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‘Give us hope’

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PLIGHT Karen and Matt Webb and their children Conor, Aoibhe and Oisín outside their pyrite affected home in Killala.

Young couple’s plea to Micheál Martin after home destroyed by pyrite

Michael Gallagher

They traveled the world, came back home to settle by the sea and raise their family in a thriving, caring community, but now their ‘forever home’ is crumbling around them.
Karen and Matt Webb inhabit An Tánaiste Leo Vardakar’s category of ‘people who get up early in the morning’. They work hard, are embedded in community clubs and organisations, have three children in the local school and, in recent years, built an extension onto their impressive home in Churchfield Manor, Killala.
Except, it’s no longer an impressive home – it’s no longer something the hard-working couple are proud of. It’s no longer a place where the kids will grow to adulthood. Soon it will no longer be the house the kids come home to after football or soccer or school.
The Webb homestead is crumbling around them, and today in The Mayo News the young family is asking An Taoiseach Mícheál Martin to give them hope again, to give them a route towards normality and lift the weight of worry and wonder from their shoulders.

‘Everything we wanted’
“Pyrite has completely taken over our lives. Our five-year-old Oisín has only known pyrite and Covid in his short life – that’s not normal,” Karen explained as she sat in the kitchen of the family home.
“We came back from Australia in 2006 and bought this house a while after. We loved it. It was everything we wanted. We noticed a few cracks in the walls but every home has settling cracks, so when we got married and went away on honeymoon the builder came in and filled in the cracks and everything was perfect again. For a while.”
Soon, the Webbs were immersed in their own little kingdom as Conor, Aoibhe and Oisín came along and work, school, football and a myriad of other things occupied them as they rode the mad merry-go-round of family life. It was fun, they loved it, and as the family grew so too did the house. The addition of an extension stretched the finances, but it was needed.
“We were happy. We were doing the best we could, and things were moving along. A neighbour was telling everyone the cracks in her home were caused by something called pyrite, and she was looking for us all to become involved in a campaign to highlight it, but it went over our heads.
“I felt very sorry for her and meant to help her, but we were all immersed in everyday life and never imagined we were all in the same boat. Now, sadly, we realise Elaine was right all along, and we’re all part of the group.”

Crumbling reality
The Webbs are indeed part of the North Mayo Pyrite group, which is demanding 100 percent redress for the affected homes, which are slowly crumbling to dust thanks to imperfect blocks used in their construction.
Pyrite is a commonly found, naturally occurring mineral that is found in the ground and also known as iron pyrite, or fool’s gold. When present in rocks in low levels, pyrite is generally problem free. However, when the levels of pyrite are higher, and with oxygen and moisture present, this can cause pyrite-contaminated building blocks to swell and crack, cause construction defects.
The State’s reliance on self-regulation meant that blocks with pyrite were manufactured and used in thousands of new builds throughout the country, but particularly in Mayo. Now, these homes are cracking, crumbling and disintegrating daily.

What are we supposed to do?
The Government has promised homeowners 90 percent of affected homeowners’ rebuild costs. However, this simply isn’t enough, according to Karen Webb and the thousands of families whose lives have been turned upside down.
“Can someone tell me what are we supposed to do? This is our life here. We work, the kids go to school, the kids go to football, we go down the shops, we get involved in all the various things going on here in Killala. We have invested everything in the house and then stretched everything again to put on the extension.
“Now, the State who allowed this disaster to happen, because they didn’t regulate the people making the blocks, want us to magically find up to €30,000 somewhere to rebuild our house again.
“Throw in the fact that we will also have to search for non-existent money for 18-months’ rent while the houses are being rebuilt – and of course there’s not a hope of getting a house to rent in Killala or indeed, Ballina.
“Where are we going to live? Where will the kids go to school? Will we have to move to some other part of the country? Where will we get jobs to pay the rent and two mortgages? Can you possibly imagine the worry, stress and pain this is causing people? We’re out there begging the Government for 100 percent redress when they should be actually caring for us, helping us and not having a five-year-old constantly thinking about a thing called pyrite.”
The North Mayo Pyrite Group and other groups throughout Mayo and Donegal are campaigning for 100 percent redress for all homeowners impacted by pyrite and mica (a similar problematic mineral). The campaign is gathering pace and giving hope to thousands of families, including the Webbs.