The Observers

Ireland: Homeowners demand compensation for crumbling houses built with mica blocks

Homes in County Donegal, Ireland, built with bricks containing too much of a mineral called mica, are now cracking and crumbling.
Homes in County Donegal, Ireland, built with bricks containing too much of a mineral called mica, are now cracking and crumbling. © Observers

Homeowners in County Donegal, Ireland, have come together to demand government redress for their homes, which are falling apart. At least 6,000 houses in the region were built during a period of rapid growth using rocks from nearby quarries, which contain an excess of the mineral mica, causing the building blocks to crumble and turn to dust after several years. 

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On this episode of The Observers, we spoke to Michael Doherty, who is part of the Mica Action Group. The group has been lobbying the government to provide full reimbursement for the cost of repairing and rebuilding mica-affected homes. Homeowners say it is the government's responsibility to pay for a problem that resulted from inadequate regulations. 

Doherty explained:

There was a massive building boom taking place in Ireland, then the regulations that were enforced at the time or should have been enforced at the time were by the local authorities, then overseen as light-touch regulations. 

It came down to the quarries to regulate themselves and apply the standards. That wasn't happening to the extent that it needed to be.

Most of these homes were built during Ireland’s Celtic Tiger years, a period of rapid economic growth from the mid-1990s to late 2000s. The construction industry was booming: at its peak, 90,000 homes were built in a year. To meet with this increased demand for construction, a number of companies started making construction materials using more than the allowed amount of mica.

And when there is an excess of mica in building blocks, moisture from the environment as well as cycles of hot and cold weather cause the blocks to crack and crumble with time. 

The residents of County Donegal are seeing the consequences of this lack of regulation, as numerous homes have begun to disintegrate. The Mica Action Group fears an imminent house collapse, especially in the face of winter storms.

In the still of the night, you'll hear a crack and that crack becomes something, then that will immediately awaken you. And you're hoping that that crack, wherever it may be, is not adjacent to another similar existing crack. Because if they join up, you could have a catastrophic failure and you could have that wall collapse and that roof that's been supported by that wall then come down.

These cracks are big enough that you can actually put your hand onto some of them now, and you can dig away at the block with your bare hand all the way through the block. 

Although the Irish government has proposed a redress scheme to reimburse affected homeowners, the Mica Action Group says it is not enough – caps and fine print mean people could still have to pay tens of thousands of euros out of pocket for repairs.

>> Read more on The Observers: ‘Our houses are crumbling down around us’: Homeowners in Ireland protest against mica damage