Enda Craig examines the origins of the mica debacle….
Scientists have now stated unequivocally that Reactive Iron Sulphide Minerals i.e. Pyrrhotite is indeed the real cause of the concrete blocks crumbling in Donegal homes and not Mica as the Government would have us believe.
This makes a complete farce of the Government’s protocol I.S. 465 which was designed to consider Mica as the ONLY cause of the blocks crumbling in Donegal and ignore completely reactive minerals.
That being the case the following question must surely be asked:
Did the Government and all the associated institutions and individuals that supported them, make a genuine mistake when they designed and passed into law I.S. 465 or did they deliberately devise a plan to deceive, short-change and cheat the affected homeowners of Donegal by assembling a cheap, ineffective and unworkable grant scheme?
After all, they portrayed the 90/10 and the upcoming ‘Enhanced’ grant schemes as a genuine attempt to put right a huge injustice which most people agree was of the Government’s own making.
In fact, they unashamedly claimed the ‘Enhanced Scheme’ to be 100% Redress.
So, let’s follow the chain of events from the beginning in an attempt to get the full picture and see if we can find where the truth lies.
Back in 2012/13 when the Donegal TDs raised the crumbling blocks as an issue in the Dail, the then Minister of State, Deputy Paudie Coffey decided to come to Donegal on a fact-finding mission to see first hand the extent of the scandal of the affected homeowners and their houses.
He met with a wide spectrum of politicians, civil servants, groups and individuals culminating in a number of visits to affected homes where he witnessed on site the crumbling blocks.
By all accounts he was deeply shocked and on his return to Dublin announced his intention of setting up an expert panel to investigate the cause of the deteriorating blocks in the walls of people’s homes that were growing in number by the day.
The following year his successor, Minister Damien English, officially announced the setting up of the expert panel to investigate the ever-growing scandal of crumbling blocks in people’s homes in Donegal.
Its membership consisted of three highly regarded civil engineers and a geologist.
But here we find the first indication that the Government might well be up to no good and indeed have a predetermined plan in relation to how this problem should be solved.
Unbelievably, they published Terms of Reference for the Expert Panel restricted their investigations to an academic ‘Desk Top Study’ which prevented the team of Engineers and Geologist from taking samples and sending them to a laboratory for scientific analysis.
If this had been allowed, the cause of the crumbling blocks would have been identified immediately.
In truth, it could be said that the Government completely prevented the Expert Panel from carrying out the necessary forensic investigation to identify the real source of the problem.
Instead, they tied their hands behind their backs by restricting the expert panel to a desk top study on Mica and nothing else.
This decision by the Government not to allow the material evidence of the crumbled blocks to be sent to a laboratory for analysis is critically important.
It flies in the face of all investigative logic and reason.
It calls into question the government’s true motives and points towards an attempt to conceal the truth of what is happening to the building blocks in the affected houses.
Confining the expert panel to a study of mica gives a very clear signal that the government had a roadmap in place to convince people that mica was the problem.
The next step taken by the government was to enshrine mica as the source of the problem in a new standard known as IS 465.
In my opinion the Expert Panel conclusion that Mica was to blame was based solely on guesswork and was without an ounce of scientific research to support their claim.
The Expert Panel forwarded their report to the Government, who in turn forwarded it onto the NSAI (National Standards Authority of Ireland) with orders to design a standard to deal with the “Mica” problem in Donegal and Pyrite in Mayo.
The NSAI set up a Technical Committee (063) and tasked it with carrying out the Government’s request to design a Standard based on Mica that could be used legally to deal with remediation of the affected houses in Donegal. Out of this I.S. 465 was created.
The government now had a standard based solely on mica that could be deployed when dealing with compensation claims.
Unbelievably the standard omits any reference to Reactive Iron Sulphide Minerals that has been scientifically proven to be the cause of the crumbling concrete in the foundations of houses and in the building blocks. In addition I.S. 465 has no reference to testing foundations.
Game set and match to the Government who were backed to the hilt by some of the most important heavyweights in the business.
The NSAI Technical Committee 063, gave I.S. 465 their seal of technical and academic approval.
The political establishment across the board were also in agreement.
In February 2020, I.S.465 was incorporated into national legislation namely S.I. 25 of 2020. Here in Donegal it became known as the “90/10 Scheme”.
Let there be no doubt about it, from my personal experience, this is the way successive Governments do business.
In my opinion each Government department has a top layer of highly qualified senior civil servants who will firstly and secretly decide what the outcome is going to be and put in place a roadmap to deliver their desired preference.
These senior civil servants control the process, the journey and the destination from beginning to end.
To this end, they also have available to them the requisite technical and academic heavyweights.
This is exactly what happened in relation to the establishment of I.S. 465.
I have absolutely no doubt that the Department of Housing knew well that the real problem was Reactive Iron Sulphide Minerals i.e. Pyrrhotite before they announced the Expert Panel and it’s ridiculous Terms of Reference.
Ireland was well known and mentioned as having this problem as far back as 1954.
The Government and its top civil servants knew if the real truth about the cause of the crumbling concrete was found out i.e. Pyrrhotite, it would mean demolitions of ALL affected buildings across the board.
They were given a glimpse of a financial nightmare which had to be avoided at all costs and they began working on putting together a cheap and deceitful alternative.
They found it in a material called Mica and they built a believable fairy tale around it of ‘freeze/thaw’ action being the source of the crumbling blocks in the homes of Donegal.
This I believe was an effort to minimise the cost to the state without the least regard to the innocent, affected homeowners.
In an interview on RTE in April 2022, a member of the NSAI Technical Committee 063 which designed I.S. 465 on behalf of the Government stated:
“Mica doesn’t chemically react. It is like tissue paper within a concrete block where it absorbs water and then when that water freezes it makes the block burst internally. You can prevent the moisture from getting into the concrete block then largely you will be doing away with the problem . . . So in my opinion the building is not structurally compromised and will not become structurally compromised as long as you maintain the exterior.”
The concept of freeze and thaw action causing concrete to crumble was subsequently contradicted by International Scientists at a conference in Letterkenny.
I believe that the government intended to deceive from the get go and their sole intention was to put in place a cheap farce of a scheme, save exchequer and throw the homeowners of Donegal under the bus.
When all things are considered, people must ask themselves an important fundamental questions: What was the point in lobbying the government given that it caused the problem in the first instance by putting in place a system wherein quarries and the manufacturers of concrete products could self-regulate?
The political establishment, right across the board, have shown their true colours by putting in place two grant schemes which are a complete insult to all the innocent victims of this home destroying scandal.
The campaign for redress to date, in my opinion, has been a disaster and shows no sign of critical analysis or change of direction.
The following statement encapsulates what’s wrong with the road travelled to date by campaigners:
“Those who cause a problem should never be part of creating the solution.”
Enda Craig is a retired engineer living in Donegal. His 26 year battle with the Irish state ended in 2016 with an EU Commission finding that forced the Irish government to amend existing planning laws.