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The husband and wife team who decided to fight back

Pyrite Action was born out of the frustration and desperation of families whose homes were cracking up around them.

Sandra Lewis (34) and her husband Peter, have spearheaded the pressure group which now has more than 1,500 members.

As there are 12,000 homes affected by pyrite contamination, the group was not short of new recruits. Most of the victims live in north Dublin with sizeable numbers in Meath, Kildare, and parts of Offaly. Homes in Louth, Wicklow and Westmeath are also contaminated.

The Lewis family, like all the others, just want their homes fixed.

They had a big mortgage, negative equity, and then finally discovered their home was being destroyed.

The material from quarries used underneath the floors contain pyrite which expands when wet, causing floors and walls to warp, crack and shift. The cost of digging up the floors and fixing them costs around €50,000 which most just cannot afford.



Insurance

Pyrite Action was set up after Sandra and Peter attended a public meeting in Balbriggan in May 2011. Just three months later, HomeBond, the insurance scheme which is supposed to guarantee the work of builders, declared it was not responsible for getting pyrite-hit homes fixed.

The group organised protests outside the HomeBond offices. It also gave evidence to a Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Environment.

The group wanted the Government to oversee and manage whatever remedial scheme that could be agreed. Insurance companies, banks, builders, and quarry owners would need to be compelled to co-operate fully in providing a remedy for each homeowner, she said.

"Funds must be used for remediation, not litigation," said the mother-of-one Sandra.

The couple bought their two-bedroom apartment in Santry in 2003 for almost €300,000 and moved into the newly built apartment the following year. The first sign of trouble was when the shower tray cracked and broke. Then hairline cracks appeared in the walls. Tiles in the shower began to crack. Then walls began to bulge. Doors began to stick.



Suffered

The Lewises continued to undertake their own repair work in the apartment, replacing internal walls twice more.

They have replaced the shower tray three times.

Dampness problems increased and, faced with a newborn baby who suffered from asthma, the couple eventually moved out of their home and went to live with Sandra's parents.

After more than two years living with in-laws, they rented a home in Sandra's native Carberry in Kildare.

They managed to fix up the apartment sufficiently to rent it out to single people for just half the usual rent.

They had been tempted to hand back the keys to the bank but knew they would be pursued for the negative equity.

Finally, they reached a point when they felt the tears had to end and pragmatic action was needed.

And so their campaigning began.

aokeeffe@herald.ie