One of the biggest issues facing home- and business-owners in flood-risk areas continues to be insurance companies refusing to provide cover even when flood defences have been built, according to Eugene Murphy, Fianna Fáil spokesman for the Office of Public Works and flood relief.
Following the Government's announcement of a €1 billion investment programme in most-at-risk areas, he cited cases in Clonmel, Co Tipperary; Cork city; and Ballinasloe, Co Galway, where businesses and householders had persistent difficulties in securing cover in spite of major works being completed.
“Unless this issue is addressed, there will be no comfort for those who have already been affected or those at risk of flooding,” he added.
Minister of State for the OPW and Flood Relief, Kevin “Boxer” Moran, insisted following his ongoing engagement with the insurance sector that cover was being extended.
Insurance Ireland on Friday reported the average level of flood insurance cover has increased from 77 per to 83 per cent in those protected areas since 2015.
This followed a meeting in Dublin of a working group on the issue, which includes the OPW, the Department of Finance, representatives of Insurance Ireland and individual insurance companies.
The OPW outlined the planned investment announced on Thursday to protect 95 per cent of properties assessed as at risk. “Insurance Ireland were supportive of this announcement,” an OPW spokesman confirmed.
“The group discussed ways of how Insurance Ireland’s data on levels of flood insurance cover can be collated and presented in the future to the working group, as the State ramps up its delivery of schemes,” he added.
The principle of the insurance industry getting technical data on areas to be protected by State investment on flood defence schemes as they near completion was also discussed. “This earlier exchange of data can help to expedite return of flood insurance cover to families and businesses,” he said.
The legislative route was the only way to guarantee insurance in such circumstances, Mr Murphy said. Fianna Fáil had introduced a Flood Insurance Bill which proposes extending insurance cover in areas where flood defences have been built by the OPW.
Brian McNelis of Brokers Ireland, which represents 1,300 member firms, welcomed Mr Moran’s commitment to hold discussions with insurance companies. They, however, would have a concern around 31 smaller flood defence schemes to be undertaken by local authorities, he said.
“These authorities need to act with speed. Unfortunately, there have been issues between local authorities and other public bodies, such as inland fisheries, in the past. And there have been issues around lack of maintenance of culverts and waterways to a sufficiently high standard,” he added.
‘Too many left bereft’
“Consumers and businesses need the protection of insurance. Too many have been left bereft. Investment in flood defences is a solid investment that obviates the need for trauma and emergency funding that would otherwise be required on an ongoing basis,” Mr McNelis said.
Difficulties getting insurance are highlighted by the case of a householder from Tullamore, Co Offaly, who discovered her property is now considered to be in a flood plain based on new maps being used by insurance companies to determine risk. The house where Nathalie Watts has lived since 1992 has never flooded.
She lives in Arbutus Court in an area called The Tanyard, through which the Tullamore river runs. Her house is at least 400 metres from the river itself, which flows through a deep gulley.
She went to renew her insurance last year and found her provider had doubled her premium, and initially would not indicate why.
When she questioned this, she eventually was told of new mapping in place for the area. “There is no way the river could ever flood the estate and yet it is deemed a flood plain...My difficulty with all of this is, no local knowledge is being applied,” she said.
When she raised this matter with a local councillor, she was assured that “local knowledge” would be brought into play before any final plans were made. “This is obviously not the case.”
The house next door to her is for sale with a rider about insurance not being available because of the flood plain, she added.
Ms Watt said she was fighting the issue on a point of principle, as generalisations were being randomly applied by insurance companies to the disadvantage of property owners. A refusal to provide cover from one insurance company who told her "because we don't have to" illustrated her point, she believed.