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Donegal’s councillors express concerns about mica 

All demand action from Government and Co Council

Donegal’s councillors express concerns about mica 

How mica blocks have affected houses all over Donegal

A number of councillors, including party whips, addressed the special meeting of Donegal Co Council on Friday called to deal with the mica crisis.

They all agreed the priorities were the drive to get a 100% redress scheme, a full independent public inquiry and to find out who was responsible for the mica, pyrite and pyrrhotite problems.

They were all angry that the chairman and vice-chairman of the Donegal County Council's Mica Redress Committee, Cllrs Martin McDermot and Cllr Albert Doherty were not members of the Working Group negotiating with the department of housing on the matter.

Cllr Marie Therese Gallagher, the Sinn Féin whip asked if there was a plan for home owners affected, would the skill set and materials be out there to do the work and where would people live when their houses were being dealt with. She appealed for unity within the council ranks.

"The whole scandal needs to be addressed by putting people first and no point scoring," she said.

Fine Gael's whip, Cllr Martin Harley said at a national level things like how much the quarry owners, the State, banks, mortgage lenders and insurance companies were paying needed to be addressed urgently.

"I know Joe McHugh TD and our party were not happy with the 90%-10% scheme even though we got it upped from 70%-30%," he said.

He added they had to make sure the people with the most seriously affected houses were accommodated first at no cost to them.

Independent councillor, Michael McCalfferty, said people in Donegal had to be treated the same as the people in Leinster were in the pyrite scandal while Cllr Martin Farren of the Labour Party said money could be found for projects as the €10 million each for both the Greencastle breakwater scheme and the building of the Moville Community College.

"This Government is kicking the can down the road. Are they waiting for a house to fall down before they do something about it? They want people to take out more money on top of a mortgage, it's not on, it's not feasible," he said.

Cllr Albert Doherty said they needed a fully briefed response from the council's housing directorate on housing construction plans for the county and urged the authority to bridge the information deficit on what was going to let them know what was going to happen following recent engineering inspections in rural and town council owned properties.

"Questions are being acknowledged and money promised in budget forecasts but I have no details. What applications have been made and what response has the minister for housing given us, we don't know. That's an area to be addressed by the council. How many houses in the council stock have been noted for work and what progress has been made drawing down the funds?

"Do we have sufficient council resources on the front line? I don't think so but I need answers from the directorate. Families need to hear about the pathways before us and what supports are there for them," he said.

Cllr Gary Doherty said he knew mica had affected people right throughout Donegal, even in his own Lifford-Stranorlar Municipal District.

"I have been contacted by dozens of people who are beginning to realise that they either have mica or they may have mica in their homes and their lives are destroyed at the moment and are at a loss to come to terms with the reality of what having a mica house will mean for them," he said.

He also said they could not allow the Government and the relevant departments to get "off the hook" in this.

"This is not all on Donegal County Council and we certainly can't allow that narrative to take hold either. This is a national crisis and county councils can't be left to deal with this on their own. There needs to be a coordinated approach and I hope this is something being raised by the Working Group.

"The Government can't just come up with a couple of recommendations that they sign off on and think mica is off the table, that is not going to happen," he said.

Cllr Nicholas Crossan said he had written to all five Donegal TDs four weeks ago but to date had only received a response from Minister Charlie McConalogue.

He asked TDs Charlie McConalogue and Joe McHugh to withdraw support form the Government and wanted a commitment from deputies Pearse Doherty, Padraig Mac Lochlainn and Thomas Pringle they would do the same if they did not get a commitment for 100% redress.

He added he believed all five TDs had let the people of Donegal down because they did not represent the feeling coming from Donegal. The redress scheme was not suitable, he said.

Cllr Gerry McMonagle said he felt they were not getting clear or coherent answers about testing and the role the council played testing concrete blocks and stone aggregate coming out of Cassidy's quarry.

Cllr Kevin Bradley said people with second homes had invested their life savings for their retirement fund were being punished which was not right.

Cllr Jimmy Kavanagh said people had enough pressure in their lives without their homes falling in around them while Cllr Paul Canning urged councillors not to engage in a 'blame game'

He added planning issues, proper regulations for quarries and by-product waste as well as activity and facility licences similar to what they had in the waste disposal industry.

Cllr Donal Mandy Kelly voiced his support for all affected as did Cllr Ian McGarvey who said he was very disappointed no one was at the meeting representing the department. He said he knew of one woman who died because of what her family had suffered dealing with mica.

Cllr Barry Sweeny said he wanted to add his voice of support to those affected while Cllr Patrick McGowan described mica as a cancer adding no inquiry should get in the way of getting houses sorted.

Cllr Bernard McGuinness said he had mica in an extension which was added to his premises in Culdaff and didn't believe there was a family in Inishowen that wasn't affected in one way or another.

He criticised the civil servants in Dublin who opposed the mica redress proposals at every opportunity.

"The civil servants are opposing everything, and we have to find some way to bringing that to an end," he said. He added the council had now to put sits own house in order to make sure their housing crisis was properly dealt with.

"The people of our county have gone through hell on earth through no fault of their own. There is no doubt in my mind that if there is a public inquiry, it will bring out those at fault," he said.

Cllr Liam Blaney asked they get a second opinion on the legal advice they received a number of weeks ago.

Cllr Terry Crossan said he did not have sight of the letter alluded to by Cllr McBrearty while Cllr John Seamais O' Fearraigh, voiced concerns that banks and insurance companies were not being brought into the search for a solution. 

Cllr Donal Coyle said it was a time for clear thinking when looking for practical solutions. He said people could not be left out of pocket. He urged officials to make sure people who bought houses in good faith at the end of last year also qualified for the redress scheme.

"Houses were so well concealed that they didn't realise that there was any mica in them. Now they have discovered they are living in  houses that have mica and they have to be accommodated," he said.

He added they should not confuse getting houses now with what will go on in any public inquiry.

Cllr Noel Jordan said he felt the department appeared to be getting off the hook while the council was taking the brunt of the criticism.

Cllr Michael McBride said it was important second homes were covered as these were also homes to somebody. He spoke of the problems people were having trying to get rented accommodation.

"If second homes are not included these houses will be closed up and there will be no accommodation for people to live in."

He added they also had to look at community centres, schools and health centre and any other public building to make sure they were on the mica scheme as these were places people used on a daily basis.

"There's no point waiting until the mica begins to show and the building has to be closed. They all need to be tested to see if they had it and plans put in place for the problem to be remedied."

He also talked about the mental health of people living in houses with mica and the need for the council to contact the HSE to see what services and adequate resources were in place to support them.

He said as not all councillors were on the mica redress committee, it would be a good idea if all councillors received the minutes from each meeting so they knew what was happening.

"It's important everyone knows what is happening. I am frankly sceptical about getting 100% redress, nothing less will work. We must stand with the people," he said.

Cllr Gerry Crawford said east Donegal was "heavily affected" by mica and when he questioned how many houses in the LiffordStranorlar Municipal District were affected he said the reply he received wasn't informative.

"Indeed it was anything but," he said.

He said he had another question for the next meeting to ask how the council proposed to conclusively determine the number of council-owned houses countryside that are affected by mica. He added it was important for the public to know how and when it was likely to be determined and when they would be informed of any plans it had.

He also voiced concerns about older people left to deal with mica and said they should issue an open invitation to all Oireachtas members to visit Donegal to see at first hand the problems and hardship caused by the mica scandal. 

Cllr Michael McMahon said he often wondered why no one had seen all this coming.

"What went wrong?" he asked.

He argued that a top civil servant in the government's housing department or the minister himself should be asked to come to their next meeting to answer questions.

It's not fair that people who go out for an evening don't know if their house will be still standing when they come back," he said.

Cllr Ciaran Brogan the Fianna Fáil whip, said they all had family and friends who had been affected by mica and it was having a huge effect on them.

He added the council needed proper resources such as liaison officers to help anyone affected.

Cllr Micheál Choilm Mac Giolla Easbuig warned that banks and insurance companies were not allowed to avoid their responsibilities in this matter and should be made to address the council about what they intended to do.

He added he had heard that there could possibly be some premises affected in the Gweedore area.

Cllr Tom Conaghan said the time for talking was over, it was now time for action.

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