Thursday, 20 June 2019

Questions (11)

Barry Cowen

Question:

11. Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the outcome of consultation between the Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works and Flood Relief and an organisation (details supplied) on the provision of insurance in areas protected by demountable flood defence systems; the most recent data from an independent source on the insurance coverage in areas protected by demountable defences; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25805/19]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Public)

This question relates to the insurance industry and the difficulties being experienced by people availing of a wide range of products offered by the insurance sector. In this instance, we are dealing with those businesses operating in flood plain areas where man-made projects and defence mechanisms have been put in place. What data are available to show that there has been an improvement in those businesses obtaining insurance as a result of the work carried out?

The Deputy will acknowledge the Office of Public Works, OPW, has no responsibility for oversight or regulation of the insurance industry in relation to flood risk insurance, or to insurance matters generally. The Government’s strategy is that in return for its investment in flood defence schemes in the most at-risk communities, households and businesses should be able to access flood insurance. The OPW has a very specific role in the exchange of information with the insurance industry regarding completed flood defence schemes. That is to an agreed standard of protection desired by the industry.

On 24 March 2014, the OPW agreed a memorandum of understanding with Insurance Ireland, which is the representative body for insurance companies in Ireland. This memorandum of understanding has a specific focus on agreeing a basis on which information can be provided to the insurance industry on flood relief schemes completed by the OPW. The Department of Finance and the OPW meet with Insurance Ireland on a quarterly basis to discuss issues in respect of this transfer of data. To date, OPW has provided details to Insurance Ireland on 18 completed schemes nationally. Insurance Ireland surveys its members to ascertain the extent to which flood insurance cover is available in these areas.

Insurance Ireland has informed me that the most recent survey, in March this year, indicates that 95% of policies in areas benefitting from permanent flood defences include flood cover while 74% of policies in areas benefitting from demountable defences include flood cover. Taken together, 84% of policies in areas benefitting from flood defence schemes include flood cover. The insurance sector has acknowledged that demountable defences are designed and when properly erected meet the desired standard.

The OPW has given Insurance Ireland detailed information it sought to explain the protocols and procedures in place to maintain, test, and erect demountable defences. Discussions are continuing with the Department of Finance to explore options to address the industry’s concerns about the human element of demountable defences.

I thank the Minister of State for his response. There was some detail in it but a lot more is required by those of us who have constituents who are anxious to see progress on the matter, whether those constituents are residents or business owners. Commitments were made, on behalf of all of us, that the way in which this issue was to be addressed would automatically lead to insurance being offered and being offered at a reduced rate in light of the mitigating measures put in place. Is it possible for the Minister of State to share with the House detailed analysis of the progress that has been made in order for us to make a judgment and to ascertain whether the improvement we had sought and expected has been achieved in light of taxpayers' money being spent in this area?

I am also conscious that the Minister for Finance, who is beside the Minister of State, when adjusting his figures during the course of the year to find €99 million to offset the overrun on the children's hospital for this year, included a small amount from this area. He said that measures in this area would be delayed. Will he give an assurance to the House that this funding will be reinstated and doubled next year to cater for the need in this area?

I was looking at my data this morning and 95 schemes to protect those people who are most vulnerable to flooding are under way at present. That number will tell the Deputy what this Government has done over the last ten years and, in particular, over the last three years. It is a lot of schemes. I have met people and travelled right around the country. I have seen where flood defences, particularly hard or dismountable defences, have led to people now getting insurance. People are now seeing the work done by the OPW and local authorities right across the countries and are benefitting from it. I can and will get information in that regard if that is what the Deputy requires.

On the Deputy's comment regarding the Minister and the €3 million taken from my portion of the Vote, I agreed that this money could come out of flood defences. There has been a lot of talk today about contract overruns, what we are spending money on, and where money will come from in future. A scheme on which I have been working in Cork has been going on for ten years. It is costing €150 million. It is the biggest such scheme in the history of the State. Ten years later, and after the three years I have spent as Minister of State, shovels are still not in the ground. Delayed schemes such as this are where the delay to which the Minister has referred will come into play. It is a scheme which will protect people and on which I am working.

I would be the first to acknowledge and appreciate the 95 projects that are ongoing. I am thankful they are under way. It is the stability enjoyed by this Government over the years it has been in office that has allowed commitments in respect of this issue and others to be made and, it is to be hoped, honoured. It is our overriding interest as Members of this House to give value to those who voted for us by providing that stability, despite the difficulties that are obvious in many other areas. That is our duty and our obligation. Were it not for Brexit we would be gone out of here and the Government would not be involved in those projects. The Government does, however, retain responsibility and has, at the discretion of the House, the ability to deliver on that responsibility. I appreciate that. I am simply asking for the details associated with those projects and that development on that side of the balance sheet be correlated with the data of the insurance industry in order to show us that the money was well spent and has resulted not only in protection and mitigating measures being put in place, but in insurance now flowing to the people affected.

I have always worked in the interest of everybody out there. I have let every Member here, regardless of party, know when I was visiting, protecting, or bringing money to his or her area. I am somewhat taken aback by the Deputy's remark that if it was not for Brexit he would be gone out of here. A statement like that is not fair to the ordinary members of the public. It is unfair. People need stability at this time, not threats. The Deputy's remarks are wrong and are not fair to the Irish people.