‘We need action not words on mica’ says Canon Judi McGaffin

One of the most sobering contributions to debate at this year’s synod came during discussion of the Board of Social Responsibility’s report, when the Curate-in-Charge in Fahan Upper and Fahan Lower, Rev Canon Judi McGaffin, raised an issue which is causing immense anxiety to thousands of homeowners in the Diocese of Raphoe and beyond – mica.

“The word ‘pandemic’ is usually [used] in relation to diseases that relate to either a country or the world,” Canon McGaffin said. “But in terms of this country, another pandemic is now raging in Donegal and beyond – across Mayo, Sligo, Tipperary, Clare, Limerick – and that’s the issue of mica. It may not be a disease in humans, but it will have the potential to adversely affect thousands of people across these counties and beyond.

“We as humans, as has been said several times this morning, we have all been created by God and have needs. Those needs have been described by various people in hierarchies of need. The most basic of those is physiological, which is either water or food or various other things. And then next come safety needs – and that’s security of property, body – and thirdly the need to belong, and that relates to family and community.

“Many people across Donegal have been and will be affected by mica and the mica pandemic. They’ll be affected personally, financially and emotionally, and there are individuals, there are families, there are people who will be affected when community buildings are found to be affected by this issue too. They’re of all ages, all faiths and none, and [from] right across the socio-economic platform.

“There [are] also issues of fairness and justice for all involved. The problem is huge, and it’s a problem that’s multi-faceted and multi-layered, and whatever we do it will be a marathon and not a sprint.

“You, Bishop, along with other faith leaders, have already made a very powerful statement about the issues and now I would like us to think about how we, as a diocese, are going to put ‘meat on the bones’ of that statement. In Inishowen, we have taken our lead from you, Bishop – and the group who met and made the statement – and [we] have begun by forming an Inishowen faith leaders’ group to begin to think how we as faith leaders can run this marathon with the people who are and will be affected as this pandemic unfolds and people feel the effects on their mental health, their finances and their relationships.

“At our meeting last week, some people were talking about some stories they had already heard. Somebody gave us a story of a lady in the diocese who had lost her husband through Covid over the past year and who’s now about to have the house that they built together demolished. So, a loss not only of her husband but now a loss of security and memories, too.

“It goes across all age groups: another story was told of a six-year-old who asked his mother recently – when he saw a small crack in his bedroom wall – was their house falling down too? And in relation to people in Buncrana, in particular, people who have had horrific damage from floods a few years ago, they are now facing – a lot of them – into mica damage in their houses, too. They are in some cases awaiting engineers’ reports to find out how bad the damage is, and the anxiety of that waiting is awful.

“The not knowing may, however, be a small issue compared to what they’re going to face into: leaving home, storing treasured belongings, ensuring you’re meeting with all the legal requirements, and then finding a place to live as repairs are ongoing. Not an easy place to be, especially in Buncrana where housing stock is so poor.

“It has been said several times this morning that we all have a responsibility to care for God’s creatures and we can and should all make a contribution in caring for our neighbours. In your address this morning, Bishop, you mentioned that we are a people who should not just deliver words but deliver actions, too, so I would like this synod – and perhaps the BSR in particular – to consider how, as a faith community, we can walk with our neighbours over this marathon, and work to reach out practically, prayerfully, pastorally and in a planned and even in a passionate way to our neighbours.”

Bishop Andrew recalled for synod his recent visit to a number of Covid homes in Donegal, where he met three generations of people who had been affected by mica. “[They were] remarkably sobering visits,” he said.

“It is catastrophic – it is literally catastrophic – for the families that are affected by it and I want to thank you for what you’ve shared with the synod, and for bringing it onto our agenda and to our attention; and I’m sure the Board of Social Responsibility and the wider diocese will want to take very seriously the comments which you’ve made today about the actions that we can help with.”