Avalanche of mica damage writs just the ‘first wave’, says action group

Owners of crumbling homes say €2.7bn State scheme won’t cover the full costs of fixing them

'The eligible costs are dictated by the department, that is not the true cost,’ says Michael O’Doherty, public relations officer for the Mica Action Group

Maeve Sheehan

Suppliers of defective building blocks have been hit with a deluge of legal writs over the last 10 days from Donegal property owners hit by the mica scandal as part of a €550m legal action.

More than 1,350 affected homeowners have issued legal instructions, in a coordinated legal campaign to sue Cassidy Brothers, Donegal County Council and the National Standards Authority of Ireland, with another 650 people expected to join in the coming weeks.

As of Friday, 630 writs on behalf of those who issued legal instructions, had been issued in the High Court since the Government signed off on the much-criticised €2.7bn-plus mica grant scheme.

Hundreds more are expected to be lodged in court this week.

The number of property owners resorting to legal action has skyrocketed since the Government signed off on the defective concrete blocks legislation on July 6, signalling the depth of dissatisfaction with the scheme.

The number of cases is so large that the law firm Coleman Legal LLP has agreed with the Courts Service to issue the cases in rolling tranches of 150.

The Government’s €2.7bn scheme provides for grants for homeowners in Donegal, Mayo and other counties to repair defects caused by mica, offering 100pc redress up to a cap of €420,000.

It passed its final stage in the Seanad on Thursday.

However, homeowners say the grants won’t cover the full costs of the rebuild, and many will be left with remaining costs of thousands. They hope the courts will award the difference between the State grant and what they say is the true cost of the rebuild. Owners of commercial, rental, holiday or agricultural properties that are excluded entirely from the grant scheme. say they have no option but to take legal action.

The cases are being funded by a not-for-profit company, Donegal Concrete Defects, set up by two Donegal businessmen, Shaun Hegarty and Adrian Sheridan.

Both men’s families have been impacted by the mica scandal.

Mr Hegarty said the group capped the number of people that can join the action at 2,000 to better manage the claims. But it expects to have 2,000 writs issued before the legislation is signed into law.

Homeowners will be claiming an average around €50,000 to €75,000, while those excluded from the grant scheme will be claiming substantially more to cover the full rebuild of their properties. The total value of the cases is  estimated at €550m.

The bulk of the costs may ultimately be borne by the taxpayer. Solicitors for Cassidy Brothers told house owners in 2016 that it did not have insurance cover for defective blocks, according to a letter seen by the Sunday Independent.

The mica legal actions will be the biggest multi-party actions in the history of the State, according to Dave Coleman, principal of Coleman Legal LLP, which is acting for all the plaintiffs in the case.

The firm specialises in multi-party actions and is taking on the cases on a cost-only basis. Affected property owners are not charged a fee to join the legal action but a “small fee” will be charged for each case that is successful, according to Coleman Legal website.

Only a handful of the hundreds of cases will be put forward for hearing at the High Court, to represent the types of properties affected.

Mr Coleman said the cases are being pushed through ahead of the legislation becoming law to protect the legal rights of affected property owners in the event of any future ministerial changes to the legislation, and to meet the time constraints of the statute of limitations.

An early draft of the legislation had proposed that the State would take any money won in legal actions by mica homeowners if they signed up to the redress scheme, but this was later dropped.

The Government initially offered to fund 8pc of the repair costs, with a €247,500 cap, but later increased that to 100pc up to €420,000. The Mica Action Group, which claims to represent about 4,000 of 7,000 homeowners across Co Donegal, said despite the Government’s offers of 100pc redress, most will still be left with bills of thousands of euro.

Michael O’Doherty, PR officer for the Mica Action Group, said the legal actions hitting the High Court currently are the “first wave”.  “There are the eligible costs and there are the true costs,” he said. “The eligible costs are dictated by the department, that is not the true cost."

He added: “The thing that really astounded us was that many homeowners with no pathway to the funds to fill the shortfall offered to reduce the size of their new home, to bring the costs of the rebuild down so that the full cost would be covered, that was turned down as well.”

A statement from Cassidy Bros said the company had “no comment to make on the matters which are currently before the High Court”.

The statement added: "Cassidy Bros has always adhered rigidly to the industry standards set down by Government and regulatory bodies in the manufacturing of all products. All Cassidy Bros products always met all of the required standards at the point of manufacture.”

This article was updated on July 19, 2022

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