The owners of a holiday home in Co Donegal that is crumbling due to defective blocks say they feel like “second-class citizens” after it emerged they cannot avail of the State’s redress scheme because they live in Derry.
Phil and Ellen McDaid’s home, near Buncrana, is now “riddled’ with horizontal and vertical cracks due to mica, a mineral that causes blocks to crumble over time.
However, because the property is not their primary residence, they are not eligible to seek redress, so the home that has been in Mrs McDaid’s family for almost two decades is falling apart.
“Every year it is getting worse. We’ve had to use waterproof masonry sealer and silicone in the gaps to delay the crumbling process,” Mr McDaid said. He added that the couple feel they are being discriminated against over the redress scheme currently under review.
Many of the gaps in the exterior have widened, part of the outer wall has been “pushed” out, there are defects around the windows and the gable wall is dotted with cracks.
“In the winter you’re heating the house all the time, our oil bills have been horrendous,” Mrs McDaid said. During the winter between last November and January, the couple used 2,000 litres of home heating oil over 92 days at a cost of €960.
“The fact we can’t take part in the redress scene as it stands makes me angry,” she said. “I am being treated like a second-class citizen. I am Irish through and through and the Government needs to see that.”
Democratic Unionist MP Gregory Campbell has been contacted by concerned residents and said he is looking into the issue, while the party’s Sammy Wilson has vowed to contact the Government.
Donegal Independent TD Thomas Pringle said he understands the concerns of Northern Ireland-based holiday home owners.
However, he maintained those “who live here all the time have to be dealt with first”.
“The holiday homes situation has to be addressed, but overall the priority has to be the families who are affected in the area,” he said.
Last week, the Government’s new working group on the Defective Blocks Grants Scheme, which includes representatives from Donegal and Mayo, met for the first time.
The meeting heard updates from officials on the draft terms of reference of the redress scheme and the pyrite resolution scheme, with contributions from Donegal County Council and Mayo County Council.
Eileen Doherty, a spokeswoman for the Mica Action Group, said residents were able to raise issues in a manner “that exemplified that we are all working together as a team to achieve 100pc redress for families in our counties”.
“We communicated that we deserve the same treatment as families in Leinster who received 100pc towards the costs of fixing their homes as we currently feel we are being discriminated against,” she said.
“We indicated how important it is that we do not delay any decision- making or addressing of these issues and proposed two meetings of the group per week.”
According to Ms Doherty, the Department of Housing raised the issue of the potential cost of this scheme to the Exchequer — currently at least €1.5bn — which she said is a “recurring theme by Government”.
“However, we strongly responded that this was not going to be accepted by families as an excuse for inaction as it was due to the Governments’ lack of adherence to regulation and oversight that caused this catastrophe in the first place,” she said.
“We look forward to getting into more detailed discussions on the inadequacies of the current scheme.”
The next meeting with Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien is scheduled for Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Dr Ambrose McCloskey — a member of the Engineers Ireland register of chartered engineers selected to assess properties affected by mica — has also raised concerns about the current redress scheme.
In a letter to Mr O’Brien and the local authorities in Donegal and Mayo, Dr McCloskey warned that unless changes are made to the scheme, he will be withdrawing from the register of chartered engineers.
According to Donegal-based Highland Radio, Dr McCloskey has raised concerns “over the lack of knowledge of the exact mode of degradation of the blocks in order to recommend the partial fixing of homes”.
He is concerned that unless affected properties are “completely demolished, further structural deterioration will occur”.