By Mick Barry TD
More than 3,000 householders from Donegal, Mayo and Clare travelled to Dublin on 15 June to demand a proper compensation scheme for their homes destroyed by mica. Mica is a mineral that can be contained in concrete blocks manufactured from quarries. It soaks up water like a sponge and has the potential to make blocks crumble.
Mica is safe when it constitutes less than 1% of the block. In some of the blocks used to build Donegal homes the mica content is as high as 17%.
The result is people’s homes crumbling down around them. It is estimated that at a conservative estimate there are at least 5,000 such homes in Donegal alone.
The mica scandal was allowed to happen on the watch of successive Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael-led governments. It is the result of the same kind of “light touch regulation” which allowed the banking crisis to snowball. In the “Wild West” of the Irish construction industry building regulation seems to have been little more than an afterthought.
Various profiteers benefited greatly from this lax regime. Among these were the manufacturers of the block (Cassidy Brothers of Donegal), builders and the insurance industry.
The State put in place a compensation scheme which officially covers 90% of the cost of rebuilding or repair. But this scheme has attracted fierce criticism from the victims of the scandal.
100% redress now!
For starters, it compares badly to the 100% compensation scheme for the victims of the pyrite scandal.
Secondly, the scheme does not cover ancillary costs such as the cost of commissioning a report on mica damage to a house and much else besides. Those affected say the scheme is as a result closer to being a 60/40 scheme than a 90/10 one.
The loudest cheer from the crowd of 3,000 plus outside the National Convention Centre on June 15 was for the speaker who congratulated the gathering for being so good humoured and polite but warned the Government TDs inside the building that people would not be so polite if forced to travel down a second time.
Government under pressure
Under real pressure the Government conceded a process which will look at 100% compensation and report by the end of July.
The campaigners should place no faith in the Government and not let up the pressure until a satisfactory 100% compensation scheme is signed, sealed and delivered.
Satisfaction must also be provided to council tenants who live in mica homes.
The scandal will reach a new phase now as community centres and public buildings such as hospitals are drawn into the crisis.
Homes for people not profit!
A tax on the building industry should be immediately introduced so that PAYE workers do not carry the can for the estimated €1 billion plus costs. The scandal shows the need for housing for people not for profit — housing provision and construction in the hands of the profiteers has been a disaster. The major construction companies must be brought into public ownership under the democratic control of working-class people.
Alongside the Black Lives Matter and Palestinian solidarity protests, the 15 June Mica protest was one of the largest protests seen in the state since the onset of the pandemic.
It is no accident that this protest emerged on the issue of housing. The mica scandal is an important part of the housing crisis in this state. Hopefully, it will come to be seen as the first of many major demonstrations on the housing crisis as the country begins to emerge from the darkest days of the Covid period.