I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
The Leas-Cheann Comhairle has the time allocation of the first 20 minute slot.
Vol. 930 No. 3
I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
The Leas-Cheann Comhairle has the time allocation of the first 20 minute slot.
Deputy McGrath has 20 minutes. He is sharing it with his colleagues.
Many communities in Ireland know all too well the utter devastation that can be caused by flooding. Tackling this issue necessitates a multi-pronged response including proper planning, ongoing maintenance of our rivers and the completion of flood relief schemes, to name but a few. The focus of this Bill is on the issue of flood insurance. The Bill is built on the premise that households and businesses should be able to avail of flood insurance cover once an OPW flood relief scheme has been completed to the required standard. That is what lies at the heart of this Bill. A different solution is needed for people who live in areas where the risk of flooding remains high. This Bill would give them hope too that flood cover would follow an OPW scheme in their area.
This Bill has been made necessary by the experience in communities where flood schemes have been completed. The experience has been that flood insurance is not readily available and where it is available, it often comes at an unaffordable price or with terms and conditions, such as a policy excess, that make it utterly unviable. Over the next five years, we are told the OPW will invest €430 million on flood relief schemes. This investment is badly needed and is to be welcomed. The least we can expect for that public investment is a quid pro quo from the insurance industry. State investment in flood defences should lead to a favourable response from the insurance industry through the provision of flood cover on reasonable terms. The roll out of flood relief schemes is far too slow but to give credit where it is due to the OPW, when schemes are completed, they have proven to be successful. Why then should we tolerate a situation where insurers, in many instances, refuse to provide cover or where they do, they do so at a prohibitive cost? This Bill requires insurance cover to be provided in circumstances where the OPW has completed flood relief schemes to the required European standard under the 2007 directive. It is not unacceptable that insurance companies continue to deprive households and businesses flood insurance cover when a flood relief scheme has been put in place. The Bill will make it unlawful for an insurance company to discriminate against people and businesses in areas which now have a low probability of flooding. Low probability defined under this Bill is an area certified by the OPW as having a one in 100 year flood risk or better. Where there is a concern that an insurer is acting contrary to the requirements of the Bill, property owners will be able to lodge a complaint with the Financial Services Ombudsman. On completing a review of a complaint, the Financial Services Ombudsman will have the power, if appropriate, to direct an insurer to offer insurance at a price and on such terms as it considers fair, reasonable and appropriate.
This Bill clearly outlines the role of the Central Bank in the application of the legislation. The Central Bank shall have the power to carry out an assessment on how an individual insurer deals with insurance applications from individuals in the relevant areas. It will also be empowered to direct an insurer to change its practices or take steps necessary to ensure compliance with the legislation. If necessary, the Central Bank could seek an enforcement order in the High Court and an insurer could be subject to significant fines. One of the key findings of the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach's report on motor insurance relates to the lack of data. The Minister of State, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, knows this well. The same is true of flood insurance. The bottom line is the Government is relying on insurance industry data which has not been validated. This is no basis on which to frame public policy.
The insurance industry tells us that 98% of property insurance policies nationally have flood cover but a CSO household survey from 2010 indicates that a third of all households may have no household insurance at all. The industry tells us that in areas where flood relief schemes have been completed and information has been exchanged with the OPW, 83% of property insurance policies in these areas include cover against flood risk. Where the flood scheme involves demountable defences, this falls to 78%. This data has not been independently validated and there is a distinct lack of baseline data from before the flood relief scheme was put in place so it is not possible at this point to assess the true impact of the flood scheme on insurance availability. We currently have a ridiculous stand-off between the Government and the industry on demountable defences. The industry does not favour demountable defences and is less inclined to provide insurance cover where a flood relief scheme includes demountables. This issue simply has to be dealt with. Demountable defences have been successfully used in a number of flood relief schemes in Ireland and they are used commonly throughout Europe. Many of the major flood relief schemes we are about to embark on across the country involve demountable defences. If this is not acceptable to the industry, where does that leave households and businesses hoping to access insurance when the scheme is completed? I do not accept the distinction drawn by the insurance industry between demountable defences and permanent defences. Permanent defences are impractical in many communities and the effectiveness of demountable defences has been proven not only in Ireland but around the world. My city of Cork is a prime example of why this issue needs to be dealt with. Next year, work is finally due to commence on a major flood relief scheme with an estimated cost of between €60 million and €80 million. When the OPW put plans on display in July 2014, Insurance Ireland promptly issued a statement denouncing the use of demountables in the plan and saying, "Permanent, fixed flood defences built to a standard of 1:100 years as at 1 January 2012 are the minimum that should be implemented if insurance is to be a viable proposition in the areas to be defended." In other words, according to the insurance industry, the scheme that the State is about to pay up to €80 million for in Cork city is not a viable proposition for insurance to be provided. This issue remains unresolved today.
From what I gather, the Government is not going to accept this Bill. I would rather this Bill were not necessary but rejecting it would be a mistake. The Government should embrace this Bill and, at a minimum, use it as leverage in its negotiations with the insurance industry. The Bill is not perfect and can be improved during the legislative process. It should be allowed to proceed to the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach where detailed pre-legislative scrutiny can be done to examine these issues in more detail. I have read the interim report of the interdepartmental flood policy co-ordination group and the Department of Finance report on insurance and flooding. More importantly, we have listened to people in communities who are living with the daily reality of having no flood insurance. If the current strategy was working, we would not have a packed Gallery tonight. I acknowledge the work of the Irish National Flood Forum and all those who travelled here to listen to this debate and to show their support for the Bill.
The lack of flood insurance is also stifling for many communities and villages. Banks will not provide a small business with a loan unless it has flood insurance. This means that many small businesses are being constrained from investing and growing. They also risk closing altogether if they are affected by flooding. Households can only sell their houses to cash buyers in many cases because of the lack of flood insurance. This is particularly unfair given that these businesses and households still have to pay rates and property tax in full. In short, flood insurance is being denied to people despite the progress made by the OPW. This Bill seeks to address this failure. I urge Deputies on all sides of the House to support the Bill and I look forward to the full debate over the next couple of hours.
I call Deputy Eugene Murphy. Is there an arrangement for Deputy Michael Fitzmaurice to have two minutes?
There are two minutes going to Deputy Michael Fitzmaurice.
Deputy Eugene Murphy has six minutes.
I welcome the Bill brought forward by my colleague, Deputy Michael McGrath. It is the type of action that we really need in this country to deal with the massive problem of flooding. For many years, the State has not taken the matter seriously. Deputy McGrath's Bill, in addition to a number of Bills that will be coming before the Dáil in the coming months, will address the issue the way it should have been addressed many years ago. The whole policy on flooding needs to change. Ireland needs to take into account that there are many changes in weather patterns. There is also a change in the way we deal with flood problems. We have a massive issue right throughout the country on the maintenance of our rivers. Let there be no doubt in anybody's mind that this is a huge issue right around the countryside.
The challenges created by our new circumstances have not been met by the Government. The tagline of once in 100 years is being thrown around in too many debates when it comes to dealing with flooding issues. Rather than once in 100 years events, we all know such events are now happening once in every four, five or six years. Every year or two years, a major flooding event occurs somewhere in the country.
Flash flooding that could be attributed to climate change is another challenge not being addressed. Since I was appointed by Deputy Micheál Martin as Fianna Fáil spokesperson for the OPW and flooding issues I have been studying many situations throughout the country. I can visualise the thousands of acres of land that were flooded last spring, the families whose homes were flooded and the businesses that were destroyed. The more I visualise, the more I am convinced that at that time the Government should have declared a state of emergency. That is what would have happened in England, France, Italy or anywhere else, but it did not happen in Ireland.
Fianna Fáil is now introducing a suite of Bills in a genuine bid to deal with the hardship caused to people because of the changing climate circumstances and the way we are dealing with these issues in respect of maintenance of major rivers and drains.
In March 2014 a memorandum of understanding between the Office of Public Works and the insurance industry was signed. That memorandum of understanding provided a forum for both organisations to work together to share data required by the industry and to inform the assessment of risk. Rather than an obligation on the insurance industry, it creates an information exchange to allow those in the sector to appraise the risk involved. That is simply not good enough. We need to step up to the mark. The Government needs to step up to the mark. The only way this can be handled is through legislation.
The OPW has provided details of all schemes completed to date and Insurance Ireland is obliged to provide detailed information on the numbers with flood insurance in these areas. Of particular interest is the data on numbers reinsured after the completion of flood defence schemes. However, the level of insurance and reinsurance has been low. A significant number of households and businesses remain without cover. Simply put, the Government policy is not working and it must be changed.
I am dealing with many families who have issues with insurance. Their difficulty is not only with flooding in the past. They are being refused on the basis that the premises in question might flood in future. Where millions of euro of public money has been spent on comprehensive once in 100 years flood defence systems, the insurance companies must take the changes into account. The Government must stand over the CFRAM reports. In this way, where work is completed, homes can avail of insurance once again.
I am getting indications that the Government will not support this Bill. However, I appeal to the Government to allow this Bill to move to the next stage. The Government owes it to the people in the Gallery and the thousands of people throughout the country who have suffered untold hardship over many years. It is now time that we dealt with this issue seriously.
Tonight I will be speaking about the people who have been impacted and my endorsement of this Bill. The Gallery is packed for a reason. Many of the people have had defence systems put in place. The OPW has done a fine job. We commended the work of those involved earlier this evening. However, there is no point in doing a fine job if a person goes into the local bank or company to get insurance but cannot get it. The town of Ballinasloe is only 20 miles down the road from me. A review was carried out there recently in the Derrymullen estate. A flood wall was put in. A total of 60% of the people surveyed could not get house insurance. That is despicable in this day and age. If those affected wish to sell their properties, they cannot do so because one of the terms and conditions of getting a mortgage is access to house insurance.
Businesses use demountables when there is a risk of flooding. We have got €100,000 worth of such flood defences for Ballinasloe. Even if these defences go up, it is not recognised. If the people affected want to get an overdraft or an extension to a stocking term loan, they cannot get it for the simple reason that they do not have adequate cover. In this day and age, we should provide people with the right to insurance. If we deny it, we are denying insurance to them for fire, burglary and flooding. That is what is happening.
I call on Members on the opposite side of the House to think again before they decide not to support this Bill. Not only will they be denying people flood insurance cover, they will be denying them fire cover and burglary cover too.
I wish to take this opportunity to thank Deputy Michael McGrath for his great work in bringing this Bill to the House. I hope the Government can see the commonsense and fairness at the heart of this public policy.
The Bill aims to alleviate the financial pressures on homes and businesses which are unable to get reasonable insurance cover due to flooding concerns. The insurance sector is rightly under scrutiny by the Dáil. The sharp and unjust practices that have been allowed to develop are seen clearly in their attitude to victims of flooding and potential victims of flooding.
Insurance exists to provide for risk, for example, for the day when disaster strikes. When a family home or business is flooded, no insurance will cover the stress, sense of loss or the loss of personal items that these events bring. Yet, insurance is provided to cover the necessary repairs to bring life back to what has been destroyed.
Flooding has been a particular problem in Arklow and Bray and flood defence works are currently under way there. However, we cannot endure a situation whereby homes and businesses in Arklow and Bray still cannot get insurance cover even though flood defence works have been completed. The State is investing significant amounts of money in flood defence works. Insurance providers need to follow suit and provide adequate insurance cover once these works have been completed. The flood defence teams will ensure that homes and businesses will secure a once in 100 years standard, the highest standard achievable. It is immoral to deny insurance to residents and businesses in areas where defences have been put in place.
It is the purpose of practical politicians to right this wrong. This Bill does precisely that. This Bill will ensure that insurance companies provide reasonable premium cover to all who require it. The Central Bank will enforce it. This amounts to the Central Bank acting directly on behalf of citizens and the common good. I trust this Bill will be supported by all in the House.
I commend Deputy McGrath on this Bill. Insurance companies are like bookies at the moment: they want the safe bet on everything. There is no risk at the moment in what they are doing because they are basically blackguarding people. Everyone in the House has seen people throughout the country putting flood defences in place around their dwellings, sometimes paid for out of their own pockets. Alas, they have been refused cover again and again.
One thing that needs to be pulled off at the moment is the maps produced in 2009 by the OPW. They are not official but they are used by insurance companies. They show where the "at risk" areas are located.
I see operating demountables as being like driving a car. Someone can make a mistake driving a car. An insurance company has no problem insuring that person for the second time. However, when it comes to demountables, the companies are walking away as if it is not a safe bet. In any town throughout the country if someone sees a dribble of water coming through, there would be enough people to ensure that any mistake would be rectified immediately.
The figure they trash out to us at the moment is 98%. It is like mobile telephone coverage: if enough people in Dublin, Galway and Cork are involved, the company will say there is X% mobile telephone coverage in the country. This is the same trash that the insurance companies dish out.
I commend the work of the Irish National Flood Forum. Representatives from the forum have gone around the country and gelled people together. They have gone from place to place on a voluntary basis to get the message out about what is happening.
The Minister of State has been to the likes of Crossmolina, where Deputy Calleary is from. People are anxious. People in counties Roscommon and Galway have seen the devastation caused by the flooding. Now, unfortunately, insurance companies are basically giving politicians in the House and ordinary people the two fingers. They are telling us what they are going to do and what they will insure. No matter what we have to do as politicians, we have to put them into their box. We have to make them listen to ordinary people. Whatever legislation is required to drive this forward, we must ensure, as politicians and public representatives, that it is enforced.
In the line of SMEs, as referred to earlier, the first thing banks do now is check whether one has insurance. We talk about reviving rural Ireland. Many of the places affected by flooding are in rural Ireland. If things continue the way they are going, between people not getting insurance and not being allowed to expand their businesses, we will drive people out of rural Ireland and it will be empty. I ask the Minister of State to take these guys on and support the Bill. There is nothing wrong with supporting an Opposition Bill if it is for the good of the people and the country. I urge the Minister of State to do so. For once and for all, I ask him to keep the politics out of it. This is for people. This is not for parties or whatever.
I thank Deputy Michael McGrath for introducing this Private Members' Bill on the topic of flood insurance. It is an issue I understand well because it affects my constituency, Dublin Bay South. The Minister of State, Deputy Seán Canney, will also speak on the work being done by the OPW to improve flood defences and the corresponding knock-on benefits for increased flood cover. Deputy Canney, the Minister, Deputy Noonan, and I are fully aware of the difficulties experienced by certain households and businesses in securing flood insurance in areas at most risk of flooding. However, we believe that this Bill, if enacted, is likely to have the opposite effect to that intended. In particular, the Government believes the Bill would undermine the well-established market system of insurance cover which ensures that flood insurance is currently widely available in Ireland. Insurers have contributed significantly to ensuring people have been adequately compensated after a flood event. Data for the period 2000-16 indicates that insurers paid out in the region of €1.5 billion for flood, storm and freeze weather events. This Bill runs the serious risk of undermining this model and puts future insurance payouts of this scale at risk. We believe that this proposal creates a major financial risk exposure for the Exchequer.
There are a number of legal concerns regarding the Bill as currently proposed which will need to be assessed. In particular, there is a concern, shared by the Central Bank, that the Bill runs contrary to the EU legislative framework for insurance, the Solvency II Directive. In broad terms, Solvency II prohibits member states from adopting rules which require insurance companies to obtain prior approval on special policy conditions and scales of premiums except as part of a general price control system. This has been acknowledged in the past by the European Court of Justice in ECJ case law, namely, case C-518/06. In addition, there may be constitutional issues with the absence of an appeal mechanism for the regulated financial service providers targeted in the legislation. Section 11 proposes that the decisions taken pursuant to sections 8 to 10, inclusive, are binding but there is no appeal mechanism. It is a provision that appears to contravene the constitutional right of access to the courts.
The Bill provides that where there is a disagreement with the policyholder, the ultimate arbiter is the Financial Services Ombudsman. In our view, this takes the pricing of risk outside of the control of insurance companies, which could lead to insurers being forced to provide a significant level of cover at an inappropriate pricing level, that is, at a loss. Insurers could see this as undermining their financial position.
In addition, the level of claims experienced by the market is likely to rise due to the higher risk properties now being brought within the insured portfolio. The overall effect would be an increase in premiums as low-risk policies would be required to subsidise higher-risk ones.
The Bill specifically links the provision of property insurance to including flood cover. In other words, one cannot get one without the other. The impact of the Bill on the financial position of insurers and on pricing would raise the risk that insurance companies, most of which are subsidiaries or branches of international companies, could decide to withdraw from the household insurance sector of the Irish market altogether.
In addition, as the Bill effectively proposes intervention in what would normally be commercial decisions of insurance companies, it could have the effect of deterring potential entrants to the market and thereby reduce the choices available to policy holders and the competition within the market.
In the course of our work on the cost of insurance working group review, the general frustration within the non-life insurance market in Ireland has emerged as a prevalent issue. One particular company commented that significant pressures had been brought to bear from head office abroad to withdraw from the motor insurance sector. It is not difficult to conceive that the introduction of legislation such as this could compound the worries of such firms and could force a major rethink about doing business in Ireland.
Alternatively, if insurers are forced by the Bill to offer flood cover, they may choose to only offer minimum cover for all policies in an effort to control the risk. In the context of managing risk and recovering costs, there could be further increasing of the excess required from the policyholder or limits on sums insured for repairs. Ultimately, the result could be a deterioration in the general quality of flood insurance available for policyholders.
It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that if this legislation were introduced, there might be a need to include a provision providing compensation to insurers in respect of losses imposed on them by reason of compulsory insurance of dwellings at higher risk of flooding. This could create an additional significant financial exposure for the State.
The Government believes, for the reasons stated above, that this Bill runs the risk of undermining the home and flood insurance sectors. It would make Ireland unattractive to new entrants at best and at worst could lead to a withdrawal from the non-life insurance market by some of the biggest players, most of which are either branches or subsidiaries of companies based abroad.
Finally, and importantly, the Bill raises matters of legal concern regarding its consistency with Solvency II regarding the role of the Central Bank and the Financial Services Ombudsman and the Bill raises constitutional issues.
I too thank Deputy Michael McGrath for introducing this Private Members' Bill on the topic of flood insurance and I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak on this very important issue. Like the Minister, Deputy Noonan, the Minister of State, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, and other speakers, I am fully aware of the difficulties experienced by certain households and businesses in securing flood insurance in areas at most risk of flooding.
Government policy for flood insurance is intrinsically linked to Ireland's policy to manage flood risk. The evidence is available to support the claim that the Government's investment to protect at-risk properties delivers the best and most feasible outcome to prevent flooding and is improving the availability of flood insurance cover to these areas. The Government investment in capital works of €480 million since 1995 is yielding significant benefit in protecting 12,000 properties. We have already completed 37 major and approximately 400 minor capital works, and the economic benefit to the State in damage and losses avoided is estimated at €1.2 billion.
One important outcome of the CFRAM programme is the comprehensive mapping of areas at risk of flooding. The OPW flood maps were developed under the requirements of the EU floods directive. They are area-based and cannot be used to designate individual properties. Their purpose is to identify feasible community-based plans to manage flood risk. Therefore, and in line with other member states, the OPW has made clear that the information in the maps cannot be used for commercial purposes, including by the insurance industry. The OPW has written to the insurance industry to make this clear.
This Bill proposes the introduction of what is in effect compulsory provision of flood insurance in certain specified circumstances, namely, within "designated areas", with the designation being determined by a flood hazard map issued by the OPW or as otherwise determined by the OPW. I share Deputy Eoghan Murphy's views on the Bill as it is based on a flawed understanding of the OPW maps, OPW's role and the purpose of the flood maps developed under the EU floods directive.
To support the regular exchange of information between the insurance industry and the OPW in respect of flood defence works, a memorandum of understanding between Insurance Ireland and the Office of Public Works was signed on 24 February 2014. Insurance Ireland represents 95% of the domestic insurance and 85% of the international life insurance market. The OPW has provided data to Insurance Ireland in respect of 16 completed flood defence schemes, showing the design, extent and nature of the protections offered by these works. There is now clear evidence that this strategy is working, as demonstrated by an incremental increase in the provision of flood insurance in areas protected by flood defences. An increase in flood cover from 75% to 83% in these areas has been observed up to January 2016. Where the defences are permanent in nature, the figure is 89% and where demountable defences are used, the figure is 78%.
I have received assurances from Insurance Ireland that it will reassess the risk from the deployment protocols, warning systems and emergency response systems in place where demountable defences are utilised. At that meeting, I also got agreement from the insurance industry and the State to explore further means to increase insurance availability. To achieve this goal, the working group established under the memorandum of understanding is now meeting quarterly and being chaired by the State.
As well as accelerating the exchange of data between the industry and the OPW, since last winter the OPW has accelerated its resources to complete major flood defence schemes. This year, there is a record of 12 major schemes at construction and a further 23 at design development stage. These include schemes in Bandon, Crossmolina, and Claregalway. These details have been made available to the insurance industry.
The flood risk management plans emphasise the importance of non-structural measures and support the whole-of-Government approach adopted to tackle flood risk management.
I have been chairing the interdepartmental flood policy co-ordination group and the group's progress report about the many positive policy measures in place was recently approved by the Government.
In conclusion, the Government's current policy is yielding benefits for availability of flood insurance. This benefit will accelerate in line with the acceleration of construction of and investment in defence schemes. The data exchange between the Office of Public Works and Insurance Ireland, through the memorandum, is a means of measuring this benefit as one of many positive outcomes and impacts of the Government's current policy and investment in flood risk management.
Tá mé iontach sásta a bheith ag labhairt anocht ar an ábhar seo. Tá mé sásta go mbeidh mo pháirtí ag tabhairt tacaíochta don Bhille seo le dul tríd go Céim an Choiste. I am delighted to be speaking and I am glad this party will support the passage of this Bill to the next Stage. If it passes tonight, the next Stage will be critical in making sure it is a realistic and practical solution. For me the real question is whether this Bill will work and will it lead to insurance on fair terms and a reasonable price for families and businesses who need insurance. They are our criteria for supporting this Bill.
I acknowledge the work of the Irish National Flood Forum and thank it for its engagement with me and my party on this issue. We can all recall, I am sure, the image of Ministers in canoes or in wellies only a year ago trying to show they were doing something about the floods. If ever there was a perfect image of closing the door after the horse has bolted, it was that one. Investment in general is not something that is a Government strong point but investment in flood defence is particularly poor. The State is on a course of ever-diminishing capital investment compared with what is required. The results are inevitable and for all to see. They are a housing crisis, congestion in our cities and flood defences being overwhelmed if they even exist.
In June this year I asked the Minister of State sitting opposite, Deputy Canney, how many times he met representatives of the insurers on flooding and he told me he had not yet met them. That was seven weeks into his role and the most important issue on his plate. That lack of urgency and understanding of how critical is this issue is typical of the Government's response. The Minister of State confirmed to me that of the seven schemes due to start in 2015, none had started. No doubt when the winter storms come the Minister of State and others will promise action but it is all rhetoric and the necessary investment is not being made.
This lack of investment offers an excuse to insurers on a plate. We have a combination of a Government ideologically opposed to capital investment and an insurance industry that is in trouble of its own making. Together, we have as a result families, farmers and businesses left without insurance. The Government says it is not its fault and so do the insurers. As we have seen in the motor insurance investigation, insurers have used every excuse going to avoid responsibility for their actions. Time and again we have heard them claim they cannot insure inevitability, which is perhaps fair enough, but in reality from the cases we hear about it is more a question of only wanting to insure when they can be sure there is absolutely no risk. The challenge before us is how to protect family homes and our businesses in an era when investment is bottom of the list of priorities and the insurance industry is actively hostile to playing its role in the economy.
The Bill is sponsored by Deputy Michael McGrath tonight and it attempts to empower residents through the Financial Services Ombudsman and the Central Bank. Much of the Bill is unprecedented, to my knowledge. Those who live in areas designated as having less than a one in 100 chance of flooding each year will be allowed make a complaint to the Financial Services Ombudsman on the grounds of discrimination, whether it is a refusal to insure or unfair terms or price. In effect, families and businesses will be allowed call the bluff of insurers. It lays down in legislation grounds on which insurers cannot refuse or charge extortionate prices for insurance, which is to be welcomed.
The Office of the Financial Services Ombudsman is a very important one, as we all know. We can see that in light of the tracker mortgages scandal, it has been negligent in dealing with the responsibilities it had. I believe, nonetheless, we have seen a step change in the last while. It is an important office and one that is growing into its role. This would be a new role for it, effectively defining new rights rather than simply enforcing existing rights. I am not sure that is what the office is designed to do or if it would have the resources or expertise to do that but at this point, the issue has been allowed to develop to such a point that I am prepared to look at all of that.
Likewise, the extra powers proposed to be given to the Central Bank are quite extensive. It will be able to put in place enforcement orders forcing a company or whole sector to offer insurance to ensure compliance with the principles of non-discrimination and fair pricing and terms. It would be remiss of me not to make the point in terms of powers that the Central Bank currently has and the fact it does not use them. Again, I refer to the tracker mortgage rate scandal. For five years after mortgage holders took complaints to the Financial Services Ombudsman, the Central Bank did nothing and four years after the High Court upheld the decision of that office against the banks and in favour of their customers, the Central Bank still did nothing. It was only last year, after mounting political pressure, that the Central Bank was forced to ask for an industry-wide review of the issue. We now know this means there was industry-led theft of 8,600 mortgage holders who were denied their tracker rates.
I raise this because although this legislation rightly gives the Central Bank more power, we must ensure it will use those powers if they are provided by the Houses of the Oireachtas. This is a new approach, although I and Deputy McGrath proposed something similar with regard to mortgage rates. This is a different issue but the principle of a State body stepping in to force the private sector to play its role is one with which I have no issue.
Unlike the old days of a majority Government rejecting Bills it did not like on the grounds of secret and often questionable legal advice, I accept that this Bill raises some complex legal issues, including the effect of European Union rules. I hope if this Bill reaches the next Stage, the Minister will be generous and open in sharing any such analysis. My concern at this point is getting us to a stage where we can rationally decide whether this will work. We must look at the possible side-effects of this approach. Forcing insurers to set a certain price at one point of the market could lead to increases in other parts. I hope the Bill will go to Committee Stage, the time in which to tease out all that detail and all the concerns we may have. For today I am happy to support this Bill so that a clear message can be sent to insurers and the Government that this problem cannot simply be wished away.
In the context of a changing climate, we know extreme weather conditions will become more common. The need for a functioning insurance system, whether based on the private market or not, will become greater than ever. I note that both the Minister of States' three options and Deputy McGrath's solution are limited to a private sector approach. Having just finished with the finance committee's report on motor insurance I am doubtful that such an approach can be the only solution, at least not by itself. That is not a radical suggestion and some sort of state involvement in insurance against natural disaster is the norm across Europe.
I finish by commending Deputy McGrath on taking this initiative and the many activists who have kept this issue to the forefront. I look forward to this Bill passing Second Stage tonight and to examining its impact on Committee Stage as soon as possible.
I welcome the opportunity to speak to the Flood Insurance Bill, which Sinn Féin will support, as my colleague Deputy Doherty outlined. I also welcome those who are present in the Public Gallery who have eagerly awaited this debate for some time. We have all seen the impact flooding has had on communities right across the State and the total and utter devastation on homes, businesses, families and business owners.
The inaction of successive Governments - this Government and its predecessors - in tackling the issue of flooding has been extremely frustrating for those who have been directly affected by it. The absolute failure to invest in proper flood prevention has given insurance companies an excuse to refuse to offer insurance cover to home and business owners. The impact of this can be seen in towns like Bray and Arklow in my constituency. The annual pilgrimage of the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and various Ministers to the River Shannon basin for photo opportunities, as they wear their new wellies, sit on the back of tractors and fall out of boats, should be seen for what it is - an exercise in fake sympathy and false concern that is not followed up with action. I commend the Irish National Flood Forum for bringing this issue to the fore. It has persevered with the issue of flooding and brought it to the point at which we are debating it here. While I acknowledge that this legislation has been proposed by Fianna Fáil, I emphasise that the forum has played a substantial part in advancing this issue.
Many communities across the State that have been fighting insurance companies to get local homes insured have also been fighting dubious planning decisions that have rezoned flood plains the length and breadth of this State. They have been challenging irresponsible and reckless councillors who have voted for rezoning, thereby aiding and abetting greedy developers whose only and ultimate interest is profit. In the community of Little Bray in my constituency of Wicklow, the SWAP group came together to fight for flood protection on the River Dargle, which flooded in 1905, 1931, 1965 and during Hurricane Charlie in 1986, and to prevent development along the river's flood plain. SWAP has been engaged in a lengthy battle for flood protection works that are now thankfully coming to a conclusion, as the Minister of State is aware. SWAP has been fighting for 11 years to prevent a consortium of developers, Pizarro Developments, from building on the flood plain on the low-lying area of the old Bray Golf Club lands. It is absolute madness that planning permission has been granted for high density developments on this flood plain. The Minister of State is aware of this because I have been in direct correspondence with him.
SWAP's simple request remains the same as it was in 2005. It wants the development to be built alongside the flood plain rather than on top of it. I suggest this is the most basic commonsense for anyone to see. I hope the Minister of State can see this. I ask him to intervene in this ridiculous situation by stopping the proposed development on this flood plain. I commend the members of SWAP on the Trojan work they have been engaged in over the past 11 years. I welcome the members of the SWAP community who are in the Gallery this evening, including Noeleen, Mary, Pauline, Vincent, Derek, Marie and David. Their work to protect the most vulnerable people in the community of Little Bray - the elderly and the disabled - is a credit to each of them. I commend the many people who have worked tirelessly to protect the community of Little Bray. The human cost of flooding is well known. We see many cases and we read many stories every year. As I have said, it is not right that when flooding events happen, the Tánaiste, the Taoiseach and various Ministers rush to make a pilgrimage to areas that are flooded. Such events should not be photo opportunities for Ministers.
Insurance companies should not be allowed to deny insurance cover when flood defences are in place, but we have already heard that such companies are not just stopping insurance cover for flooding; they are also stopping insurance cover for theft and fire. This is having a huge impact. It is important to emphasise when we are talking about flood defences that the best way to stop floods is not to allow developers to build on flood plains in the first place. I hope the Minister of State will take this on board. I ask him to reflect on all the contributions that have been made to this debate on flooding, especially the points that have been made about insurance and building on flood plains. He is well aware of these issues. I have been in direct correspondence with him about the flood plain in Bray. We have a once-off opportunity to protect the community of Little Bray. I appeal to the Minister of State to intervene to protect the flood plain in Bray.
I did not think I would be speaking for another ten minutes, but it seems that we do not have a Labour Party speaker for this debate. The Anti-Austerity Alliance–People Before Profit group will support this Bill. While we believe it has some weaknesses, we think it has significant merit and we will be casting our votes in support of it. I salute the campaigners in the Gallery who have travelled from the four corners of the State to see this debate. It is indicative of how strongly they feel about this issue, how badly they have been affected by flooding in recent years and how unfairly they have been treated. The starting point in this discussion has to be whether the current system of operations is working fairly and in the interests of ordinary people. I suggest that by any standards, the system is failing people across the board. The memorandum of understanding between the Office of Public Works and the insurance industry that was hammered out a couple of years ago, which relies on the goodwill of insurance companies to get to grips with these issues and to deliver fair play, is a joke. I can show that it is not coming close to delivering for ordinary people by mentioning that according to a statistic I saw today, there could be over 50,000 homes in this country without flood cover. Something needs to be done about the current system because it is broken and is not working. This Bill is an attempt to address it.
It has been a busy day with the water charges proposals etc. but I have been able to keep a close eye on the monitor while working in my office. I listened to what the two Government speakers had to say earlier in the debate. The Minister of State, Deputy Canney, made some interesting points and showed a certain understanding of the problems this issue is causing for people, even if I would not agree with the solutions he proposed. I have to say I was struck by the manner in which the Minister of State, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, having started by saying he is aware of these issues because of flooding in his own constituency, started to talk about the problems this proposal would cause for the insurance industry without going into any detail about the pain, suffering and problems being faced by people around the country. He said that if this Bill is passed, it "could have the effect of deterring potential entrants to the market" and lead companies "to withdraw from the household insurance sector". He suggested that these proposals go against the way the market is meant to operate and, as a result, the Government could end up "providing compensation to insurers", which he referred to as "players" in this situation. I have to say I felt that the Minister of State's cold speech was really out of touch with the problems that people around the country have been facing.
The Minister of State should reflect on those points.
In terms of some of the issues to hand, I am elected to represent the constituency of Cork North-Central. Householders in Cork are three times as likely to be refused flood insurance cover as householders elsewhere in the country despite the fact there has been significant investment in flood defences in recent times. Tens of millions have been spent on flood defences in Fermoy, Mallow and Skibbereen, yet large numbers of ordinary householders and people trying to run businesses, including small and medium size businesses, cannot for the life of them get flood insurance cover, despite knocking on all the doors, shopping around and following all the advice they are meant to follow.
Statistics from the insurance industry have been quoted in the debate about the percentage of people who are being covered when they come asking. I want to put on the record that I do not believe those figures because they do not tally with the reality of what I hear back from people who are trying to get insurance for their homes and businesses. There is no guarantee - far from it - that, even with flood defences in a town, a person will get cover from the companies. Of course, it is not just in Cork. There is a similar situation in the town of Clonmel and the example has been quoted in this discussion of the estate in Derrymullen, Ballinasloe, where €1.5 million was spent on flood defences in the area yet a majority of houses, some 60%, still have no flood cover.
I would point out it is the same Government which has let the industry off the hook and which has also displayed a real lack of urgency when it comes to some of the key flood defence projects. Cork city is a case in point. Proposals for a €60 million to €80 million flood defence system go on display in Cork on 12 December but we were told over two years ago, when the bad floods hit at the turn of the year in 2014, that the work would be well under way in 2016. While the point has been made in this discussion that construction will start in the second half of next year, some sources are saying that even that is not guaranteed and it could be 2018 before work begins. That is not good enough. There is a real lack of urgency in regard to that project and it is not the only one in the State I could refer to.
We will be supporting the Bill for a number of reasons. We think the idea that boxing off the ability of the insurance companies to refuse cover is a positive and boxing off their ability to quote completely unrealistic, sky high premium prices is a good move. We do not have any great faith in the Financial Services Ombudsman or the Central Bank but the power to intervene with the insurance companies, while not perfect, is better than nothing in that sense.
I said earlier I felt the Bill was not without its weaknesses. For example, it refers to a fair, reasonable and appropriate response and price. However, what is a fair, reasonable and appropriate response? It is left rather vague. The insurance industry will argue, and it would seem it has some supporters on the Government benches, that if an area floods every year and the Government has not built flood defences in the town, a fair, reasonable and appropriate price might be very high and outside the ability of someone to pay. It is too vague and leaves the door open to profiteering of that kind.
We had the Oireachtas report on car insurance last week and talk of people being thrown to the wolves. We are dealing here with a ruthless mob of cut-throat profiteers and corporate gangsters. One could put manners easily enough on an unruly child; it is more difficult to put manners on an unruly gangster. The old saying of the labour movement, that one cannot control what one does not own, points to the need for something that was in the motor insurance report, namely, the idea of a State-run insurance company that would provide insurance on the basis of people's needs, rather than profits. We will continue to raise those points but we will vote for this Bill.
I too will be supporting the Bill and I thank Deputy Michael McGrath for bringing it before the House. Notwithstanding some of the weaknesses in it, I believe they are weaknesses that can be teased out. In any event, it is a response to inaction by the Government. The Minister of State, Deputy Seán Canney, looks a little uncomfortable, and I appreciate that. I certainly agree with the comments made by the previous speaker in regard to the Minister of State, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, whose speech utterly failed to deal with the problems which have been raised.
The Minister of State, Deputy Canney, was in Ballinasloe and spoke there. Even though I come from the Galway West constituency, which has been seriously hit by flooding both within the city and at Cong, Clonbur, Kilmaine and surrounding areas, it was an eye-opener for me to attend at Ballinasloe, a town I am very familiar with because I worked there for many years in the 1980s. It was an eye-opener because, first, the national flood conference was organised by a local group from Ballinasloe and Athlone and their level of professionalism was second to none. The facts and figures they put before us caused me to stop in my tracks and listen to what they were saying, and I took notes, as the Minister of State did. I came away from that conference and I thought that this is a group of people who are not asking for help; they are asking the Government to work with them. They did the work on the ground, not alone in collecting the data, but they did the work on the ground when the floods appeared and there were no services available from the Government.
I appeal to the Minister of State to listen because I know his heart is in the right place, whatever about Fine Gael. Fine Gael seems utterly out of touch and reliant on a private market which has utterly failed in the same way that it has failed to provide houses for our people, in the same way it has failed to control the astronomical rise in car insurance and in the same way it has relied on private companies to provide our health services. I appeal to the Minister of State to listen. Nobody is asking for charity, least of all the group that organised the conference in Ballinasloe.
I would like the Minister of State to comment in regard to the history of the Government and my difficulty in relying on its reassurances that it is going to do something. Some 300 areas have been identified by the Office of Public Works in regard to risk assessments and maps have been drawn up. The next step is obviously the course of action. The Minister of State is chairing the interdepartmental group. I sit on the Committee of Public Accounts, as the Minister of State knows. To our horror, it was brought to our attention some months ago by the Comptroller and Auditor General that a steering group established to plan Ireland's flood defences did not meet for four years until November 2014 - that is a black and white finding in the Comptroller and Auditor General's report. The report also found that an interdepartmental group set up to plan flood risk management, presumably the one now chaired by the Minister of State, did not meet for six years until July 2015. I could go on but there is no point. Those are the findings of the Comptroller and Auditor General, who generally gives very modest conclusions and sticks to facts. Therefore, I would not be at all reassured by the history to date of dealing with our flood problems.
Apart from housing and health, flooding was the biggest issue raised on the doorsteps as we went door to door. We promised and gave our word as candidates that, should we be elected, we would focus on housing, health, public transport and flooding. I make no apology for repeatedly standing up in this Chamber and focusing on those key issues.
Outside of Cork, Galway applied for and received the most in humanitarian assistance payments from the Department of Social Protection.
The number of households in Galway that applied for humanitarian assistance from the Department of Social Protection was 158, a higher number than in Cork, at 74, although the households in Cork received higher payments, probably because of higher valuations.
I have great respect for the Office of Public Works which has done great work and is trying to do its best with a limited budget, but this Dáil and the Government have not grasped the enormity of the problem posed by flooding and provided the amount of money needed to provide flood defences. The issue of climate change has not been mentioned in this debate, but it is a fact of life. With others, I have repeatedly said this is our last opportunity to deal with it. Apart from bad planning and the failure to provide flood defences, the major cause of flooding is climate change. We still await the mitigation plan promised by the Government and it is almost December. I do not know how the Ministers of State can sit in silence in the face of the incontrovertible fact that climate change is happening and we have to take action. Where is the national mitigation plan that we were promised? We are already exceeding the emissions targets set for us and will pay millions of euro in fines for failing to take action. On every level we are failing utterly to deal with the problem. That is bad enough because each Government has been negligent, but it is completely unacceptable when community groups give us the facts and figures and beg us to work with them. I support the draft legislation, although, given my previous life in law, I see weaknesses in it. I have no choice but to support it because, at the very least, it might spur the Government into taking action and stop giving us bland and empty rhetoric that the market will provide solutions. We cannot rely on assurances from insurance companies that have absolutely no intention of keeping their word.
Three Rural Independent Group Deputies are sharing time.
I too compliment Deputy Michael McGrath on bringing forward this reasonable Bill. A lot of work and dedicated effort went into it to try to do something for thousands of families up and down the country who are worried. The Minister of State, Deputy Seán Canney, is new in the job and to having scripts written for him. Two Ministers of State read scripts that did not mention a human being, a man, a woman or a child - not even a dog was mentioned. They talked only about what they were going to do using acronyms which Deputy Catherine Connolly said were bland and empty. They were bland, but they were not empty because every place is full of water and they are sitting idly by like women at a wake with no snuff. It is a joke.
I welcome all of the people in the Visitors Gallery. They are ordinary people who are working to try to save properties and families and all we get is this balderdash. I come from Clonmel where excellent work was done by the OPW, except for a few small spots that flooded last year at the end of the scheme in Kilganey, at the Old Bridge and west of the town, but in the main a good job was done. We have demountable defences which have worked and will work, but the Ministers of State are reading the gospel according to all of the moguls and cartels in the insurance business. While that continues, they will rub their fists with glee, while the Ministers of State will rub butter to their fat pigs’ you-know-what. It is crazy. The Government is an insult to the people. New politics must have gone out with the flood, but we have had no floods yet this year, since the Government took office, thank God because the Ministers of State would not be able to find them. Members of the Labour Party did not turn up tonight. The former Tánaiste must have got such a fright last year when she fell out of the canoe. I never saw a canoe on dry land. There was someone pulling it, but the poor fellow could not pull it fast enough and it got stuck in the ground.
Rejecting the Bill is a mockery. It is an effort to put manners on the insurance companies because they do not have them or show respect. They are daylight robbers without engaging in violence, as we have seen in Clonmel and Kilsheelan. They talk about 2009 OPW maps which the Minister of State, Deputy Seán Canney, mentioned, rightly, but they are quoted every day of the week in telling people they cannot be insured. When we look for them, we cannot receive them, but they are quoted and used. It is a disgrace that the Bill is not being accepted. This Fine Gael-led Government, supported by Independents, is as cosy as it ever was with big business and big people.
The Ministers of State must not have read their scripts. I am surprised at Deputy Seán Canney who was a good a friend to people in County Tipperary and helped and listened to them. The Ministers of State did not mention a person or a family; they only used acronyms and referred to a memorandum of understanding between the OPW and the industry. I would love to know what kind of memorandum it is because there is definitely no understanding, not one bit. We would need to get a dictionary. They also used the phrase "fair and reasonable". There is nothing fair or reasonable about houses being flooded and people spending their own money to provide a safe place for themselves, a dry dock, for which they cannot get insurance. It is a cartel, a racket. If it walks like a duck and looks like a duck, it is a duck; it is an insurance cartel that will not provide insurance cover or listen. Why would it when it has all of these memorandums of understanding? The Minister of State is chairman of a committee, but as Deputy Catherine Connolly said, it has not met for four years. That is the contempt they show, as long as Dublin is safe. The River Tolka flooded once and there was uproar and pandemonium, but to hell with the rest of the country, to hell or to Connacht.
Will the Deputy give way to Deputy Danny Healy-Rae?
Is my time up?
The Deputy is in full flight, but his time is up.
I thank all of the people who fight to help themselves. It looks like they will be helping themselves and paddling their own canoes for the foreseeable future and not depending on this merciless Fine Gael-led Government to do anything for them.
I welcome all of the people present from all around the country, especially my neighbours from west Cork. We have had flooding in County Kerry.
I will support the Bill. As well as the people who have been helped by the OPW, there are others who have been flooded and sorted themselves out. They should be looked after too in the Bill. Culverts in housing estates were blocked and the matter was dealt with by the local authority and the people living in them. They should be included in the Bill. They need insurance just like anyone else. I was in Glenflesk, Lackabane and other places around Killarney which were flooded, when the water was flowing in the front door and out the back door. I know how the people concerned felt and how vulnerable they were. A person's home is his or her castle. It is very sad when people's homes are flooded.
The Bill asks the insurance companies to insure people where the problem has been sorted out. All other categories who have sorted themselves out and can prove why they were flooded should be included. There are many reasons flooding occurs such as the blocking of rivers. Many are still blocked. The Government should have one body or group to look after rivers. The River Shannon has not been cleared since it was cleared by the English in the 1880s.
That is right.
There are rivers in County Kerry that have not been cleaned in the past 30 or 40 years because of the problem of cross-compliance whereby a landowner or a farmer cannot touch a river because Inland Fisheries Ireland will threaten to jail him or her if he or she does so. Houses and roads did not sink in Glenflesk, but water levels in rivers have risen. That problem needs to be dealt with. Perhaps we might not need the insurance if water was left to flow. I ask the Government and the Minister of State with responsibility for dealing with flooding to deal with these issues and think of the categories which are not included in the Bill.
I start by commending Fianna Fáil on bringing this Bill forward in consultation with the Irish National Flood Forum, INFF. The INFF is a voluntary national organisation founded in 2011 in my constituency in Skibbereen, west Cork. I have seen first-hand time and again the trauma caused to businesses and families by flooding. Last year, more than 30 towns and villages experienced major flooding. More than 540 homes and more than 600 businesses around the country were flooded. A total of 155 of these homes were located in Cork and 135 of the businesses affected were Cork businesses. These occurred in areas like Bandon, Skibbereen, Innishannon, Dunmanway and Ballylickey, where homes and businesses were destroyed.
In 1944, Deputy Patrick O'Driscoll from Caheragh, west Cork, spoke in the Dáil about the flooding in west Cork at that time. His grandson, Padraig, is here today to see this Bill go through. Sixty-two years later, we are still talking about flooding. I acknowledge all of those in the Visitors Gallery from Skibbereen, Bandon and right throughout the country who have seen first-hand the devastation floods have caused to their communities. The OPW has spent millions of euro on flood defence schemes across the county and there is a perception that communities which have had flood schemes delivered are dealt with. However, in areas where flood works have been completed and in areas where remediation work has taken place, there is evidence that people still cannot get flood insurance or are being quoted prices that are making it too difficult to get cover. It is estimated that over 50,000 people are still without flood insurance cover in Ireland. The absence of flood insurance is not only a major worry for homeowners and the owners of businesses; it also acts as a brake on the economic potential of a town and a deterrent to any investor. Without flood insurance these towns and communities lack the key infrastructure that is required to reach their full potential. Homeowners can only sell to cash buyers and businesses cannot borrow to reinvest because banks insist on flood insurance. It is not acceptable that property owners, businesses and farmers continue to be left financially vulnerable because they have no access to flood insurance despite flood defence schemes being put in place. I acknowledge one Minister tonight who did not bother putting on his pair of fancy wellingtons and jumping into canoes. When I visited him in Galway during the year and told him about the flooding that could take place in Bandon, he set about and had the gravel removed. I would like to acknowledge the Minister of State, Deputy Canney.
The people of Bandon are here tonight to thank the Minister of State for his efforts in alleviating a major worry that could have been in front of them again this winter.
This Bill will give home and land owners in areas vulnerable to flooding the opportunity to insure their properties. I wish to offer my full support to this Bill and I urge others Members of the House to support it too.
I welcome this Bill. It is seeking a solution to something that really should not have occurred, that is the targeting of homes and businesses, even in situations in which there has been huge investment to overcome problems where flooding had occurred.
The environment committee I was a member of in the last Dáil carried out an extensive report into this issue. It was published in January of this year. It runs to 164 pages and involved hearings from a very wide body of opinion, including the OPW, the Insurance Federation, the INFF, Kildare County Council and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, which was involved in distributing funds, albeit inadequate, to businesses and mostly homes that had been flooded. The report outlined a number of key recommendations to deal with this issue. However, the report itself was unfortunately never debated in the Dáil. That might be something that could be looked at.
There is significant value in the CFRAM study, which maps locations that are likely to flood. It was an attempt to address the kind of experience in the past in which lands that were prone to flooding were zoned. That caused all sorts of problems. The whole idea of the CFRAM study was to make sure that did not happen again. Development plans were based on very good evidence. The problem is that the insurance industry took a document that was put together for very good reason to pretty much code areas, even in situations in which there had been no previous evidence of flooding. The CFRAM study now amounts to insurance companies being given a set of locations from the study from which they may wish to exclude homes and businesses from cover, increase premiums or put a limit on compensation returned. Whole areas appear to have had their insurance increased, even where there has been no previous experience of flooding. The report also considered the issue of climate change. That obviously has to be front and centre on this issue because it would require ongoing investment.
A report in The Times of London in 2013 stated that thousands of homes could lose value and become more expensive to insure after the publication of the first official maps showing areas of high, medium and low risk of water flooding. That demonstrates that wherever this information is provided, not just in Ireland but in other jurisdictions, insurance companies display the same kind of behaviour. Providing information in a public format to assist good planning cannot be allowed to be counterproductive. That is why the intervention has to happen.
Proximity to a water course seems to ignore prior history and even the topography of the area. For example, someone living on the top of a hill with a water course 500 m away from them at the bottom of the hill with no risk of flooding can find themselves with a prohibitively high insurance bill. I have examples of that. It puts insurance out of reach. When somebody is unable to take out insurance, the Government must remember that the responsibility is then on the State to provide compensation schemes. We must look at this in its totality.
Really good work has been undertaken by many local authorities under the direction of the OPW in recent years. It seems to count for nought then when premiums are being sought or issued. My local authority was invited before the committee because it had carried out excellent work following some very significant flooding events. It came in and identified good practice. Essentially, some of those very same areas, where there have been major floods, cannot get flood insurance after the remediation scheme was put in place. Not only were the defences well designed, they actually held up very well when they were tested by the very circumstances that they were designed to withstand. The insurance companies are being very picky here. There must be an intervention when what is happening is not in the public good.
I have been in homes that have been flooded. It is absolute devastation. In those situations, people do not talk about their insurance premium going up. The first thing they say is that what they really want is for it never to happen to them again. They want the remediation scheme. However, when the remediation scheme is put in place, they do not want to be paying a higher premium again, and why should they? I believe there is something very unfair happening.
In the report, there were a number of recommendations. One factor identified by the committee was the problem of householders located in geo-coded areas who were refused cover or had their premiums increase, even though their property had not been flooded. The committee heard from organisations representing those that had been excluded from flood cover or at risk of being excluded, with the result that their homes were no longer mortgageable. The value of their homes had plummeted. However, the committee was informed by the insurance industry witness that geo-coding pinpoints a property. There is confusion as to the reason for this problem. The problem is that the insurance industry might be confused about it. However, we certainly should not accept their confusion. We should act in the public interest, which means intervening.
I listened to some of the Minister of State's response to this issue.
It seems to me the primary point being made by the Government is that insurance companies might be scared off if we intervene but we need to start rattling their cage because what they are doing here is unfair. What they are doing will actually cost the State money, as well as the individuals who are flooded. We must take the insurance companies on and this Bill seeks to put a solution in place. It may not be perfect but the whole point of Second Stage is that if a Bill is not perfect, it is brought to Committee Stage and improved. It is open to the Government to do that. This Bill is actually addressing a serious problem that exists at the moment.
I welcome the Bill introduced by Deputy Michael McGrath. It is a positive Bill which aims to ease the financial burden on home and business owners who are unable to get reasonable insurance due to flooding concerns. Insurance companies should not be allowed to discriminate against homes and businesses in areas of the standard one in one hundred year flood risk or even better. In my own area along the Lee Valley, the catchment flood risk assessment and management, CFRAM, pilot was carried out. Communities in Ballingeary, Inchigeela, Crookstown, Baile Bhuirne, Ballymakeera and Ballincollig are struggling with flooding regularly and need to see those flood defences built as quickly as possible. At the same time, there are people living in those communities whose homes are outside the flood zone who are also struggling to obtain insurance in spite of the fact that they have never been flooded. It must also be borne in mind that buying a house can be obstructed in the absence of flood insurance.
Tá sé tábhachtach go mbogfaí chun cinn na hoibreacha, agus é sin chomh tapaidh agus is féidir, chun cosaint a thabhairt d'áiteanna cosúil le Baile Bhuirne, Baile Mhic Íre, Inse Geimhleach, Béal Átha an Ghaorthaidh agus go leor eile agus go mbeadh cosaint ar fáil dóibh ó na tuilte agus go mbeadh an faoiseamh agus an t-árachas ar fáil dóibh.
I compliment Deputy Michael McGrath for introducing this Bill which will help to alleviate the financial pressure on home and business owners who are unable to get reasonable insurance cover due to flooding concerns. Major capital investment is being made to alleviate flooding in a lot of towns around the country. However, we are ignoring Inland Fisheries Ireland and the powers of that body. It is preventing people from clearing the waterways. The principal purpose of waterways is to carry water but that basic point seems to have passed Inland Fisheries Ireland by. At times of flooding if pressure was put on Inland Fisheries Ireland and some of its powers curbed that would help to alleviate flooding in some areas.
The Flood Insurance Bill 2016 requires the industry not to discriminate against those who live in areas which are designated as having a one in one hundred year risk of flooding or better. That is just common sense and the practices of the insurance industry must be tackled by this House. This is the first step towards bringing common sense back into insurance. The Bill will oblige insurance companies to provide cover to people who live in areas where millions of euro have been spent on flood defences.
In my own constituency, over €100 million was spent in Clonmel. The general agreement is that it has been a success and yet people are still finding it difficult to get insurance. The same has happened in Carrick-on-Suir. In Templemore approximately €9 million has been ring-fenced for the construction of flood defences but people in that area also have difficulties in obtaining insurance. Following the carrying out of capital works in various areas only 20 houses were flooded, which proves conclusively that the flood defences have worked. The insurance industry must be brought to book and obliged to give people adequate cover.
As a public representative who witnessed the utter devastation caused by flooding in my constituency last year, I welcome the legislation brought before the House tonight by my Fianna Fáil colleagues. The Bill seeks to ensure that insurance companies cannot discriminate against home and business owners in areas where major flood defences have been completed by the OPW. The insurance companies have refused to meaningfully engage with the many people affected by flood damage so it is only right that they be legislatively bound to do so. A total of 37 flood defence schemes have recently been completed by the OPW and the office has a capital allocation of €480 million for new flood defence projects up to 2021. This legislation can effect lasting change for people in those 37 areas which have had their flood defences improved and for those communities which will benefit from future flood defence projects.
We have a great opportunity to provide those who have suffered greatly with the safety buffer of adequate flood defences and the peace of mind that comes with having insurance in the event that the worst happens. Last year the communities of Thomastown and Inistioge on the River Nore, Graiguenamanagh on the River Barrow and Piltown on the River Suir were some of the worst affected areas in my constituency of Carlow-Kilkenny. The aforementioned rivers are better known as the three sisters and are the main arteries in the Carlow, Kilkenny area. People were utterly devastated and they continue to live under a cloud of anxiety lest the waters begin to rise again.
Since then, the OPW and Kilkenny County Council have begun drafting flood risk management plans and I commend them for the work done so far and for their engagement with the affected communities. When the flood relief schemes are completed by the OPW, which I hope will be soon, I want my constituents to be able to secure insurance so that they can sleep soundly when the rain starts falling. People should not live in fear or be forced from their homes. I urge the Government to accept the Bill and implement its provisions without delay.
I must say that some great work has been done in Kilkenny. The city was flooded regularly and indeed, it was famous for flooding in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. The €45 million that was spent in Kilkenny city was very well spent. That said, it created its own problems in that the River Nore now runs faster through the city and areas downstream like Bennettsbridge, Thomastown and Inistioge are now suffering. We need more money for further flood defence works which have proven to be effective. We also need the insurance companies to recognise the areas where such works have been carried out.
I commend my party colleague, Deputy Michael McGrath, and urge the Government to accede to his request to allow this Bill to go forward to Committee Stage where amendments can be discussed.
This Bill will compel insurance companies to provide cover to people in areas where flood defence works have been completed, including demountable defences. If these defences are not good enough for the insurance companies, are we going to tell the OPW engineers to go back to the drawing board and come up with better, more concrete solutions for other areas such as Midleton, Mallow and Fermoy? Does the Government propose to provide its own indemnity scheme? We must remember that these home and business owners pay rates and local property tax and deserve value for their money.
Over ten years ago when I was a councillor I met the former Minister of State with responsibility for the OPW, Tom Parlon, and made representations on behalf of the people of Fermoy. Some of the members of that delegation have gone to their eternal reward, including Phyllis Nelligan and Jim Bartley. Luckily enough, Tom Parlon's successor was the former Fianna Fáil Minister of State, Martin Mansergh, and he ensured that money was ring-fenced for Fermoy and Mallow. The day 30 December 2015 was a defining day for Fermoy when the flood barriers were put in place and worked successfully. They saved both sides of the town of Fermoy, north and south. The flood barriers in Mallow were also a success. While the rest of Cork was being flooded the people of Fermoy and Mallow were able to relax. In fact, there is a pub in Brian Boru Square in Fermoy, the Avondhu Bar which has flooded many times.
However, this time it was able to hold a party. People came out onto Brian Boru Square and said it is working. The businesses, including the Grand Hotel across the river, were involved also.
There are solutions to this problem and ways of providing insurance. Deputy Michael McGrath knows the background to these issues but across the water in Britain they have looked at a different method of reinsurance, Flood Re, which is a non-profit effort by the insurance companies. The Minister should be asked to look at these areas. In fairness, in 2014, during the term of the previous Government, there was a memorandum of understanding that the insurance companies, with the agreement of the Office of Public Works, would come up with some solution.
There are no defences in place for many of the people in the Gallery. They might ask why is O'Keeffe talking about this when he has defences in place but I have a list of people, properties and householders who have no insurance today but who have the best defence in place.
It is about the amount of it. It is working; I have seen it on the ground. I ask that the Minster allow this Bill to move forward to Committee Stage.
On behalf of the Government and the Ministers of State, Deputies Eoghan Murphy and Canney, I would like to acknowledge the presence of the people in the Gallery who have travelled from across the country to hear tonight's debate. As a public representative in the Shannon catchment area in Offaly and north Tipperary, I am only too well aware of the devastation flooding causes to individuals, families and communities. I acknowledge also the fantastic support the communities provide for each other at times like this when we see community resilience at its best. It works particularly well when supported by the local authorities, which are the lead agencies in all of these flood events.
As my colleagues, the Ministers of State, Deputies Eoghan Murphy and Canney, mentioned at the outset, this Government is very conscious of the problems experienced by certain households and businesses in securing flood insurance in areas most at risk of flooding. It is appreciated that Deputy Michael McGrath’s aim in drafting this Bill is an attempt to address the issue of improved insurance cover for potential flood events, something which is of concern to all of us. However, in our view the Bill as proposed will not achieve that goal.
A major concern we have with the Bill is that it could lead to a situation whereby insurers are forced to provide a significant level of cover at inappropriate pricing levels, following an arbitration by the Financial Services Ombudsman. In our view, this would almost certainly result in a significant increase in household insurance premiums across the board as low risk policies would be required to subsidise higher risk ones. Such an occurrence would run contrary to Government policy to try to bring down the cost of non-life insurance policies in general through the work of the cost of insurance working.
Another concern is that this proposed legislation could have an impact on the quality of home insurance cover that is available, as the Bill specifically links the provision of property insurance to flood cover - in other words, one cannot get one without the other. Consequently, insurers may choose to only offer minimum cover in an effort to control the risk, and introduce higher excesses that policyholders must first pay themselves before a pay-out would be made. We are also concerned that some companies could choose to withdraw from the household insurance sector of the Irish market altogether. In view of the very small size of the Irish market, this would have a knock-on effect on price.
With regard to legal issues, we have a number of concerns on which the Department of Finance is consulting the Office of the Attorney General. In particular, we believe the Bill may run contrary to the EU Solvency II Directive and that there may be a requirement to consult with the European Central Bank on the proposed additional functions for the Central Bank as well as potential constitutional issues with the absence of an appeal mechanism for the regulated financial service providers targeted in the legislation.
The plans coming from catchment flood risk assessment and management, CFRAM, highlight that almost 95% of properties at risk from flooding in high risk areas will benefit from flood defence schemes as a result of Government investment. The Government has provided a significant increase in the Office of Public Works, OPW, budget for flood relief over the coming years to accelerate the implementation of these works, with €430 million allocated for the period 2016-21. In this time, the OPW’s annual spend on capital flood relief works will more than double to €l00 million.
I want to acknowledge the genuine positive comments from previous speakers on Government investment so far in areas of very high risk. I acknowledge also the efforts of the Minister of State, Deputy Canney, and the former Minister of State, Deputy Harris, in ensuring that happened.
I must reiterate the position of my colleagues, the Ministers of State, Deputies Eoghan Murphy and Canney, and repeat that the Government view is that this Bill as it stands would make for bad legislation. The Government has serious concerns about the proposed Bill in terms of pricing, competition and impact on availability as well as legal concerns. However, that was discussed by Government earlier today and notwithstanding the serious and material concerns, the Government will not oppose the Bill going to pre-legislative scrutiny.
We move on to Deputy James Browne who I understand is sharing with a number of colleagues.
I am taking two minutes and sharing with a number of colleagues. I welcome the Flood Insurance Bill and thank my colleague, Deputy Michael McGrath, for bringing it forward. The packed Gallery is testament to the importance of the Bill and the area of insurance, with people coming from the north, south, east and west of the country. The way people have been treated in the area of insurance is testament to the practice of insurance companies across the board, and we have seen with regard to motor insurance how the most vulnerable people in society are being targeted. The insurance companies must be tackled over their cherry-picking.
This is a particularly important issue in my county of Wexford. Flooding on the River Slaney is an increasingly regular occurrence. In my home town we have seen the devastation wreaked on families, home owners and family businesses when the town floods. Last year, the President kindly visited to highlight the difficulties in the county and in Enniscorthy town in particular. When faced with the devastation caused by flooding, these families must then deal with the emotional and physical wreckage of that but they must also face the financial ruin wreaked because of the inability to either get insurance or get it at a reasonable price.
A €40 million flood defence programme is on course for Enniscorthy, which is very welcome. However, under the law as it currently stands, even when that is built and certified by the OPW, the people of Enniscorthy, as is the experience of people across Ireland, will not be able to get insurance cover. Insurance companies will continue to be able to discriminate against these Wexford families despite the investment from the taxpayer. That is unacceptable and it places families and businesses under unnecessary stress and financial pressure. I welcome the Bill as a step towards resolving the discrimination people are suffering.
Across the country tonight thousands of home owners and businesses are denied access to insurance because of where they live. There are thousands of people at home tonight who are not insured. Even in areas that have undergone significant flood defence improvements, those seeking insurance are often denied it. The absence of flood insurance is not only a matter of grave concern for home owners and their peace of mind but also a very important issue for the lifeblood of the local economy and the communities affected. Businesses that cannot access flood insurance, even if there is little or no risk of flood events given the successful implementation of the schemes, are denied credit from financial institutions and may not be able to expand. The very livelihood of the people involved in the business is under real threat. Small and medium enterprises, SMEs, are the backbone of our economy and need all the support they can get.
I refer to a forecourt on the outskirts of Lismore that sells petrol and diesel. When the River Blackwater burst its banks in January, the tanks containing the diesel and petrol were flooded, with flood water causing damage amounting to €24,000. Luckily, the shop premises were saved. However, it is after the big clean-up when the water recedes when the issues arise. It is trying to win back the support and confidence of one's customers, deal with the claims and make sure that one is sufficiently ensured to face the following year's business.
We all remember the floods of January last and the way people were forced from their homes, for months on end in some cases. In my area of Portlaw, County Waterford, the River Clodiagh burst its banks causing a single home to flood. It was cut off from the main road and three people were trapped in the house.
I do not like making things personal, but my own mother of 79 years was one of those people, and her aunt and uncle. She had been visiting at the time. I was outside and I texted on Facebook, "Please come and help", and the community rallied round. They came from all over. We were there, up to our knees in water, and all of a sudden the banks of the river burst, and at that stage I was waist high in water, with a 79-year-old woman inside and two others aged 75. It was ironic to think that it was a member of the Carrick river rescue who oversaw the evacuation of three people, as the gardaí could not get through the flood. At the same time, the Carrick-on-Suir River Rescue base was flooding when the River Suir burst its banks.
Insurance companies cannot continue to discriminate against homeowners and businesses that are at risk of flooding. Fair treatment is required. All people want is a level playing pitch.
I sat here tonight and listened to everyone, including the Government. I commend the Minister of State, Deputy Canney, because he has met a group which came up from Waterford and his office is always open to us.
However, this is the most important document here tonight - the Bill entitled an Act to provide for fairness in the market for property insurance. That says it all. Once again, I would appeal to the Government to let this go to Committee Stage and debate it there, and let it go through the Houses. If necessary, we can improve it.
I thank Deputy Michael McGrath and all of my colleagues who spoke on this important Bill. I acknowledge the announcement of the Minister of State, Deputy Corcoran-Kennedy, that the Government will not oppose it proceeding to scrutiny on Committee Stage.
I was concerned, because I heard some of the remarks on the monitor in my office, at the manner of some contributions. The scripts, and in the manner in which they were delivered, do not reflect the Deputies' personal views. The scripts and the message from the Government suggest - I also got this from previous debates on insurance - that the Government has been captured by the insurance industry and that the insurance industry agenda is first and foremost in its thoughts. I know that not to be the way for the Minister of State personally, but that is the impression that was given here during the course of the debate this evening.
Many of my colleagues and others here, both in the Chamber and in the Gallery, know what it is like to have one's house or business flooded and know the aftermath, but I wonder if the executives of these insurance companies know what it is like. Do they know what it is like not to sleep for months on end with the fear that every heavy shower of rain will end up inside in one's living room or business porch, and when every shower of rain that comes adds to the level of the river that will inevitably come inside one's house? Even if one is lucky enough to have had a defence mechanism in place and to have taxpayer investment into one's community, one still cannot be guaranteed insurance by a private insurance company even with the benefit of that taxpayers' investment, is appalling and is a dereliction of duty on all of our parts. However, if one is among those communities that have yet to get to the stage of having that major investment and of having that scheme put in, one has not a hope of getting insurance. In fact, one has been left exposed because of last year's events, and one could be left exposed for many years.
I acknowledge the work the Minister of State, Deputy Canney, and Deputy Moran have brought to the OPW since they took up their positions. Much of the success of that work lies in the minor works scheme that is being delivered by the OPW and, on the ground, by local authorities.
There is still a considerable delay in delivering the large schemes. I listened to the Minister of State, Deputy Canney, last week answering OPW questions from Deputy Brendan Smith, where, once again, the pearl mussel came up. I refer to the pearl mussel that has obstructed progress in Crossmolina. The same pearl mussel is obstructing progress in County Cavan as well. It struck me that we are putting the interests of species and things that can be controlled before that of people and communities.
We have asked on several occasions for the OPW to go back to the traditional dredging. I refer to the traditional cleaning of rivers that was done well, and with respect for the environment, in our parents' time and grandparents' time, but while there is political belief in that - the Minister of State, Deputy Canney, believes in it - it seems the OPW can say "No", and it appears nobody wants to take the office on.
My party, led by Deputies Eugene Murphy and Troy, has proposed a Shannon river authority, but I think the time has come for one single river authority in Ireland because, time and time again, State agency plays off Stage agency. The OPW blames the EPA, which blames the local authorities which blame the ESB and in the end, homes, people and families get flooded and cannot get insurance. What we have got to do is stop the blame culture, and actually get a bit of action. The Minister of State, Deputy Canney, and Deputy Moran will do it.
This weekend is the first anniversary of Storm Desmond. Were it to happen again this weekend, the damage would be as great and as impactful and families and communities would again be on the streets. We cannot stand by quietly and allow that happen. We most certainly cannot stand by and allow the interests of the insurance industry take precedence over that of our communities, our people and our small businesses around the country. It is time to stand by people and to leave the insurance industry and the interests of profit aside, put the interests of our people and our communities first; the insurance industry will be well able to look after itself.