‘What do they want us to build? Is it the Great Wall of China?'

May 3rd, 2017 10:06 PM

By Southern Star Team

Con Linehan of Linehan's menswear on Bandon's South Main Street: flooding has cost him €30-40,000. (Photo: Denis Boyle)

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Many West Cork businesses can no longer get flood insurance. But they are all hopeful that the new schemes will change that. However, there’s no guarantee, writes Emma Connolly

Many West Cork businesses can no longer get flood insurance. But they are all hopeful that the new schemes will change that. However, there’s no guarantee, writes Emma Connolly

BUSINESSES, homeowners and farmers in flood stricken areas of West Cork are being called on to get behind a national campaign to compel insurers to provide flood cover in areas where relief schemes have been completed to a strict European standard.

Communities across Skibbereen, Bandon, Bantry and Clonakilty, who were stripped of their flood insurance in 2009, are currently pinning all their hopes on a Bill by FF finance spokesman Michael McGrath. 

However, the Irish National Flood Forum (INFF) – set up in Skibbereen in 2011 with the purpose of representing people whose property has flooded, and chaired by local businessman Michael Thornhill – is fearful that the Bill won’t get passed.

And while Office of Public Work (OPW) relief schemes are underway in the region (left), without any insurance guarantees in place, the waiting game continues.

The INFF’s spokesman Jer Buckley, a Blackpool-based business man said:

‘The Bill will go through – if we have enough support. We have to build a national movement. We are looking for those affected to contact us to help us lobby on the matter. The insurance industry are running scared of us.

‘With €440m spent on flood relief schemes throughout the country, we can’t afford for this not to happen. Otherwise these areas will become blackspots, with no investment and with no future. It’s a huge issue for people – without flood insurance, you can’t sell your property, or even get a bank loan.’

He said his information was that cover has not been restored to flood zones in Fermoy where €€38m has been spent on flood relief and which escaped the 2015 hit.

And he disputed figures from the OPW which said the insurance industry indicated that 83% of insurance policies in areas where schemes are complete, now include cover against flood risk.

Where flood defences are permanent in nature, the percentage increased to 90% and where demountable defences were erected, the percentage was 77%.

The OPW currently works with Insurance Ireland (which represents the majority of the domestic market) to exchange information on flood cover for homes in areas where  the OPW has completed flood defence schemes.

This exchange of data is agreed through a Memorandum of Understanding between the two bodies that meet on a quarterly basis.

However, Mr Buckley said his ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ wasn’t working as it meant the OPW relied entirely on Insurance Ireland  figures which was a case of ‘the gamekeeper being allowed into the hen house.’

‘I have a lot of good things to say about the OPW but they must carry out their own independent research,’ he added.

Michael Thornhill is more optimistic: ‘Surely the government should trust the OPW who are doing the work to European standards; and the insurance companies should be confident enough to restore our insurance cover,’ he said. 

Fellow Skibbereen businessman Cathal O’Donovan agreed that companies needed to be more accountable to citizens. 

‘The big question is, why is the government implementing the schemes and then companies not insuring us? What do they want us to build? Is it the Great Wall of China?’

Like most other businesses, he lost his cover after the 2009 flood when he suffered damage in the region of €15-20,000.

‘That was small in comparison to others – I know someone in the area who suffered a quarter of a million euro worth of damage. There are people around the country who have gone out of business due to not having flood insurance. 

‘Skibbereen has not been held back by this but it could take the town to the next level if this obstacle was removed. 

‘I’m happy the scheme is going ahead in the town and will be complete in two years. Great credit is due to all involved but we can’t breathe a sigh of relief until it is complete and the insurance sector plays ball. There are no guarantees at the moment. These processes can be tenuous and we must forge ahead.

‘It’s a bit like being told you need to install a triple lock on your door but after you do, the insurance company comes back and says “no, that’s not good enough, we need it to be like Fort Knox.” That’s exactly what this is like. We are taking for granted that we won’t get cover even after this, but we are still lobbying for it. It’s through the second stage now, so that’s something.’

Gillian Powell, a Bandon-based trader and member of the INFF, described the situation as a human rights issue – and the responsibility of both the Irish and the European parliaments. 

‘Without flood insurance we can’t sell our businesses – we don’t have access to the full market. Bandon traders have shown extraordinary resilience and survived thus far; it’s critically important that the work gets done as no one can take another 2015.’

Eamonn Walsh, of Londis Clonakilty and Clonakilty Chamber representative, was hit in the June 2012 flood and said if the same thing happened again, he’d likely face closure. 

He said the issue was on the Chamber’s radar and they hoped the insurance industry would play ball when their scheme was complete.

Brian McNeilis, director of general insurances at the Irish Brokers’ Association said flood insurance was a top issue for brokers, particularly in areas like Bandon, and said they were backing Michael McGrath’s Bill. 

At the time of writing, there was no comment available from Insurance Ireland. 


Getting cover back would bring such peace of mind

The people of Bandon have shown remarkable resilience in the face of a series of devastating floods. They are hoping the new flood relief scheme will give them a chance to get insurance cover once again. 

BANDON, like Clonakilty, Skibbereen and Bantry, was devastated by the 2009 floods when most businesses in the stricken areas lost their flood insurance.

However, it found itself in the unbelievable position of being hit twice in December 2016 – on December 5th and again on December 30th.

‘Now if we even have three days of rain, it’s a case of “dear God please don’t let it flood again”,’ says Jacintha Warren, proprietor of Warren Allen Collections lifestyle and coffee shop on Pearse St.

Her business was previously located on the town’s back quay and was submerged under 4ft of water in 2009.

She moved to her current location in November 2013 – without flood insurance – and was right in the firing line for December 2015’s double flooding which made national headlines.

‘On December 5th we had 3ft of water come in – that wasn’t too bad as it came in and went out the following day. On December 30th we had another 3ft but it stayed an extra 24 hours and we literally had to wait for it to go down. Naturally, the longer it was in, the more damage it caused – soaking into timber display units that I had just had made and which had to go straight into a skip.’

She described it as ‘devastating’ as every hour her business was closed, she was losing money. And her clean-up operation was even more stringent because of the food nature of her business.

‘Every piece of food in the fridges and freezers had to be destroyed; we had painters in; the place was sanitised after the first flood and had to be done again after the second one. It cost us in the tens of thousands of euro. You just have to absorb it as best you can, but it’s difficult.’

Looking back would she go into business again without flood cover? ‘You can’t let things hold you back; you have to take chances but of course I don’t want it to happen again. You can’t dwell on it. If the OPW scheme is done and if the government say the job is done, I can’t understand why we wouldn’t get cover – it would bring back such peace of mind.’

Fellow Bandon businessman Con Linehan, who runs a menswear shop on South Main Street, says he is still paying for the flooding damage sustained in 2015 which cost him €30-€40,000.

In 2009 he saw his shop under 6ft of water, which caused up to €100,000 worth of damage. He was insured until them but said he only got around half of this back.

‘In 2015 we had four-and-a-half feet of water. We saved the stock but the interiors were destroyed – skirting boards, tills, electrics, counters. We’ve taken an awful hammering but I’ve been in this job for 23 years, and it’s the only job I know.

‘We didn’t get hit this winter but we’re not out of the woods yet – you are constantly tuned into it and on edge.’

‘I don’t feel there’s enough being done for flood relief for business people – the government needs to keep the insurance industry on track.’

Don O’Sullivan, who runs the Munster Arms Hotel – hit in 2009 and 2015 – said he is hopeful but not confident of getting his flood cover restored.

In the hotel for the past 17 years with a staff of 40, he said it was a massive relief getting through this winter and that things were improving with the river being cleaned and maintained, but added that he was almost growing acclimatised to the situation.

‘Insurance is vital but it’s a case of having to wait and see what happens,’ he said.

Billy O’Neill of O’Neill Insurances on Bridge Street – themselves hit by both floods – is only too aware of the situation from a personal and customer point of view.

He said various insurers had advised that once flood works were complete and tested to their satisfaction, then they would look at the situation to see if they would delete his flood cover exclusion on the various policies.

‘The question is how many years will Insurers require for testing purposes – for example, Fermoy has its works complete but I don’t think that they can get flood cover yet.’


Changing the law is a slow process

SKIBBEREEN businessman Michael Thornhill has been a key figure in driving legislation which, if passed, would mean insurance companies would have no choice but to return flood insurance to those in areas where relief schemes are complete, writes Emma Connolly.

FF Finance Spokesman Michael McGrath wishes his flooding Bill – which requires insurance companies to provide cover at marketable rates in areas where flood relief has been completed to European standard – was not necessary and that the industry had acted reasonably. 

‘But that has not been the case,’ he says.

‘So far there is not sufficient evidence they will restore cover in areas where schemes are complete so I felt this was warranted.’

The Bill was drafted by an expert group who are members of the Irish National Flood Forum (INFF) of which Skibbereen businessman Michael Thornhill is chairman. 

Along with Mr Thornhill and Deputy McGrath, the group also comprises Paul Kavanagh, former president of the Irish Brokers’ Association; Eamon Downey, former president of the Irish Claims Consultants’ Association and Larry Owens, Cork Business Association.

They approached Deputy McGrath over two years ago about their concerns and together decided to go down the road of legislation. 

The Flood Insurance Bill passed its second stage (of four) last November, however, without government support. 

At the time, Minister of State Eoghan Murphy said insurance companies had paid out in the region of €1.5bn for flood and storm events and the proposed Bill threatened to undermine this.

He added that the Bill could result in higher premiums and could also result in international companies withdrawing from the Irish home insurance market.

The INFF organised two bus loads of supporters to fill the Dáil’s public gallery on what was a Tuesday night and 96 non-government TDs supported the Bill, pushing it through. 

It is now gone to the ECB and will be referred to the Oireachtas Finance Committee where it will undergo scrutiny in the coming weeks. Shortly, pre-legislative hearings between stakeholders, business bodies and insurance representatives will also take place. 

Deputy McGrath admits it’s a slow process because it’s an ‘opposition’ Bill, but believes it is likely to come into law. 

‘The Bill will bring the insurance industry to the table and in areas where schemes are complete, they will be required or obliged to reinstate cover.

 ‘It’s a very important issue for people – particularly if they are going to the bank for credit, the bank will want to know if they have flood cover.’

However, he acknowledged it was unreasonable to expect the industry to restore cover in areas where schemes aren’t complete. 

‘The government is reluctant to get involved in the insurance industry but it’s a dysfunctional market and those suffering are those surviving without cover. The industry must act sensibly where public investment has reduced any risk to a low percentage.’


Hoping for Relief: How the schemes are faring

Bandon Flood Relief Scheme

BANDON Flood Relief Scheme is currently at an impasse as negotiations  continue between the OPW and main contractor to the scheme, Wills Bros, over what is being described as ‘contractual issues’.

Byrne Looby PH McCarthy were appointed as main consultants in November 2011 by the OPW to advance the Bandon Flood Relief Scheme, in association with JBA Consulting Engineers.  

The main contractor for the scheme, Wills Bros Ltd, commenced construction works on site in late July 2016. However, since last month the work has ceased, to the disappointment  of the town’s people.

This is a summary of progress to date:

•  Works at Mill Place are nearing completion.

• The pipe laying works at Ballylangley are substantially complete.

• A trial river dredge has been completed at O’Driscoll Bridge.

• Preliminary works have been completed at Mill Place Wall and McSwiney Quay. 

• Glasslinn Road drainage works substantially complete.

• Silt trenching works have commenced at Brady’s Lane and have been completed at Riverview Shopping Centre, with pipelaying due to commence at Riverview Shopping Centre.

• Site clearance works, including archaeological surveys, have commenced at Sean Hale Place.

• Tree felling works are ongoing in a number of locations.

It is expected that the scheme will be substantially completed by mid-2018.


Skibbereen Flood Relief Scheme

FLOODING in Skibbereen is mainly caused by flows from the Ilen River, its tributaries and tidal influence which reaches the town from Roaringwater Bay.  To address the issue of flooding, the Skibbereen Flood Relief Scheme is being advanced by Cork County Council as contracting authority under the Arterial Drainage Acts and is being funded by the OPW. 

The project, which commenced in February 2011, identified appropriate flood risk alleviation measures for Skibbereen town and these measures received Ministerial confirmation in January 2016.  The construction stage formally commenced in June 2016 and is due to be completed by Jones Civil Engineering Ltd in early 2019.

Works at the following locations in Skibbereen have been progressed to date:

• Mill Road

• Rugby Grounds

• Marsh Industrial Estate

• Schull Road Wall

• West Cork Distillers

• Showgrounds

• Mart/NCT Centre

• Lidl

• Castletownshend Road

• Assolas Stream Culvert

•Assolas Stream Upper to Coronea Drive

• Assolas Stream Lower – Coronea to Lidl 

• Works have also progressed at various private landowner sites.

It is anticipated that construction of the Skibbereen scheme will take approximately 34 months to complete.


Clonakilty Flood Relief Scheme

TENDERS for the Clonakilty Flood Relief Scheme are currently being assessed. 

The Scheme will be submitted to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform for formal confirmation under the Arterial Drainage Acts in Q1 2017. It is hoped that both the contractor procurement process and the confirmation of the scheme will be completed by Q2 2017 which should allow works to commence in Q3 of 2017.


Bantry – South West CFRAM Study

BANTRY is one of 27 locations in the South West River Basin District designated as Areas for Further Assessment (AFA) under the South West CFRAM (Catchment Flood Risk Assessment & Management) study.

The preferred measure proposed for the Bantry Flood Relief Scheme comprises fluvial & tidal flood defences; fluvial flood defences comprising walls and embankments and tidal flood defences comprising sea walls.

The proposed cost associated with this measure is estimated at €6.69m.

The current position regarding the South West CFRAM is that the flood risk management plans are now being finalised, taking account of the submissions made through the public consultation held in 2016.  When this process is completed, scheduled for Spring 2017, a prioritised list of feasible measures, both structural and non-structural will be drawn up to address flood risk in an environmentally sustainable and cost-effective manner.  The plans will then be submitted for approval by the Minister and subsequently for the adoption by the local authorities.     – Emma Connolly

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