Conference looks for solutions to defective blocks crisis

A defective blocks conference held in Letterkenny has heard from a wide range of voices including international geology experts, politicians, families and businesses.

Members of the Mica Action Group also offered their views.

The event was hosted by Atlantic Technological University and University Ulster. Sponsorship came from the European Union and independent MEP Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan.


The MEP was joined at the conference opening by Paul Hannigan (Head of College at ATU), Professor Paul Dunlop (Ulster University), Dr Eileen Doherty (University Ulster) and Joseph Morgan (Director of Engineering at Druva).

The panel gathered to discuss the scientific and societal impacts of defective blocks.

Dr Eileen Doherty said it was the first event of its kind, the purpose of which was to “find solutions”.

Leading international experts in geology, earth sciences and engineering who research the impacts of deleterious minerals on concrete from Canada, the USA, Switzerland and Norway all travelled to Donegal to speak about their own research.

The conference included a round table discussion where the experts explored the science of deleterious geological minerals and their destructive impacts on concrete.

Dr Leemann from the Swiss Federal Laboritories for Material Science and Technology has been working with affected home owners and sampling materials from their homes.

He explained that the issue goes beyond mica. He is much more concerned with pyrrhotite which was present in the samples.


Professor Paul Dunlop added that the current government redress scheme and regulations are underpinned by the standard IS 465 – the standardised protocol put in place to determine if a building has been damaged by defective blocks – but this does not mention the mineral pyrrhotite.

Both homeowners and engineers expressed their frustration with the current scheme.

The Department of Housing’s homeowner liaison, John O’Connor said that he understands that they will have the regulations on the revised redress scheme completed before the end of the year.

Chair of the councils Defective Blocks Committee, Councillor Martin McDermott, said that the council has brought on extra staff to make processing the scheme quicker, but to date has been very difficult for both homeowners and engineers.

He said that IS 465 needs to be updated urgently as it is “ not fit for purposes and is extremely outdated”.

Engineer’s role

Director General of Engineers Ireland, Damien Owens, explained the engineer’s role in supporting and implementing the scheme.

He said it lacked levels of certainty, that the current scheme was too slow in dealing with applicants.

A factor here is that the demand on engineers is “outstripping supply”, he added.

Mr Owens stressed that these factors were all “before a shovel goes into the ground”.

Councillor McDermott said the conference was about “highlighting the situation we are in and bringing expertise to the table”.

Debbie McCoy a lead advocate from Connecticut spoke from her experience in the US.

“We could have avoided all of this if we were testing quarries,” she told those gathered.

Lisa Hone, Mica Action Group chair, said that the conference was taking place because government failed to “do its research and has failed to do its due diligence”.

European Parliamentarian Ming Flanagan said that government policy should have been informed by science and that if they had talked before decisions were made then they would not be here now.

The MEP also added that politicians “love when issues go quiet”.

Lisa Hone assured the large audience that they will not be silenced.

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