Brexit is blamed for many of the ills this side of the Irish Sea, the latest being the death of traditional thatched cottages.
The minister of state in charge of insurance, Sean Fleming, warned that the massive exodus of British insurers from Ireland has “absolutely added to” the suffering of the country’s dwindling number of property owners.
For years, they relied on specialized underwriters in London – one of the largest insurance markets in the world with a similar legal framework – who could “passport” services to other EU countries.
When this ended after the UK decided to leave the EU, it became “more expensive and more bureaucratic” for specialist insurance companies to offer niche coverage for homeowners in Ireland.
“I know people would say there were problems long before Brexit, but Brexit absolutely made the problem worse,” Fleming said at an Oireachtas thatched property insurance committee hearing.
“Because most of the insurance came from the UK, and because the UK decided to leave the EU, they can no longer sell from London to Ireland or any other EU country. We’re left with a gap that’s much bigger than it was before Brexit.”
Heritage Minister Malcolm Noonan told the committee that there were only about 2,000 thatched houses left in Ireland.
“If we lose even one more of them, it will be devastating,” he said. Its officials are conducting a nationwide study to ascertain the exact number of thatched-roof homes — both historic and modern — in each county as part of the department’s efforts to increase ownership and preserve.
Officials are also working through data from questionnaires recently submitted by 497 thatched property owners — about one-quarter of all owners — about the challenges they face, including insurance, fire hazards and lessons learned in other countries.
The results of the analysis are expected at the end of this month.
Mr Noonan said that elsewhere, thatched-roof houses are insured at “affordable rates” by commercial companies, indicating “the problem is not insurmountable” for Ireland.
Preliminary evidence suggests that reducing the number of thatched-roof house fires could significantly reduce the cost of insurance premiums, he said. The committee was told that fairly simple measures could help reduce the danger.
Mr Fleming said he also met with international insurers who warned him that the high cost of claims in Ireland – as well as “exaggerated cases” – were a barrier to many offering coverage.
However, state investment agency IDA is working to attract up to 20 insurers from Europe and beyond to the Irish market, he added.