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The UK has sorted the flooding and insurance debacle, so why can't we?

Jason O’Sullivan says government needs to re-evaluate the flood insurance protection in Ireland.

Jason O'Sullivan

THE GOVERNMENT HAS pledged a €5 million emergency package to deal with the devastation caused by recent storms along with a proposed new flood warning system at a cost of €2.5 million.

Such measures are of course a necessity and will provide some relief and solace to those property owners who have experienced loss.

However, these measures are yet again reactionary and represent only limited solutions to a continual and escalating climate change problem. Worryingly, they still fail to address the primary issue – the difficulty of obtaining insurance cover against future flooding.

Six one news reported live from Bandon in County Cork on 7 December to show the full extent of the recent flooding on the town. The residents were in shock and understandably reeling from the weekend’s storm.

Many were disillusioned as they simply did not expect such an event would revisit their town so soon again, following similar scenes in 2009.

The RTE news reporter finished his piece by saying that Bandon residents were sceptical of government emergency measures following Storm Desmond due to past experiences. He noted that many of the locals felt such packages were “overly complex, too difficult to access and slow to deliver”.

The people of Bandon have a right to be cynical about such measures, the town is still awaiting the remedial works to take place following the 2009 floods. The €10 million pledged by the government at the time has yet to be spent, held up due to a lengthy legal challenge to the tendering process.

9/12/2015 Storm Desmond Flooding Warnings Flooding in Athlone Source: Sasko Lazarov

Possible alternative?

As eluded to above, the primary concern for those living in such high risk flood areas, is the inability to obtain insurance following an initial claim for flood damage. This lack of insurance cover is both financially and physiologically debilitating for those residing in flood prone locations.

It has the effect of leaving these individuals reliant on emergency funding schemes and to remain that way into the future, unless a new insurance regime is adopted and embraced.

One only has to look to our nearest neighbours experiencing similar increases in flooding to see the progress the UK Government has achieved through its collaborative discussion with the insurance Industry. Both have attempted to deal with this real issue head on and have created the new insurance model ‘Flood Re’ which comes into effect in 2016.

This collaboration between the government and the insurance industry has created a subsidised scheme which will enable those in high risk flood areas to obtain affordable insurance cover to protect their property against flood damage, even after existing claims.

The ‘Flood Re’ scheme will be a not-for-profit flood reinsurance fund, owned and managed by the insurance industry. Reinsurance is a way for insurers themselves to insure against large scale losses.

13/12/2015. Floods Athlone. Swans glide by a sandb Flooding in Athlone on Sunday. Source: Eamonn Farrell

How will it work?

‘Flood Re’ is essentially a fund to provide affordable flood cover to high risk properties and will be funded by a levy on each annual household insurance premium, estimated at present to be around £10.50. In order to ensure affordability, the insurance premiums for properties in the flood areas will be capped by the UK Government in accordance with Council Tax bands.

Could ‘Flood Re’ be introduced into Ireland?

This very query was raised as a parliamentary question to the Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan in June of this year, his reply indicated that such a proactive scheme is not on the horizon anytime soon.

In his reply he stated “the UK Flood-Re scheme is only due to go live in April 2016 and so it would be premature to carry out a review of its impact at this stage”. Minister Noonan then continued to outline the governments current dual action approach.

The first aspect centresonprioritising funding for remedial works in area’s most in need and where appropriate insurance cannot be accessed. The second element involves improving communications with the insurance industry, with the aim that increased flood defence remedial works and information will “facilitate” future insurance cover.

Minister Noonan also warned that because of our smaller population in comparison to the UK, Ireland would have a smaller pool of participants and may lead to significant increases in insurance premiums to fund this type of scheme.

9/12/2015. Flooding Athlone. A Red Cross team arri A Red Cross team arrives at the Park Estate, under threat from a flooding River Shannon in Athlone Town. Source: Eamonn Farrell

Such insurance hikes are a possibility, but no real certainty on costings can be provided unless such collaborative discussion takes place in the first instance, with the objective of achieving sustainable insurance alternatives for flood risk zones.

The Future The Climate Change Conference in Paris again highlighted the stark reality that such extreme weather events will continue to increase in severity and scale into the future.

Therefore the current Irish approach as outlined above fails to provide any sense of certainty and appears to be still at the behest of the insurance industry’s discretion in determining cover or not. The time has now come for a more intrinsic examination of current measures and for serious discussions to take place between the Irish government and insurance industry to deal with a very serious problem for Irish citizens.

The UK’s ‘Flood Re’ model may not be suitable for the Irish market, either in part or full, but it represents a participatory attempt to address a serious problem and by its very existence, provides a greater sense of hope, empowerment and security to UK citizens – a peace of mind that should be afforded to our own Irish citizens who will undoubtedly endure future floods and pay the costly price of insurance exemption.

Jason O’ Sullivan, is a solicitor and public affairs consultant at J.O.S Solicitors.

Read: Drafting in the army to tackle the flood waters shows lessons have been learned from past disasters>

Read: Nama is more likely to fatten the vulture funds than provide affordable housing for young couples>

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Jason O'Sullivan

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