THE majority of the 350 houses believed to be affected by pyrite are expected to be knocked to their foundations and rebuilt under a new grant scheme, according to Mayo County Council.
Details of the new Defective Concrete Blocks Grant Scheme, which will financially assist homeowners affected by pyrite, was outlined to members of the Housing Strategic Policy Committee (SPC) last week.
It is believed that up to 350 houses in Mayo have been affected by the mineral pyrite in the blocks, which has resulted in cracks in walls and homes becoming structurally unsafe. The vast majority of these homes are in north Mayo.
The grant scheme is also available to households adversely affected by mica, but the majority of mica cases are in Donegal. An estimated 4,000 houses are affected by mica in Co Donegal.
Housing Official Olivia Gallagher, explained that where remedial works are deemed necessary, the local authority may approve a grant up to 90 percent of the costs, with the approved costs ranging from a maximum of €275,000 down to €55,000.
There will be five remedial options available to households, including the total demolition and rebuild of the house, and the demolition and rebuild of the outer or inner walls.
“We are anticipating that option one will be the option we will see coming in the application form … Demolish the entire dwelling to the foundation level and rebuild,” Ms Gallagher told the members. “Options two to five under the expert group report are more suited to mica, and so that is why in Mayo we are envisaging option one is what we will see coming in the final report from the engineer.”
The grant will cover the cost of the engineer’s report, preparation of a remedial works plan by a engineer, costs associated with a contractor carrying out the remedial works and oversight of the remedial works.
It will not cover the cost of alternative accommodation if the householder has to move out of the house, statutory planning permission, energy upgrades to the house or the ‘unnecessary’ replacement of doors, windows and other items, such as kitchen units.
Ms Gallagher said that when applying for the grant, the applicant must provide an engineer’s report, and payment of the grant will be made after the works are completed and certified. The applicant must also give an undertaking to live in the house once completed.
Welcoming the new scheme, Cllr Neil Cruise said the grant will go along way to helping the many people affected by the pyrite problem.
“Nothing worse could happen to people than to build a house and then you find its is crumbling around your ears. I wish those families the best of luck and [hope] they can get their lives back to normal. It may not go all the way but will go a lot of the way,” he said.
The scheme was broadly welcomed by the other members, but there were concerns that applicants will have to pay for accommodation if they have to move out while work is ongoing.
Cllr Michael Kilcoyne said it was a frightening situation for anyone involved and argued that some recourse should be made available to the people affected. He was informed that the State was not taking a case against the providers of the pyrite-infected blocks, but some people in Belmullet were considering the legal option.
Westport-based councillor Christy Hyland said the State should go after the people responsible for providing the defective blocks.
“It was an awful thing to do. Not only was the mistake made once but it was made 300 times, they ought to have known about it after a few months,” he said.
Mr Kevin Keegan, of Mayo County Council said that in order to prevent pyrite and mica from appearing in concrete again, quarries are now inspected twice a year and all concrete products have to certified and signed off.
When asked, Director of Services Simon Shevlin said he could not say how many quarries supplied infected material. Cllr Cruise said he knew of some quarry owners who had been accused in the wrong, and he asked people to desist from spreading ‘unfair and unfounded’ rumours.