STILL TRYING TO SMILE Duane and Deirdre Helly and their four young children at their house on Riverside Grove in Ballina on the banks of the Moy.
Ballina family in exhausting battle to qualify for pyrite redress scheme
It’s trying to sleep that’s the hardest. While the rest of the world are examining the inside of their eyelids, Duane Helly can be found sitting in his kitchen trying to draft emails, battling the system, and fighting for his family.
Ten days ago, a letter came through the door stating that the Helly family home did indeed have blocks containing pyrite in its walls, but it that it had not been impacted enough to qualify for the Defective Concrete Blocks scheme. That scheme will see homes knocked and rebuilt over the coming months.
“I can’t get my head around it,” Mr Helly told The Mayo News. “We have defective blocks, yet they say they’re not defective enough. It’s like someone getting a positive test for Covid and then being told they don’t really have it or them telling an expectant mother that she’s only a bit pregnant.”
Duane, his wife Deirdre and their four young children live in Riverside Grove in Ballina on the banks of the Moy. They love the location, love the community, and it’s their forever home – but it’s crumbling around them.
Their engineer says it’s crumbling, an independent report says it crumbling and both Duane and Deirdre see it crumbling around them every day.
However, the County Council still deems the Helly household ineligible for the redress scheme.
“It’s utterly devastating,” said Helly. “We’re a private family, so telling our story to The Mayo News is tough, but here goes.
“Our youngest son faces a lot of challenges, and last year we put all our savings into developing our garden for him. We then planned to build on a sensory room for him, but that’s all gone now. How can we think about knocking a wall and extending, because the whole thing might come down?
“We saw the cracks in the wall getting bigger and bigger, so we borrowed €5,000 and got an engineer in here to survey the blocks. He sent the samples, and the independent report came back saying we had defective blocks. He then did up a report of more than a hundred pages and sent it into the Council. He was sure we’d be accepted, we were sure we’d be accepted, and then we were hit with this hammer blow.
“Does the Council honestly think that we’d want our house knocked down if we didn’t see it becoming worse and worse every day? Do they honestly think we’d want the house knocked down after spending so much money on the garden if we didn’t see the cracks get bigger every week?
“The Council told us the decision had been made by an engineer who came to the house and surveyed it, but when we questioned them, it turns out nobody came to see the house – it was a desk-bound decision.
“Do these people realise they’re holding our lives in their hands? Do they realise myself and Deirdre are only getting a few hours’ sleep every night because we’re at our wits’ end? The cracks are getting bigger every day – our kids go to bed frightened that the house will fall in on them in the night and someone at a desk makes a decision to reject us for the scheme. They say anyone who doesn’t get on the scheme can apply again in the future, but they’ve already moved the goalposts, so it will be almost impossible to get in again,” Mr Helly stated.
Mayo County Council explained that it administers the Defective Concrete Blocks Scheme on behalf of the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and in compliance with the associated regulations and guidelines.
A spokesperson said that while it understands the stress and trauma that the householders have in relation to their homes being affected, applications in a number of cases did not meet the eligibility of the scheme.
“To date Mayo County Council has received 99 applications under this scheme, of which 74 approvals have been granted. Five applications require further detail, and in the case of 20 applicants we are unable to confirm eligibility under the scheme.”
The Helly family are now immersed in that appeals process, which is causing huge anxiety and worry for Duane, Deirdre and their family. The hours of pouring over reports, the hours of burning the midnight oil writing emails and wondering, wishing and waiting, they are draining the family dry. But Mr Helly says they’re determined to fight on.
“We have to – there’s no other choice.”