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04 Jul 2022

No Housing Committee clarity on mica houses

Minutes do not record if Council told Department about mica

Minutes do not record if Council told Department about mica

Minutes do not record if Council told Department about mica

Donegal County Council's Housing and Corporate Strategic Policy committee has approved the minutes of its previous meeting, at which it considered Council's controversial purchase of five mica-affected properties in Inishowen.

The minutes of the meeting, which took place on February 10, 2022, failed to clarify definitively whether Donegal County Council informed the Department of Housing that the five houses were affected by mica before funding approval was given.

Council purchased the properties at An Crannla in Buncrana in February 2021, using funding from the Department of Housing.

Donegal County Council and the Department of Housing still appear to differ on whether or not the Department was informed about the presence of mica in the houses, before it approved the purchase.

In answer to a query from Inish Live on March 4, a spokesperson for the Department of Housing said: “The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage was not aware of issues relating to mica in the properties referred to, when they were acquired by Donegal County Council.” 

Donegal County Council has subsequently initiated a review into the purchase of the houses. However, April's Council plenary meeting was told that none of the eight firms approached to carry out the review had tendered for the contract.

The minutes approved at today's ongoing SPC meeting dealt with its previous meeting, which took place on February 10, 2022.

At that meeting, Cllr Gerry McMonagle, Cllr Donal Coyle and Cllr Martin McDermott asked for clarity on the acquisition of the five houses.

Cllr Coyle stated that the key question was whether there was collusion between the owner and the Council? He said that the power of social media had raised the suspicion of wrongdoing, and that he would like to know what happened.

The approved minutes stated: “John Gallagher [Donegal County Council Senior Engineer] responded and outlined as follows:

"That the houses had been leased under the Social Housing Leasing Scheme for 10 years, and that the leases had been coming to an end.

“The Council had to find alternative accommodation for the five families who had been living in the houses.

"The Council explored alternative options, which were limited. The Council was aware of the presence of mica, but the judgement at the time, after obtaining independent geologist advice was that it was deemed to have been at acceptable levels.

“He advised that mica is a naturally occurring mineral and added that not every house that is affected by mica needs to be demolished. He added that the Council was presented with a scenario where the levels of mica had to be considered, and that geologist advice was obtained in this.

"He added that the Council also had to consider the fact that the houses had been tenanted for 10 years, and the tenants were anxious to remain, and the technical judgment at the time was such that there was no requirement to relocate the tenants.

"Mr Gallagher added that he was happy with the condition of the houses at the time the decision was made, and the position still remains today.

"He confirmed that the houses will in his view remain structurally stable for many years. He wanted to reassure members that there was absolutely no collusion involved and would rebuke any such contention. He advised that it was a genuine case of endeavouring to provide tenancies for the five families that could be sustained. Cllr McMonagle thanked Mr Gallagher for his upfront and straight answer.

“He stated that the rumours on social media were nonsense in his view. He added that he had read the documents circulating and would concur with what Mr. Gallagher had said, and that there was never any wrongdoing or collusion.

"He said that the decision needed to be taken in the context as outlined, and that it was an educated assessment at the time. He added that it was important that same be put out into the public domain, and that people would understand it.

"Cllr Kavanagh advised that he agreed with Cllr McMonagle and that this needed to be given front page treatment in the media, with photographs of the houses. Cllr Coyle thanked Mr Gallagher for his response, and stated that he was a man of integrity, and that he appreciated his straight and honest reply, and that he told it as it was.

"Cllr Crossan thanked Mr Gallagher for his comprehensive answer and said that this needed to be put into the public domain so that everyone is clear on what happened. He said that it was important to note the actual condition of the houses and the fact that there were long term tenants in them who wanted to remain there. He said that the vilification and abuse was unacceptable.

Commenting on the approval of the minutes at today's ongoing SPC meeting, Chairperson Johnny McGuinness said the approved minutes were now the current Council position on the issue.

Cllr McGuinness added: "I have been made aware also there is an ongoing audit into the process and until that audit finishes, I myself would not be comfortable making any further contribution towards it, in fear of prejudicing any of the outcomes of that audit."

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