A lack of available or affordable insurance for thatched properties could result in the loss of traditional thatched buildings across the country, the Oireachtas Committee on Public Petitions has been told.
The committee, which hears petitions from members of the public, was told by a number of owners of thatched properties that the problem with insurance had been building for two decades and, despite the fact that many thatched roofs were listed for preservation, no practical help from the Government has emerged.
Petitioner Katie McNelis told the committee that her thatched family pub and home in a rural village in Co Tipperary was forced to close because of difficulty in getting insurance for the thatched building. Three generations of her family had been proud to maintain the thatched roof, but after years of instructions from insurers to make changes including the removal of open fires, in April 2021 insurance brokers said they could no longer provide cover as the insurers had left the market.
Ms McNelis said cover was not available elsewhere at an affordable price and her mother was then in the position of having “a commercial, thatched listed public house which she then couldn’t open”.
Removing the thatch would be a last resort but possibly “the only way to get insurance” she said. However, she said, there were difficulties with this approach too as the property remains a listed building and, should anything happen to it, her mother would be obliged by law to return the building to its listed state or face up to two years in jail and/or a fine of up to €12.7 million, under the Planning and Development Act.
Ms McNelis said three generations of her family had been proud to maintain the thatched roof. She said the insurance difficulties had led to the formation of the Thatch Insurance Action Group to drive awareness of the problem.
Eoin Darby, a quantity surveyor with additional qualifications in building repair and conservation, said he and his wife commissioned a new thatch roof on a cottage in Malahide in north Co Dublin, which dated from the 1840s. The house had originally been thatched. He said the couple has secured a hard-to-get planning permission and a master thatcher, and thatching was completed in 2002. Unfortunately, in May of 2022, the insurers pulled out of the market. Eventually the couple managed to arrange quotes ranging from €2,700 to €6,400 per year.
Committee Cathaoirleach Martin Browne said the situation was critical and could have very serious implications for places such as Holycross village in Tipperary where there were a number of thatched houses. He said that unless something was done, thatched homes would remain only “on a postcard”.
Senator Fintan Warfield agreed with the Cathaoirleach saying a probable outcome was that “the State will own them, but nobody will live in them”.