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CRUMBLING BLOCKS Mum's anger over 'forgotten' Donegal home owners in mica disaster

I remember my husband Don putting up shelves and the drill went through the wall like butter — that’s when we knew for sure that we had it”

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Joanne McLaughlin outside her mica damaged home in Donegal.

Joanne McLaughlin outside her mica damaged home in Donegal.

Joanne McLaughlin outside her mica damaged home in Donegal.

A devastated mum-of-two has told how she lives in constant fear that her crumbling family home will collapse and kill her and her children.

Joanne McLaughlin’s Donegal home is made up of mica-contaminated blocks – defective stone blocks produced in Ireland that are crumbling to dust, leaving houses facing inevitable collapse.

The 46-year-old, who suffers with a chronic lung condition and fibromyalgia, now watches in despair as her dream home disintegrates around her.

The devoted mum is among thousands of families who discovered that the mineral muscovite mica was present in the concrete blocks that was used to build a number of properties in Donegal.

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Joanne thought she had her dream home.

Joanne thought she had her dream home.

Joanne thought she had her dream home.

 

Facing the prospect of demolishing her home, Joanne has slammed the Government for abandoning the people of Donegal in their hour of need.

“I remember my husband Don putting up shelves and the drill went through the wall like butter — that’s when we knew for sure that we had it,” she said.

“You know by just looking at the house that it could just fall down. One gable is cracked from the very top of the eaves to the ground. You can fit your hand into the gaps, they are that bad. At the front of the house the cracks are getting wider and wider around the doors and the windows; the blocks are disintegrating before our very eyes.

“Winter is terrible, it’s so cold that we live in the kitchen. You cannot heat it. I have a very good mother-in-law and she has been filling our tank every winter. She is on the phone any time there’s a storm, telling me to stay in my mother’s, just in case.

“There is a real fear that a wall may fall down. The cracks are starting to show behind the kitchen units and the units in the utility room.

“It is devastating and terrifying to think what might happen. We hopefully would get notice but you can hear the walls popping all the time, you can hear the clicking and the banging when the tiles are giving way.

“I remember hearing a bang so loud it was like a gun going off when one of the blocks had just blown. It is a nightmare.”

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The former post woman could never have imagined that her dream home, which she built in 2004 with her husband Don, would turn to rubble.

“We were in England for about seven years and then we came back and built a nice big house on land my parents gifted us. All I ever wanted was a big kitchen and a big bathroom because the houses were so small in England. It was our dream home beside my sisters and brothers. It was perfect. We put every last cent into this.”

But it wasn’t long before the cracks began to appear.

“There are so many memories in these walls. I just lost my dad a couple of years ago and he had just done so much work in the house, when it came to getting the house tested for mica I almost didn’t want to get the results. I said, ‘I don’t want to demolish the house because daddy has done, this, this and this, but at the same time my daddy isn’t going to want us to stay in a house that is going to kill us and his grandchildren.”

Joanne will now join families who will march on the Dail seeking an overhaul of a MICA Redress scheme, which sees homeowners having to cover 10 per cent of the costs involved with demolition and rebuild.

Flaws in the scheme mean that the real cost to families will be close to hundreds of thousands, and lenders will not give loans to families involved.

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Serious damage to the house

Serious damage to the house

Serious damage to the house

 

This is in contrast with homeowners in Dublin affected by pyrite, where 100 per cent of the cost of rebuild was covered by the Government.

“I have health issues so I’m on disability allowance and Don was a tiler and he hasn’t had regular work in years. He was working part-time in a bar. Earning just €208 a week on disability allowance, Joanne is asking for a fully funded, 100 per cent redress scheme

“We went to Ulster Bank last year and they wouldn’t even consider us for help. I said, ‘what we do? Beg, borrow and steal? And they said, ‘yeah, that’s pretty much what you’ll have to do. You’ll have to go to your family if they can help you.’ But we can’t because my family are in same situation. My three sisters are in the same situation.

“The Government is saying we will have to just take what we are given and that we will have to dig deep — you are talking over €100,000 to fix our home with the help of their ‘scheme’.

“The initial test for mica is €6,000. That was all our savings but we had to get it tested, yet the test for pyrite for people in Leinster was €500, how is that fair?

“The Government have ruined tens of thousands of lives, young, old and in between. If they were doing the right checks this should not have happened. The Government still used this company after they were made aware of the mica and still use them here in Inishowen today.

“These buildings we live in are not homes, they are not security for our future and our children’s future. They are anxiety, depression, frustration, anger and any other mental health issue you can think of.”

Unable to bear the financial strain that would come with demolishing their home, the family is now looking at alternative options.

“Our engineer came up with an idea to use steel girders. We are just waiting to hear back from Donegal County Council. They could still say we have to demolish.

“They’re all recommending demolition because it’s in your foundations, it’s in the very bottom block, so it is going to constantly keep seeping up into your interior walls and your interior walls will eventually give.”

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Joanne McLaughlin outside her mica damaged home

Joanne McLaughlin outside her mica damaged home

Joanne McLaughlin outside her mica damaged home

 

Speaking directly to the Government, Joanne said: “Open your eyes and see what you are doing, never mind the adults it’s the kids; the kids lives are ruined. From the first day that cracks appeared on our walls, that’s all the kids have heard.

“The fear of the house falling, that’s all my kids know. ‘Where are mammy and daddy going to get the money to fix this?’ And having to listen to arguments, the Government needs to just wake up.

“I would also like to remind the Government that the children of these homes are the future of Ireland and future voters. When the next election comes around most of these kids will be voting age and where do you think their votes will go, not FF/FG.

“For the size of the island we live in I can’t understand how Donegal and the west are overlooked in so many things. We are Irish citizens just like the rest of the country and we deserve parity to the pyrite scheme.”

With many families left with no other option but to move into rental accommodation while still paying off a mortgage on a house that is no longer safe to live in, Joanne can only hope for a resolution.

“When I go to bed, and I think especially now, it’s all kind of come up again. You find it difficult to sleep because it’s constantly going through your head. I noticed because I have fibromyalgia that the pain in the last few days is just excruciating. So I’m assuming a flare up with all the stress.

“This is our only legacy for our children because we don’t have savings. We don’t have anything.

“The kids aren’t going to have an inheritance other than a house and you sure as hell don’t want to leave them this.”

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