who moved the short distance across the border in an era when the pound was much stronger than the Euro.
Blocks containing high levels of mica absorb high levels of water and cause serious cracking to both internal and external walls of houses. As a result, they are at risk of structural failure, which poses an obvious danger to residents.
An Irish government report produced in June this year said that 1,200 homes in Donegal had been adversely affected by the mica blocks, but it estimated that the number could rise to as many as 4,800 homes.
They have been advised that the issue will be resolved by next May but one family affected by the problem is living in fear that their home will literally fall in on top of them.
But, with just a few days to go until Christmas they have found themselves with nowhere to turn despite the assurances given by Housing Minister Damien English at a meeting in Co Donegal on Monday night.
Tina Crumlish and her husband Harry built their home on land near the village of Culdaff and moved in after they got married in 2003. In the last six years they have watched their home disintegrate.
"We worked every single day that we could to get it finished. We never took family holidays so we could get it finished," she said.
"We called in a structural engineer last week to examine the house and within an hour he had condemned the property and told us it wasn't safe to live in.
"He told us to get out and get out now.
"Last Tuesday my husband Harry hand delivered the report and the request to Donegal County Council for social housing.
"But last Thursday night a letter was delivered back saying that we weren't eligible because we were over the payment threshold, because we both worked and we didn't meet the criteria."
"The Council say it's bound by government legislation and cannot overrule it. So we haven't been able to get past that. We have even declared to them that we were homeless, but were offered just a couple of nights temporary accommodation."
The situation is having a dreadful effect on their three children, said Tina.
"Our youngest child rewrote his letter to Santa saying that if we get a new house for Christmas he won't take any toys this year," she said.
"He's worried that if Santa's sleigh lands on the roof the house will fall down. It Christmas week and this is where we are. There's no Christmas spirit in this house this year.
"The oldest suffers from cluster headaches which are far worse than migraines. The stress of this obviously doesn't help these and he's always feeling sick and he isn't sleeping. Our middle child lives in fear that the house is going to fall on top of her."
The family have been relying on the kindness of relatives to house them at times.
Tina said: "Mentally, I can't take any more. I can't concentrate to go to work. It's a living nightmare."
A spokesperson for Donegal County Council said it would not comment on individual cases.
Damien McKay, a structural and civil engineer based in Co Donegal, carried out an inspection on the Crumlish's home last week. He said the property could collapse at any time.
"I was able to get my hands right inside the cracks on the right hand gable wall of the house," he said.
"That was of particular concern. We are finding that the properties affected by this problem with mica blocks do deteriorate through time and the weather can accelerate that. If there is an adverse winter that will certainly speed things up.
"This property has deteriorated significantly in the last year-and-a-half. This can end in catastrophic failure of the property without warning in extreme cases. I am working at high-level within government advising them on this, but of course that's of no help or consolation to this family in the meantime. The whole situation is atrocious."
Several hundred people protested in Carndonagh, Co Donegal, on Monday night when Mr English came to discuss the issue.
Eileen Doherty of the Mica Action Group told Donegal Now afterwards: "Minister English confirmed that a decision would be made on the issue of defective blocks, who specifically will fund it, for homes affected across Donegal and Mayo by the end of May 2018.
"He promised that the Government will not stop until we get a solution to this crisis."