It was a problem that many people did not want to talk about at first, but now there is outcry in Donegal over the defective blocks controversy, which is estimated to have affected more than 4,000 homes - with more and more people being told they will have to demolish and rebuild their houses.

The bulk of the affected houses are in the Inishowen peninsula but there are houses across the county and also in county Mayo where internal and external walls have been cracking and breaking down due to defective blocks that contain high levels of mica.

People had been reluctant to speak about the problem because it would invalidate their insurance cover.

However as the problem worsened, people got together to campaign for a redress scheme for homes which were literally crumbling down around them.

In October 2018, a scheme was finally agreed with government and it opened for applications last summer.

Now, as engineers reports come in as part of the application process, many people are finding the scheme is not working out as they expected it to and it is likely to cost them much more than they had bargained for.

In Dublin, owners of homes affected by pyrite were 100% covered in a Government redress scheme for the problem.

However, in Donegal the defective blocks scheme is a 90:10 grant scheme whereby the homeowner is expected to pay 10% of the cost.

Homeowners like Kieran McLaughlin and his wife Pamela are asking why is it not the same in Donegal, and why they should have to pay for a problem which was not of their making.

Just before Christmas, the McLaughlins moved out of their home near Ballyliffin because they were scared for the safety of their children playing around it.

The gable walls have been crumbling for years and chunks of masonry have fallen out at the corners.

The McLaughlins have now been told by engineers that the house is so bad it will have to be demolished and rebuilt.

The couple thought that the cost would be covered under the 90:10 mica scheme but Ms McLaughlin said rising building costs and other restrictions within the scheme mean they may have to pay out in the region of €100,000.

As a family with five young children, this is a cost they cannot afford.

Noel Noone in Quigley's Point is in the same situation.

His home has to be demolished but to fit in with the conditions of the scheme including a maximum size, he will have to build a much smaller house than his original family home.

He does not know how much it is going to cost him yet but his contribution under the 90:10 scheme could also be more than €100,000.

That will mean a second mortgage, if he can get it, on top of the mortgage he already has for his crumbling house.

Rosa and Richard Gallagher built their dream retirement home overlooking Lough Foyle in their 60s.

Now in their early 80s, they face the prospect of the whole outer part of the house being taken down piece by piece and rebuilt because of mica.

Three years ago the couple got so sick of looking at the cracks that they painted over them but they have been gradually reappearing.

Rosa said it is very sad to see their beautiful home, designed by Richard, crumble around them and she is angry that they have to pay a portion of the cost when they are at no fault.

The Gallaghers are very realistic about their situation and say their house is all they have.

Their children's inheritance is crumbling.

Borrowing will be a big issue for them at their age and if they die before the repair work is done, it is their understanding that the grant dies with them.

Michael Doherty of the Mica Action Group said that if the Government envisaged a scenario whereby families will have to pay out €100,000 to fix their homes, then shame on them.

If, however, in retrospect, this was not what was envisaged then they have the opportunity now to rectify that.

There are four key areas of the scheme that the Government has to address, he said.

The first is the 90:10 element of the scheme, which he said the group reluctantly agreed to.

For example, it was thought at the time that in the case of a €300,000, the homeowner would be paying out €30,000.

Mr Doherty said it is now becoming clear that homeowners will be faced with bills far higher than that, with many looking at more than €100,000.

He said there is a maximum grant of €275,000 inclusive of VAT and there are caps on things like windows.

He said the limitations of the scheme, coupled with rising material and labour costs, is putting the scheme out of the reach of many people.

The group wants the removal of the "One owner, one dwelling – one dwelling, one grant" clause whereby in the case of repairing the house, you can only apply to the scheme once.

Mr Doherty asked what would happen if further mica issues emerge years after repairing the outer part of the house.

Many homeowners are ineligible for the scheme because it is not their primary residence.

Mr Doherty said there are people who bought holiday homes, small-time landlords, and farmers who built sheds with defective blocks that cannot apply to the scheme.

He said excluding these people is unfair as their investments are now liabilities.

Finally, the Mica Action Group said the banks which have these homes on their books should play a part and contribute towards the 10% that homeowners are expected to pay towards the work.

If the Government fails to act now, Mr Doherty said, all these people will be left paying to fix their houses for the rest of their lives.

The Department of Housing in a statement has said that "limits are a feature of grant schemes and ensure that the schemes can be budgeted for with the potential financial liability known at all times".

It said limits also ensure that the "available budget can benefit the majority of properties and the maximum number of people".

It said it would be premature to make any changes to the scheme which opened in June 2020.

"The Department has been made aware of the perceived issues and progress of the scheme is under review by the Minister and Department officials who are engaging with both the local authorities and local action groups on the matter," it said.