Exhaustive scientific testing reveals internal and external sulphate attack in foundations of Raphoe home.
If there is one thing at which Irish governments excel, it is scandals. As for tribunals, well there’s one for everyone in the audience.
The Blood Transfusion Service Board anti-D scandal (1994); the HIV/Hepatitis C contaminated haemophilia factors scandal (1985); the Cervical Check cancer scandal; and the Mother and Baby Homes Commission Report scandal (2021), to name but a few.
Characterising innumerable shameful episodes in the past 60 years ‘scandal’ is impactful. It conveys the absolute suffering and devastation caused to citizens’ lives when decision-makers take the conscious political choice to act without ethics or compassion.
In Donegal another scandal is unfolding to add to the long and indefensible list, which includes the [Morris] Tribunal of Inquiry into complaints concerning some Gardaí of the Donegal Division (2008).
The Defective Concrete and Defective Concrete Products scandal is shattering lives and destroying futures.
Family homes in the county, built on defective concrete foundations, with defective concrete blocks, are literally crumbling before the eyes of their owners.
This degradation is being caused by pyrrhotite and internal sulphate attack in the defective concrete and concrete products used in the construction of the houses.
Unbelievably, these defective materials were manufactured by Ireland’s concrete industry, which was subject to absolutely no domestic statutory regulation - none.
The Government response to this latest scandal has been depressingly predictable.
Actively victim blaming, the Government and senior civil servants have presented not one but two deliberately inutile and tortuous redress schemes as the panacea for all of Donegal’s defective concrete ills.
However, experience is showing the Defective Concrete Blocks Grant Scheme (June 2020) and its replacement, the Enhanced Grants for the Remediation of Dwellings Damaged by the Use of Defective Concrete Blocks in Their Construction (June 2023), are mere governmental mirages. Both are inaccessible, inadequate and insulting to homeowners.
As a result, just as the victims of the Cervical Check cancer scandal are being forced to seek compensation in the High Court because the Cervical Check Tribunal is so ineffective, one Donegal couple is preparing to do the same regarding their collapsing family home.
The High Court case pertaining to the home of well known Raphoe nightclub owner Frank McBrearty (79) and his wife Rosalind (77) is currently being prepared. Proceedings are expected to be issued in the High Court in the coming months.
The couple’s journey to the High Court began in January 2021 when Rosalind wanted to paint her new home for the first time. Frank and his son, Donegal County Councillor Frank McBrearty (Jr), had an inkling there was something “seriously wrong structurally” with the property.
That is when we decided to get our home tested. It was structurally failing before our very eyes. In May 2021, we employed the services of an Irish Standard (IS) 465 chartered engineer and coring contractor, even though we were excluded from the Defective Concrete Blocks Grant Scheme due to its inequitable financial cap of €247,500.
IS 465:2018 includes the standardised protocol for determining whether a building has been damaged by concrete blocks containing certain excessive amounts of mica.
It has been described as a “fraudulent” standard because it was specifically designed to ignore pyrrhotite and internal sulphate attack, the scientifically proven cause of defective concrete and defective concrete products. Blaming mica is a false flag.
“So began the exhaustive process to scientifically ascertain the cause of the structural defects in our home,” said Frank.
Over the coming months our Test Suite A and Test Suite B results came back from the UK laboratory, Petrolab, which is based in Cornwall, England. Our chartered engineer instructed Petrolab to use the IS 465:2018+A1:2020 Guidance Protocol. This identified 16% Mica in our blocks. However, our blocks were above the Newton strength threshold of 7.5 mm/2, which flagged a major problem for our engineer. If not mica, what was causing our home to disintegrate?
Informed by his own extensive research, Cllr Frank McBrearty Jr, a member of Donegal County Council’s Mica Redress Committee, advised his father to get a third test conducted on the core samples.
Frank said: “This test was called a sulphate attack analysis. We commissioned it as a result of the visual estimate of reactive iron sulphide minerals, such as pyrrhotite and others, identified in the Petrolab Suite B Test results, in August 2021. Frank said:
The results proved conclusively, the cause of the structural defects in all of the concrete core samples taken from our blocks was the presence of reactive iron sulphide minerals, predominantly pyrrhotite, above the permitted level of 0.1%. Essentially, scientific testing showed beyond doubt there was internal sulphate attack in every single one of the concrete samples cored from our blocks.
Just over a year later, Frank took the crucial step of testing the foundations of his home, even though, worryingly, the necessity to test foundations was also deliberately excluded from the 1S 465 protocol.
Frank said this decision was based on an awareness of the alarming information which was coming to the fore about the deleterious effects of reactive iron sulphide minerals:
Alarmingly, the tests carried out on the concrete cored from our foundations revealed the foundations had lost 75% of their strength over the previous 15 years.Consultations with the Petrolab geologist then highlighted concerns over the lack of information on the ground conditions prior to the foundations being poured during construction.As a result, our engineer strongly advised a geotechnical examination be carried out on the ground around the foundations.
So we appointed Causeway Geotech Limited from Northern Ireland to conduct boring holes at five different locations around the foundations. What was extracted was bagged and tagged, then forensically examined by Geotech’s laboratory.
Thank God the results came back showing no contamination, which meant our engineer, in consultation with Petrolab, could now finalise his report on the foundations. This report, supported by a full set of scientific test results, shows at some stage, our foundations will have to be taken out and replaced.
A philosophical Frank said he and Rosalind know they could be both dead before the situation is resolved in the High Court or in the Higher Courts such as the Appeal and Supreme Courts or even Europe if necessary.
The scientific test results on my foundations have been supplied to all stakeholders and individuals that have played a key role in the ‘redress’ schemes.
I can’t understand why they are saying publicly that no one has yet presented any proof of the structural defects in the concrete foundations. I have done exactly that.
I believe an Independent Statutory Judicial Public Inquiry should have already been established into the situation in Donegal. In addition, I don’t understand why no Donegal TD has not taken a Judicial Review in the public interest against the Government’s IS 465 Protocol and unfair Statutory Instrument SI 25 Defective Concrete Block Grant Scheme.
No matter how hard it will be, I am confident justice will prevail over time but sadly some may not have that time left to see their homes and properties being fully demolished and rebuilt at no cost to them.
⏪Hugh O’Donnell is on the ground in Donegal.