'Redress Scheme not fit for purpose'
Donegal County Council has been unable to obtain clarification from the Housing Department on a range of issues, including the presence of Iron Sulphides in concrete blocks and the possible adverse effect they are having on homes.
The uncertainty has effectively stalled the the Council's administration of the current 90/10 Defective Concrete Blocks Grant Scheme.
The lack of Department clarification was confirmed at Thursday's meeting of Council's Mica Redress Committee by Senior Engineer, John Gallagher.
In addition, Council's Director of Housing, Patsy Lafferty, told the meeting, Council was yet to receive clarification from the Department regarding the remediation of social housing.
However, Mr Lafferty said that Council had staff in place and was ready to go fairly quickly once details of the social housing scheme were announced.
A clearly frustrated Michael Doherty, PRO of the Mica Action Group (MAG), said there was little point Government bringing forward the Enhanced Defective Concrete Blocks Grant Scheme if what he described as “this stand off” around Stage One [applications] was not sorted out.
He said: “There is little point coming with a new Enhanced Bill if we are in a situation where this stand off around Stage One, the inclusion of other deleterious materials and the inclusion of foundations is not sorted out.
“You are wasting your time coming with the scheme because it will never have any credibility from the off. Sort out what is in front of us. John Gallagher has been shouting about it for months and there has been no response.
“I have been told by Kevin Dillon, the Housing Minister's Special Advisor, that the Minister [Darragh O'Brien], Donegal County Council's Chief Executive, John Gallagher and others are meeting next week to hammer that out. We look forward to seeing what comes back,” said Michael Doherty.
In response to a comment from Cllr Liam Blaney (Fianna Fail), John Gallagher emphasised he was not representing the county in the negotiations with Government in relation to redress.
Mr Gallagher said: “The clarifications we have requested from the [Housing] Department reflect an awful lot of the issues raised today, for example, all Sulphides and the whole durability issue of concrete from a number of factors. We hope to receive the clarification we need to allow us to progress reviewing applications.
“In addition to issue of Freeze/Thaw, we have raised, the whole leeching of the cement because of water and the ingress of water; the effects of things like full cavity insulation; and moisture movement, in addition to Iron Sulphides. There is a cocktail of issues working in parallel.
“All of this has to be looked at and considered. We would have raised these with the Department and we would hope to get clarifications on that,” said John Gallagher.
Cllr Frank McBrearty (Independent) said Freeze/Thaw was not the the problem in Donegal.
He added: “The top international scientist [Dr Andreas Leeman] has confirmed that to me in writing, which I have sent to the Chairperson [Cllr Martin McDermott] and all of the other councillors. It is not a Freeze/Thaw issue. It is an Iron Sulphide issue.
“I would ask John Gallagher to go back and clarify what testing Dr Robbie Goodhue [Trinity College Dublin] is doing on behalf of Donegal County Council because Freeze/Thaw being responsible for the 'Mica' issue in Donegal was created out of the 2010/2011 severe weather event, and is incorrect.
“At that time, the Expert Panel on Concrete Blocks recommended a full study on this whole process. However, Freeze/Thaw is not actually the problem. Four homes in Donegal were sampled and given to Dr Andreas Leeman by Professor Paul Dunlop. There is currently a study, funded by Ulster University, being carried out by the two scientists.
“The idea Freeze/Thaw is responsible for the the crumbling homes of Donegal should now be kicked out the window,” said Cllr McBrearty.
Replying, John Gallagher said he did not claim to be an expert in the field and the learning process around the issue would be ongoing.
He added: “There are a number of very, very good, qualified people out there that have a lot of valued input into this. I am not representing the County in the negotiations with Government in relation to this. Wherever I can, I assist the Department with knowledge and with facilitating samples required for research testing.
“We have raised the issues with the Department in relation to all the deleterious materials that are at play here, all the Sulphides, including the Iron Sulphide. I am not disagreeing with Cllr McBrearty on that issue. There are a number of factors at play here. There is a lot of research to be done.
“There is a lot of research underway in this area and there are a lot of chemical reactions happening and indeed issues around deterioration due to ground water that we have to consider. I would be off the view, all of these aspects have to be considered in detail to make sure the proper solution is dealt found.
“The issue we have here is not similar to the issue in the eastern part of the country where the Pyrite deterioration occurred. What we have here is the block walls are the issue. They contain the deleterious materials and have actually deteriorated. That is what we are trying to deal with. It is a very complex area. There are a lot of factors at play. Maybe, back at the very start it might have been perceived it was primarily a Mica issue in Donegal and primarily a pyrite issue in Mayo.
“My view now would be there is number of issues at play in Donegal and Cllr McBrearty has highlighted a number of them. Considerable consideration is required to get the right solution. The clarifications we have requested from the Department highlight a number of these complex and difficult issues.
Cllr McBrearty said IS 465 [Protocol used to assess damage in properties where the concrete blocks are suspected to contain Mica or Pyrite] was not fit for purpose and the proposed Enhanced Redress Bill must be halted.
Mica Redress campaigner Paddy Diver told Inish Times / Inish Live the research being undertaken by Professor Paul Dunlop [Ulster University] and Dr Andreas Leeman [Head of the Concrete Technology Group at Empa, Federal Research Institute on Materials, in Switzerland] discredited the proponents of Freeze / Thaw.
He added: "For the Government not to recognise Iron Sulphide Attack is a serious issue for the future."
The sentiments expressed at the Mica Redress Committee by Donegal County Council's executive and councillors seem to be at odds with the views of chartered civil engineer, Aidan O'Connell, who advised the the Government's Expert Group on the Defective Concrete Blocks Grant Scheme which reported on March 16, 2022.
Speaking to Inish Times / Inish Live, Mr O'Connell, the Managing Director of AOCA Engineering Consultants said he became aware of the Mica appearing in concrete blocks in 2009, in Killaloe [County Clare].
He added: “We had a number of properties in Donegal Town and north of Donegal Town. We then started doing our own investigations in relation to what was going on there. We did initially suspect there was Pyrite. We did investigate for Pyrite. We found zero Pyrite but we found very high levels of Mica.
“Gradually, we started doing research in relation to Mica, what it can do and what are its physical issues. Mica does not chemically react. It absorbs water and if then there is a freeze period, it breaks down whatever it is in and that is the mechanism we have seen.
“I have heard other properties, other people, saying they have found a mineral called Pyrrhotite around the Donegal area. Now people are saying, 'It's Pyrrhotite, it's not Mica, it's nothing to do with Mica, it's all Pyrrhotite'. I am sceptical about this.
“But there have been calls for additional research and investigations to be carried out using Geological Survey of Ireland [GSI] and the Department of the Environment and I do know that Dr Robbie Goodhue of Trinity College has put forward a number of submissions for research projects. There has been research done on effect of Freeze/Thaw and Mica. There was work carried out by Paul Quigley of IGSL [ground investigation and geotechnical company].
“I think what he has predominantly done is wetting and drying cycles. He wetted blocks and then dried the blocks. The idea of that was to see whether just the wetting and drying cycles themselves would give rise to the breakdown of concrete blocks. Yes. It definitely showed a level of deterioration,” said Mr O'Connell.
Mr O'Connell also expressed the view the incorrect plastering of houses in Donegal was the cause of the deterioration in homes here.
He said: “One thing that been argued repeatedly by the quarries, and I will have to say there is credibility in some of their arguments, is there is a problem up in Donegal, in all of the coastal areas of Ireland predominantly, where the people doing the plastering of houses, never really recognised or understood they needed to put three layers of plaster on the outside of buildings, because of the level of high exposure.
“The Inishowen peninsula, is one of the most exposed places in Ireland and should always have had three coats of render. It should always have had it in a particular way, where the outer layer is the weakest layer and then it gets stronger as you go back in. And I have seen properties where it was only two layers and very thin coats and the outer layer is the hardest layer, which basically meant it was going to fail regardless. That's what the Irish Standard says.
“I think it is a combination of the Mica problem and the cracking as a result of the properties not being made watertight. That is why I have always advocated that when you got Mica in a property, it does not mean that you have to demolish the house or that you are doomed. I do not know of a single house, ever, where I have not seen hairline cracking or minor cracking because of thermal movement.
“If you maintain it and service it and ensure that the water cannot get into it, paint it reasonably regularly and maintain it, then you stop water from getting in. It is not a coincidence this really started coming to light in 2010 / 2011 when we had the big freeze,” said Aidan O'Connell.
The chartered engineer described the idea of other deleterious materials as a “red herring”.
He added: “The only other deleterious material that is being suggested at the moment is Pyrrhotite and some people are getting quite wound up about it.
I would say, 'Lets have a look. Let's do this in a coherent way. There are plenty of people that are objective and are happy to give of their time in an objective way to see what is going on here.”
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