Credit: Mica Redress

The MICA crisis is about more than just hard cash

In Donegal, thousands of houses are falling apart. Walls are cracking in two. Family homes are slowly, but inexorably, disintegrating. The crisis will likely cost the taxpayer billions, and has inflicted unspeakable stress and suffering on families. And yet, as ever in Ireland, nobody has resigned. Nobody has been prosecuted. Nobody is even being investigated for political negligence.

All things considered, the MICA scandal in Donegal is receiving far less attention than it deserves. After all, in an era where Ireland’s top political issue is housing, it should really be considered a historic, unprecedented national crisis that thousands of homes in Donegal are either falling down, or in imminent danger of falling down. Thousands of families face homelessness, and, in the absence of a state bailout, bankruptcy. Through no fault of their own.

It is of course a cliché to write that were the MICA scandal affecting the residents of Finglas or Donnybrook, there would be space for little else on the news. But as it is, it’s a scandal in far off, remote, Donegal, affecting people for whom we might all feel sympathy, but very little, if the media was honest with itself, by way of urgency.

The other problem that the MICA people face is a cold, hard one, and it is this: The crisis is located in one, single, constituency. Collectively, those affected have limited power to punish the Government at the polls, because at most their votes might swing one or two seats. MICA is unlikely, in other words, to dominate the agenda at the next general election, even though it is one of the biggest crises facing the country.

But just because the nation is not talking about it does not mean that the problem will not have to be solved. And it does not mean that the problem will impact the country in ways that most of us probably have not considered.

First, there is the matter of cash: The costs to repair and rebuild thousands of homes in Donegal will run into the billions. Some are saying 3billion, but double that cost would not be an unreasonable estimate.

More importantly, though, there is the question of resources: A bailout of the homeowners in Donegal is the right, and correct, thing to do. But doing so will create an immense demand in Donegal for builders, engineers, electricians, and construction professionals. One of two things will happen: Either it will take years because of a shortage of labour; or, perhaps more likely, Donegal will suck the Irish construction industry’s labour force northwards, impacting on the pace of construction in the rest of the country. In other words, the MICA scandal in Donegal could severely undermine the Government’s plans to build thousands of new homes annually.

In the face of this, it really should be time to start asking questions about who bears the blame, and who will be taking responsibility for what has happened. Here is yet another massive Irish scandal, with life-destroying consequences for thousands of innocent families, and, yet again, nobody has been prosecuted, or charged, or (perhaps more reasonably) dismissed from a position of authority over the process. This is just another example of an Irish scandal which “just happened”, apparently, all by itself.

There have been no consequences for those who supplied the defective materials. There have been no consequences for those who oversaw and regulated the industry which provided the defective materials. There have been no political consequences or hearings into those who were in power at the time when the relevant regulations were set. The national allergy to accountability for those who make decisions continues, as usual.

Much as some of us may not like it, the taxpayer will have to bear the costs. This is why we have Governments, after all: To do the things that individuals and families cannot reasonably do. To clean up and organise after disasters. To deploy overwhelming resources in a way that the private sector cannot. If the people of Donegal had taken sledgehammers to their own homes, that would be one thing. But in this case, they are, unambiguously, victims of something beyond their control.

Ask yourself: What kind of blocks are in your house? What brand of cement was used to knit them together? Who supplied the timber for your roof, or the slates? What materials are used to insulate the walls? You almost certainly do not know, because we do not need to know, usually. Unless we are builders, we leave these things to the experts, and trust them. That is what the people of Donegal did.

Sooner, rather than later, we will all, as a state, have to reckon with the consequences of the disaster in Donegal. The longer we leave it, the more the crisis will deepen, as homes continue to fall apart. This is a national scandal, and it needs a national response.

The people of Donegal deserve their full redress, and the rest of us need to start asking, more loudly, where the consequences are for those who failed Donegal, and failed the country in the process.

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