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08 Aug 2022

Principal of Donegal school expresses his concerns for students and staff affected by ongoing mica crisis

Principal of Inishowen school expresses his concerns for students and staff affected by ongoing mica crisis

Moville Community College principal Anthony Duggan is concerned students and staff

The principal of an Inishowen has penned an emotional open letter expressing his concerns for the safety and wellbeing of his students and staff.

The ongoing mica crisis has affected thousands of families across the peninsula and large parts of Donegal.

The mica redress scheme, announced by Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien last year, is the largest scheme of its kind ever announced by the State and will cost the taxpayer an estimated €2.2 billion.

The scheme was for 7,500 homeowners in Donegal and Mayo whose homes were affected by defective blocks containing mica.

However campaign groups reacted angrily to scheme, claiming that homeowners would still have to pay out as much as €60,000 to rebuild houses of average size (2,400 feet in Donegal). They objected in particular to the sliding scale of the per-foot rebuilding cost, which falls after the first 1,000 square feet.

Affected homeowners are facing yet another winter with no solution to the crisis insight, which has prompted the principal of Moville Community College to pen an open letter expressing his deep concerns.

Anthony Doogan (pictured below) revealed that he has sought additional supports for for students and staff affected through the Donegal ETB. He also states that a meeting with the Department was offered by the Minister for Education in response to a Dáil question. Donegal ETB has contacted the Department to arrange a meeting as a matter of priority, however no meeting has been organised as of yet.

Mr Doogan asks what support he can provide his staff, a quarter of which are living in mica affected homes, which will be required to be demolished. He says that his staff are currently providing a professional service to students despite the distraction of having their homes demolished. 

The full letter can read below:

I have great concerns for the life chances of my students and their mental health. The consequences of excess amounts of muscovite mica in the building blocks and foundations of the houses of students and staff in my school are manifold.

Each family affected is at a different stage of the process. For some, they have noticed cracks on their walls in the last two years. For others, parts of the outside walls are crumbling to dust. Some have draughts coming through the walls because internal cracks have appeared. Windows have bent and leak at the sides. A small number of families have left their homes to live in mobile homes or rent alternative accommodation. A few have already demolished their homes and have started to build anew, at significant cost to themselves.

The life chances of these students are being dramatically altered by the continuing delay in settling the Mica Crisis. All families in such houses, whether privately owned, rented or council owned face the same future outlined above. The vast majority do not have the wherewithal to replace their homes due to their economic circumstances. The council will replace or repair what the council will replace or repair. Most private home owners have mortgages. Borrowing is not an option as their primary asset has lost most of its value. Most have children in primary or secondary school and had ambitions for them to leave home and go to college. Their financial plans for children going to college have had to be at best revised or very likely postponed or cancelled.

I hold great admiration for foster parents. The love they show those they care for is a greater gift than any I have. Their generosity saves the state many millions of euros each year. I know of foster parents that have bought mobile homes and placed them on their site to cater for children that are the state’s responsibility. These children attend my school. Their needs are often greater than other students due to their circumstances. How should we as a country address this additional challenge to these children?

In communities closest to where the defective material was mined a housing crisis is looming. As the moisture in the walls and foundations expands and contracts, or freezes and thaws the bricks and foundations weaken, crack, crumble and fall. Each year more and more houses will deteriorate and more families will have to make the decision to leave their home. There are few rental properties in this rural area. Some holiday homes will cater for a minority. A planned rehousing of the affected families must to be put in place. Consideration needs to be taken to ensure that the least disruption possible is visited upon the children. We need to ensure that the students in primary and secondary schools continue in their education in the same schools so as not to diminish further their life chances.

A quarter of the staff of this school have homes affected by excess mica in their blocks. The house that they expected to be their forever home will soon have to be vacated, demolished and another built in its place. I wonder how they will be able to deliver or receive an educational service with the distraction of having to see their house being demolished. They continue to provide a professional service despite a terrible emotional cost being placed upon them. How long can they last? What supports can I give them?

Through my ETB, I have asked for additional supports for students and staff affected. A meeting with the Department was offered by the Minister for Education in response to a Dáil question.  My ETB has contacted the Department to arrange this meeting as a matter of priority. As of yet, this meeting has not been organised.

As the climate change crisis continues we have an opportunity to address the issue of mica and climate together by ensuring A rated houses are built and their carbon footprint minimised. This would also provide evidence of best practice and future planning to our students showing that the climate change policies are being worked through and seen in practice.

Much comment has been made as to the financial cost to remedy the situation. Six banks were bailed out during the banking crisis. How many were systemic and necessary to the functioning of the economy? Perhaps two. My taxes paid for this bail out. Houses in Leinster affected by pyrite were given full redress including payment of rental accommodation and storage. My taxes paid for this redress. My neighbours and fellow citizens deserve the same.

The estimated budget overrun announced last November has been corrected. The reduced amount required by the state due to increased tax revenue is twice the predicted cost of the remedy required for Mica homes. The cost is not an issue. Who should pay is the issue. Who is responsible for defective materials being used in the construction industry for most of this millennium? What responsibility had the quarry owner, the block maker, the builder, the insurance companies, the banks, the legislators that set regulations and the inspectors that checked for compliance?

My students are affected through no fault of their own. My staff are affected through no fault of their own. They should not have to pay in coin or mental anguish. The life chances of our students are at stake. My government must lead.

Is mise, le meas,

Anthony Doogan

Principal

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