The Minister for Housing has left the door open to a 100 per cent redress scheme for people whose homes have been affected by mica, as a survey found householders are “suffering a major negative impact to their mental health” due to the issue.
The survey, published on Thursday by the Mica Action Group, also found that some people impacted by mica are medicating for the first time ever in order to cope with the stress of the situation.
Representatives from the group are to pass the results to the Government in addition to a document calling for 100 per cent redress for those whose homes are falling down due to defective blocks which will “detail exactly what is needed to end the homeowner’s turmoil and allow them to move forward”.
“It can only be hoped that it is treated with respect and gravity, and is acted upon with urgency,” said Lisa Hone, a spokesperson for the group.
'Nothing off the table'
However, speaking in Limerick on Thursday, Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien appeared to open the door for a “resolution” to the mica issue within the housing crisis.
When asked if he was open to 100 per cent redress for homeowners, Minister O’Brien replied: “I’ve taken nothing off the table.”
He added: “I’m committed to improving the scheme that the previous government brought in last February 12 months, so I know for homeowners the stress they're under.”
Mr O’Brien said the Cabinet will “assess” documents to be handed into Government on Friday, adding: “I want to be able to bring improvements to the scheme, and try to bring a resolution to this in the next few weeks.
“I’ll have to go to Cabinet with some of the changes if they require additional expenditure, which I expect it will do so.”
He acknowledged the mica issue “is a terrible scourge for people, for families, that literally their homes are crumbling in front of them".
"We want to help,” Mr O'Brien added.
Ms Hone said 483 registered members of the Mica Action Group responded to the survey, and they admitted to “dealing with unrelenting anxiety about safety and finances, the distress of having homes demolished and worries about future homelessness”.
“Prior to being aware that their house was affected, 96 per cent of homeowners reported having good to excellent mental health. Following the recognition of defective blocks in their home, 84 per cent state that it has had a negative/very negative impact on their mental health, with 45 per cent of homeowners now rating their mental health as poor or very poor,” she said.
“A common theme running through comments from defective block homeowners was the constant nature of the anxiety seeping into all corners of their lives, with 50 per cent feeling unsafe in their home.
"Typical comments made by homeowners describing the devastating impact were: ‘Mica is in your mind 24/7’...It affects your ability to function, make decisions and see the good around you’... ‘When you wake up it’s like you never slept – it’s in your head’.”
One respondent told the survey: “I can’t cope with this madness anymore, nightmares thinking something will fall off (the house) and hurt one of my children. I can’t afford it, this is a living hell.”
Ms Lone said “70 per cent reported as suffering from anxiety, 65 per cent difficulty sleeping, 46 per cent with low mood and 25 per cent as depression”.
“Many described the combination of poor sleep and sapping effect of ever-present anxiety as having a detrimental effect to their motivation and enthusiasm for other areas of life, and some reported having to medicate themselves for the first time in their lives simply to cope,” she said.
Ms Lone, whose home has been impacted by mica, said, that in her opinion, there was “a plausible connection between the severe mental strain and the onset of illness or the worsening of underlying physical conditions” in people.
“Some defective block homeowners with pre-existing illness such as asthma, psoriasis, multiple sclerosis, and high blood pressure reported an exacerbation of their condition. The fact that this stressful situation has been a reality for some homeowners for over a decade is unthinkable,” she added.
“Successive governments have attempted to play down its seriousness and scale. The current scheme is described as ‘not fit for purpose’ by the majority of the affected homeowners, as it does not provide them with a way out of the nightmare by allowing them to reclaim their homes and their lives.
"Not knowing if, how or when they can move forward feeds into a perpetual stress for many, as one homeowner put it ‘fear is constantly present, we’re in limbo’,” Ms Lone said.