Brexit has been blamed for a lot of woes this side of the Irish Sea — the latest being demise of the traditional thatched cottage.
Minister of State with responsibility for Insurance Sean Fleming has warned a mass exodus of UK insurers from Ireland has “absolutely exacerbated” the travails of the country’s dwindling number of thatched property owners.
For years, they relied on specialist underwriters in London — one of the biggest insurance markets in the world with a similar legal framework to here — who could “passport” services into other EU countries.
When that ended after the UK decided to pull out of the EU, it became “more expensive and more bureacratic” for the specialist insurers to offer niche cover for homeowners in Ireland.
“I know people would say there were issues long before Brexit, but Brexit has absolutely exacerbated the problem,” Mr Fleming told an Oireachtas committee hearing on insuring thatched properties.
“Because most of the insurance was coming from the UK and since the UK decided to leave the EU, they can’t sell from London into Ireland or any EU country anymore. We are left with a gap way worse than we had ever before Brexit happened.”
Minister of State with responsibility for heritage Malcolm Noonan told the committee there are only an estimated 2,000 thatched buildings remaining in Ireland.
“It will be devastating if we lose any more of these,” he said. His officials are carrying out a national survey to establish accurate figures for the number of thatched properties — both historic and modern — in every county as part of a departmental effort to boost ownership and conservation.
Officials are also working on data from questionnaires recently returned by 497 thatched property owners — about one-quarter of all owners — concerning problems they face, including insurance, fire hazards and lessons from other countries.
Results of the analysis are expected at the end of this month.
Mr Noonan said in other countries thatched buildings are insured at “an affordable rate” by commercial companies, which indicated “this is not an insoluble problem” for Ireland.
Early indications, he said, suggest reducing the incidents of fire outbreaks in thatched properties could significantly reduce the cost of insurance premiums. The committee was told fairly simple measures could help in reducing hazards.
Mr Fleming said he also met international insurance companies who warned him the high cost of claims in Ireland — as well as “exaggerated cases” — was acting as a barrier to many offering cover.
However, State investment agency IDA is working to attract up to 20 insurers from Europe and elsewhere overseas into the Irish market, he added.