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Mayo’s hidden housing problem

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CRACKING UP John Cattigan showing some of the damage pyrite has caused to his family home in Elly on the Mullet peninsula. Pic: Conor McKeown

Over 100 homes in Erris area affected by pyrite

Edwin McGreal

When John and Caroline Cattigan moved into their new home in Elly on the Mullet peninsula in 2000, they thought their dreams had come true. But, 20 years later, the parents of two children feel like they are stuck in a nightmare.
Their home is one of 102 in the Erris area contaminated by pyrite. Pyrite is a naturally occurring mineral also known as fools’ gold. When contained in concrete, it can weaken it and cause it to crack and crumble.
The problems first started to surface in 2008, and since then the situation has gone from bad to worse.
The Cattigans have been forced to move out of their bedroom because it is too cold, due to cracks in the wall caused by pyrite. To try to stay warm in their home, they spend way more than they would like on oil to heat the house and turf for the stove.
John shows us how their front door will only close with a huge bang because the wall above it is slowly coming down.
Like most others living in pyrite affected homes, they cannot get their house insured.
John also talks about his fears for the house’s roof, saying it is not secured as it should be because of the contaminated structure and could collapse.
“It is what you work all your life for, to have a home for your family. It’s the first thing you have on your mind. It is a dream that’s become a nightmare.
“I’ve the flu twice already this winter, all over Christmas. I’d say 90 percent of it is on account of the house.
“You’re lying in bed at night in the freezing cold and there’s a gale, and that roof is cracking … there’s nothing stopping that going. When a gale is blowing it shakes the house.
“It is frightening. There’s probably other houses that are worse. You get depressed to be honest with you. Every house around here is painted nice. You cannot paint this. You cannot take pride in your home. We cannot tarmac it. What is the point if they come along and have to knock it and take the tarmac with them?” he asks.

‘In limbo’
John and Caroline Cattigan along with Michael Healy and Pat and Josephine Murphy, homeowners who have also been affected by the pyrite problem, speak to The Mayo News about the issue.
They are all angry, saying the quarry that supplied the blocks has escaped ‘scot free’.
Michael Healy tells us about how the shed adjoining his house, built with blocks from a different quarry, is worth more than his house, which has been ravaged by pyrite. Still, he considers himself one of the lucky ones in comparison to others.
“We will be homeless shortly. I am okay, I can go to my mother’s or I have another house I rent out. Others are not so lucky. We’re in limbo for eight years waiting and waiting. It is so stressful. People have been in hospital with high blood pressure and other issues,” he said.
Pat Murphy is frustrated by the lack of action in Mayo, when compared to the east coast, which has benefited from a redress schemes for homes contaminated by pyrite.
“There were homes in Leinster affected by pyrite and they got sorted, taxpayers’ money sorted them out, but why are we being treated differently? Why are we the ones who are waiting?”
Michael Healy, the Cattigans and the Murphys are part of the Pyrite Action Committee North Mayo, which is seeking action from the State on the issue.
They travelled to Dublin as far back as 2014 to make their case and have been campaigning ever since. The allocation of €20 million in State funding for a redress scheme draws mixed responses.
“They’re still waiting and waiting for this money that has been announced,” says Senator Rose Conway-Walsh, who has raised the issue regularly in the Seanad.
“Money was allocated a year ago, but still not a cent has come to any of these homes in Erris. The stress of it all is making people ill. One man is in a bad way and needs full-time care, and the family would put it down to the stress of pyrite in the house and nothing done about it.
“On top of that [the Government] is asking these people to pay a carbon tax when they are already been forced to buy way more oil for their homes because of the damage of pyrite. How can you expect people in these houses to save energy.
“People aren’t looking for anything extra. They are only looking for the home that they paid for,” she adds.
“We’d settle even for a downsize on the house,” adds John Cattigan. “If we had to cut back a bedroom or lower the roof or whatever the case may be…. Just to have an actual home that’s safe to live in.”

Reservations
In a statement at the weekend, Fine Gael Senator Michelle Mulherin said that Mayo County Council has appointed an officer to administer the Pyrite and Mica Remediation Scheme. She said the scheme will be published this week.
“Mayo County Council has confirmed to me that they have appointed an officer, in-house, to administer the scheme and soon after it is published they will hold a workshop for affected homeowners so people can understand the scheme and how it is run,” said Senator Mulherin.
“I have worked relentlessly with various ministers over a long period, raising the need for a pyrite scheme in the Seanad and the Dáil, highlighting the issue at every possible opportunity. I now hope this long drawn-out process can be finalised and the scheme put in place,” she said.
Plans for a similar scheme have been rolled out in Donegal – for homes affected by mica, another mineral. The Erris group has serious reservations about some of the terms of the scheme there, which include: homeowners will pay ten percent of the overall costs; second properties are excluded; there will be no retrospective payments for those who have already carried out work on their homes; planning permission will be needed for rebuilds; the cost of accommodation during building work will not be covered.
“These terms and conditions are insane and absurd and prevent us from availing of the funding,” says Josephine Murphy. “We have been wronged … and an injustice has been committed against us by a Government that has failed us and allowed companies to sell defective products.”